Photo Archives News: New Additions to Walking Tour

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Employees Dinner at the Quaker Restaurant, 1950s. Connie D'Annunzio in foreground at right, Johnny standing at the head of the table. Photo by Melvin L. Gurtizen.

Originally posted August 9, 2013

Chester County Time Machine expands the original walking tour with more sites on Gay and Church Streets.  Stop in at The Ram’s Head and Fennarios to scan the QR code with the card reader on your Smartphone and get a glimpse of West Chester in the days gone by.

Each historical photograph has a fascinating story behind it just waiting to be discovered. Scan the code at Fennario’s and you will see a photograph taken from the spot where you are standing. Johnny & Connie’s Market is undergoing renovations and expansion in 1949.

Johnny D’Annunzio grew up in a family where food ruled. Johnny was one of 13 children in the family of Camillio and Pauline D’Annunzio. His father had come to the United States from Northern Italy in 1908 and opened a grocery in West Chester. A number of the children went into food related businesses as adults. One of his brothers opened a restaurant, and Johnny and another brother each opened grocery stores. 

Back in 1939 when Johnny opened his store, there were 89 grocery stores within the Borough of West Chester. How could there be so many? West Chester has always been a walkable town, and people found it convenient to walk to the neighborhood grocery for the ingredients for their evening meal.  You can still see evidence today in many residential neighborhoods of display windows on corner properties – these were the mom and pop stores that dispensed groceries and the local gossip.

 

Johnny & Connie's Market under renovation. Photo by Joseph W. Belt

Johnny and his wife Connie opened their grocery at 116 N. Church Street in a 12 x 18 foot space. He stated in an interview published in the Daily Local News on January 31, 1973 that he made $4,000 in sales the first week. Besides the walk-in trade, Johnny offered home delivery and had wholesale accounts with local hotels, restaurants, hospitals and institutions. By 1949 the store expanded into the property next door, reopening as” Johnny & Connie’s Streamlined Market.”

 

Johnny & Connie's Streamlined Market, 1949. Photo by Joseph W. Belt.

What is remarkable about the business is it was a true “family” business. Once you were employed there you were part of the family. This is evidenced in an article published in the Daily Local News April 4, 1956 celebrating their 17th anniversary. Three of their employees had been with the store for all 17 years: Mary Castagna (bookkeeper), Cleveland Jones (produce department) and Frank DiMarzio (truck driver). Delivery person Jack Kenworthy had worked at the store for 16 years. The rest of the staff in 1956 included Pearl Hare (sales – 8 years), Clarence Lear (grocery manager - 7 years), Thomas D’Annunzio (butcher – 3 years), Mary Burkhart (telephone sales – 2 years) and two delivery boys Johnny Fernandez and Walter Morris.

With the advent of chain stores Johnny closed his business and sold the property to a pizzeria in 1973. After 34 years serving the public Johnny is quoted by the Daily Local News Jan 31, 1973 as saying, “Retiring bothers me. I’ve never cried so much as in the last three weeks, you take groceries out to people’s cars and they ask you what will they do after you’re gone?’ After 20 years without a vacation, the couple planned a trip to Italy.

But Johnny was not one to enjoy resting. He found a new career on the tipstaff at the Chester County Courthouse, until he was forced to retire at age 70 in 1983.   Pamela Powell, Photo Archivist.