At one time, there were 3 family-operated Food Mart stores in Greenwich: one in Old Greenwich, one in Cos Cob, and even a store in Banksville - but this didn't last very long. A store in Trumbull opened in April of 2002 and closed in December of 2012. These small stores were a staple of their communities for many years. People loved the convenience and personalized service. The chain struggled in the begining, achieved a period of success, and finally succumed to the "big box" stores of the present day. Food Mart was considered a good corporate neighbor. The store changed as times changed. I think you may find its history very interesting.
The founder of Food Mart was Jerry Porricelli, Jr. He was born in 1918, and raised in the Bronx. While attending college on a scholarship in 1936, he decided to seek employment to supplement his income. He applied to the Gristede's Grocery Store in New York City, which gave him a job delivering orders with a pushcart. This was an oversize cart that could fit about 12 bushels of groceries. Jerry was given the very lucrative Madison and Fifth Avenue neighborhood. His clientele included such families as the Roosevelts and the Goulets. As a delivery boy, he would go into the house with a pad to take orders. Items would be pulled off the shelves back at the store, and the delivery boy would bring the order back to the customer. In those days, the customer would leave his door open, the boy would put the groceries away, and pick up money left on the table. If necessary, he would make change. The job proved so profitable that he decided to forego his college education. In 1942, he was offered a manager's job in Old Greenwich. Jerry Porricelli had to leave his job temporaily from 1942 to 1946 to serve in the military during World War II. He returned to Gristede's in 1946.
By 1949, he was ready to go out on his own. In 1950, he opened a little 1,800 square foot store on Arcadia Road next to the Post Office. Competition was fierce in those days. Old Greenwich was home to the First National, Stewart's Market, Stevenson's, the A&P, Gristede's, and Safeway.
Porricelli's Food Mart offered full counter service. Customers would come in and ask for certains items, and clerks would get the items from "the back" - behind the counter. In those days, the store maintained a total inventory of 800 to 900 items. By 1987, the stored had an inventory of 15,000 items.
Customers could also call up for delivery. Some of the biggest customers included the schools, the Shoreham Boat Club and Innis Arden Golf Club. Two-thirds of the business at one time was the phone and delivery customer base. Unfortunately, wholesale distributors shifted from a 60- to 90- day billing cycle to a weekly system. This meant Food Mart could no longer offer credit to its customers, and telephone delivery service was discontinued. Not surprisingly, Food Mart lost a lot of business, and it took years to build up its clientele again.
Just like any other business, Porricelli had to deal with constant changes in the industry. In the early 1950s, the modern supermarket was introduced. Customers could go into large stores and have personal access to all products. The traditional counter service was now outdated and obsolete. Many small stores went out of business - especially those that couldn't adapt. The A&P, which only had 2,000 square feet, moved to the Riverside Shopping Center to expand. Safeway bought the property on the corner of East Putnam Avenue and Sound Beach Avenue extension, where Caldor's eventually opened; but the new Safeway store never opened. Food Mart decided to stay in the same location, but remove the counter service. Porricelli also decided to focus on unique personalized service, After all, most stores sold the same products. What made a store unique was the superb customer service. if you couldn't find a particular item, grocers would go out of their way to get it. This became the model for Porricelli's.
As business improved, Porricelli decided to open a store in Banksville in 1959. A large subdvision was planned in the area, which would have created one-acre zoning. The potential for business was very promising. However, the subdivision languished for years, and the store lost a lot of money. Poricelli was forced to sell the store in 1963. It took five years to pay off the debt incurred by the Banksville operation. The large increase in population in this area never materialized. Ironically, it was necessary to expand the Old Greenwich store twice to accomodate the business. Location is everything!
Then, in 1974, Porricelli had an opportunity to establish a store in Cos Cob. Bruno's Greenwich Food Center was closing, leaving a void in this important market. Cos Cob was a large population area, with rental and residential housing in the center, and mansions in the back country. There was an established clientele left over from the previous food store. It was located right in the center of town. This proved to be a very shrewd move on Porricelli's part.
Just like the Old Greenwich store, it became a mainstay of the community. Business was so good that Porricelli undertook a $1-million remodeling project at the Cos Cob store in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the insurance had not been upgraded when a fire broke out in the basement of the store on one Saturday morning in 1983. Thick smoke could be seen from the Turnpike. Fortunately, the workers, customers and tenants were all evacuated safely, and no one was hurt. No definitive answer was found for the cause of the fire. It would take several years to reopen the store (1987), which created an inconvenience for local shoppers.
By 1987, many independent grocers had been pushed out by the major chains such as Shop and Stop and ShopRite. Eventually, COSTCO and other "big box" stores presented more competition. Changes in the product makeup also presented some challenges. Frozen foods began to take off, as well as other non-meat items. People became more health conscience and started reading labels. Microwavable foods were introduced to take the place of meals traditionally cooked from scratch; but the need for women to work to make ends meet meant fewer women stayed at home. More and more health regulations were also added. Since the world was becoming a smaller place, diseases became "transportable" - spread easily across the globe. Grocery stores had to utilize different appartaus and implement stricter controls to meet health codes and protect their customers. Consumer protection laws changed, and unit pricing was adopted. Computers were added to improve checkout and monitor product sales. Customers could check how much and what they bought. Eventually, self-service checkout would be installed in larger stores. It was a full-time job keeping up with technology in the changing food industry.
One trend that Porricelli bucked was opening on Sundays. He was opposed to it because he would have to spread his staff over too many days, and this would hurt service. It wasn't necessarily because he felt his staff should be off on Sundays to attend church. He liked the idea of workers resting over the weekend. It made them more productive.
Food Mart was recognized as a great corporate citizen. The store employed many special needs people as employees. Porricelli found them to be dedicated, punctual and regular in attendance. He even treated them to a summer picnic and December Holiday Party to show his appreciation. Due to his efforts, Porricelli's Food Mart was recognized by the GARC - the forerunner of Abilis - as Company of the Year in 1987. He also donated surplus food to the Food Bank for needy families. The store sponsored an "Angel Tree" to provide gifts for the less fortunate in the community. Once a year, he sponsored a Food Mart Celebrity Golf Tournament to raise funds for such needy groups as Senior Services and ARC. Jerry Porricelli was active in many other social activities, and was an ideal citizen.
Jerry Porricelli passed away in July 1999. His sons continued to operate the stores for a short time. CVS made a strong bid to rent the space in Cos Cob, which opened in 2009. Kings Market - an upscale grocery store headquartered in New Jersey - took over the Old Greenwich store in 2012. The small, friendly family-operated stores could no longer compete with the prices and variety offered by the larger chains. Yet, Porricelli's played an important role in the history of Greenwich. It was a place where residents ran into each other and got caught up on family and community news. It was a place where special needs people could find meaningful employment. And it was a place that helped define Greenwich.
Porricelli, J; The Food Mart; Oral History Project, Greenwich Library: 1987
"Porricelli's Market Closes in Trumbull"; Connecticut Post, Dec 29, 2012; Accessed Dec 18, 2015.