By Emily J. Weitz
Seventy years ago, Sag Harbor residents were saying, “I’ve got to run to Schiavoni’s for some eggs,” just as they are today. In its third generation of Schiavoni family ownership, the supermarket in the heart of town will be celebrating their 70th anniversary this week with promotions and offerings of gratitude to the community that’s supported it.
The story actually began 73 years ago when, in 1938, two brothers, Gabe and Vincent, opened a market where Lee Jewelers is today. It was a tenuous time in the world, and there were air raid drills right here in Sag Harbor. During one such drill, Vincent ran across the street and was killed by a car. His brother Gabe didn’t have the heart to keep Schiavoni Brothers open. On November 7, 1941, a third brother, Angelo Schiavoni, stepped in and took over the business.
Schiavoni’s market was Angelo’s life. His grandson Mike calls his grandparents “the foundations of this family. And then my father and uncle, who worked with my grandfather all their lives. They were all firemen and my grandfather was the chief.”
Mike grew up running up and down the aisles, and inherited the store from his father, Joseph, in 1996. He owns it to this day.
“I grew up there,” Mike recalls. “We’d run around and cause trouble in the aisles, run my dad’s heels over with the shopping carts.”
Mike’s grandfather lived to see his son and grandson at the helm of Schiavoni’s market, and he watched what he created turn into the stronghold of a town.
“My grandfather was very meticulous,” recalls Mike, “and you have to be. It’s one detail after the next. There was always something he had to say. The floor needs to be cleaned, one or two little things to make it better. But the day he died, he came into the store, he looked around, and he said, ‘Hey Mike,’ and I was waiting to hear something I had to do, and he said ‘Everything looks good,’ and that night he had a stroke and passed away.”
Through the years, the market has, of course, grown and changed. It moved up Main Street to its current location in 1955. It was just a storefront then, consisting of aisles one and two (all the way to the left). In 1965 they expanded to include what are now aisles three and four, and in the mid 1980s, they expanded again to include the produce section and the deli in the back.
In addition to all the structural updates and the cosmetic changes that Mike has made to the family business, the focus of the market has shifted somewhat as well.
“Before I took it over, in the 90s,” says Schiavoni, “the store was a conventional supermarket, and I saw that our deli was where growth could be. So over the years, adding prepared foods, a kitchen, making the deli… We’ve moved ahead with that. Produce we’ve tried to increase as well.”
In most supermarkets, these are the areas you’d call “perimeter departments,” explains Schiavoni. “Meat, bakery, deli, and produce. Those are not perimeter to us. Especially when the big box stores came in, selling boxes of cereal at buy one get two free, we had to compete in other aspects, like making a really good turkey sandwich.”
They also made the choice to keep the meat department full service, which is less common these days. This way, when the butcher cuts a steak, he/she sells it directly to the people.
“You can’t give someone a crappy steak,” says Schiavoni, “because then they come back to you.”
Schiavoni’s has also added organic produce and gourmet items to grow with the changing faces of Sag Harbor.
“We’re adding products to the base,” says Schiavoni. “But we also maintain things like providing milk and eggs for the town. We have Maxwell House and Illy side by side.”
As people grow more and more interested in supporting the local communities, Schiavoni’s has adapted its inventory to reflect that.
“We get our corn from Sagaponack and cheese from Mecox,” he said.
They also carry Hamptons Honey, Tate’s Cookies, and Really Good Jam from the North Fork. But Schiavoni admits it’s an area where he sees “potential for more growth in the future. People want to support local communities, and smaller local farms have more control over their products.”
In honor of their 70th Anniversary, Schiavoni’s is offering lots of promotions during the week of November 7 through 11. There will be t-shirt giveaways, shopping bag giveaways, raffles, food tastings and in-store specials. Says Schiavoni, “Our celebration is a thank you to the community that has been supporting us for 70 years.”