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Local grocery sparks memories


Guest Columnist

When I recently stepped through the door at Boone Street Market in Jonesborough, I remembered Cardamone’s Grocery Store in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. 

In 1945, it was the anchor at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Maple Street, just one block from my single-family house on Tenth Avenue and Maple Street. Ninth Avenue and Maple Street marked the beginning of the Italian neighborhood that stretched for many blocks as well as the beginning of another world. 

It was a world of duplex homes lived in by large Italian families who had recently come to the United States. Families with names like Zinni, De Pietro, Guglielino, Fondozi, DeLuca and D’Angelo. The men, for the most part, worked in one of the many factories that were a part of the landscape along the Schuylkill River, west of Philadelphia. Others worked in stone quarries. Still others were “in service” to wealthy families as chauffeurs or maids. 

The modest duplex homes all along Maple Street were interspersed with family-owner businesses: shoemaker, barber shop, grocery store, bakeries, and a small hardware store. The wives at home were working as well: as hairdressers, bakers, laundry ladies, and babysitters. 

One Italian family, the Cardamones, had arrived in Conshohocken in 1880 from the Italian port of Naples, through New York City. It is likely they already had relatives in that small town. Their son, Jeremiah (Jerry), was born in 1899.  As soon as he could, he opened the grocery store that I remember so well from my childhood. 

That small store, no larger than the Boone Street Market, sold all the provisions the neighborhood housewives sought. Jerry (Mr. Cardamone to me) stood behind the worn butcher cutting block next to the meat case. If my mother’s list included one pound of ground beef, Jerry selected a piece of beef, cut it in smaller pieces and ground it right there. When he weighed it, it was just about one pound.

Mr. Cardamone’s wife, a stern, no-nonsense buxom Italian woman, took care of the rest of the store.  Customers DID NOT pick items from the shelves! Mrs. Cardamone waited on each housewife in order.  She plucked canned pineapple, jars of grape jelly and cans of Crisco from shelves. Her long-handled “grabber” reached the top shelves to lower cans of Del Monte beans, Hunt’s tomatoes and Spam from top ledges as the neighborhood ladies read from their lists. It was definitely NOT self-service! 

Boone Street Market in Jonesborough comes close to this 70-year-old memory. The market anchors the corner of Sabin and Boone Streets where an Esso gas station has been repurposed as a one-stop grocery. There are no first generation Italian proprietors like Mr. and Mrs. Cardamone behind the counter, but there are knowledgeable staff people there to help with choosing foods that are sustainably grown or produced by small businesses within 100 miles.

I entered the market with list in hand. Marcelo was ready to guide me. We ventured through Southwestern Chicken Pot Pie from the Pot Pie Company in the freezer, past JoBo’s Locally Roasted Coffee and breads from Farm House Gallery and Mountain View, around to the back coolers to select one of the heads of hydroponically-grown lettuce from Green Pasture Farm. 

Another glass-fronted case displayed a selection of regional cheeses that included a variety of goat cheeses from Ziegenwald Dairy as well as cheddar cheeses from Ashe County, North Carolina. I picked out my favorite: garlic cheddar. Next I had to choose crackers. Should I select  Firehook Crackers or Roots and Branches offerings? So many decisions! 

I had almost everything in my basket that I needed for dinner. The last item was butternut squash soup made daily right there in the market. I had more than enough for a dinner for two. 

Then I passed the tray of apples that were not on my list. Of course, a crunchy Pink Lady apple from Buffalo Trail Orchards could top the greens. What a feast I carried home. It matched my memories of Cardamone’s store.

In this Jonesborough community, all of us are “immigrants,” including the people who work and volunteer in the Boone Street Market. David from Western North Carolina, Emily from Texas, Marcelo from Bolivia and myself from Pennsylvania, by way of Atlanta. We bring our stories, our traditions, sometimes long buried, to our new land. We share them in this small community and create new stories to share with one another.