Small-town community keeps 50-year-old Narberth, Pa., market alive

     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-109936520/stock-photo-paper-bag-with-food-isolated-on-white.html'>Groceries image</a> courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Groceries image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    Some say it takes a village to raise a child, but in small-town Narberth, Pennsylvania, the Family is the village. The American Family, that is.

    This year, the American Family Market, at 230 Haverford Avenue, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Since 1964, brothers Paul and Angelo Bovo have been the sole owners of this Main Line icon: a six-aisle grocery store, open every day, in the heart of downtown Narberth.

    It began when the brothers took over a floundering A&P with $20,000 down and a $60,000 bank loan to renovate the dilapidated building with the original wood floors. Paul had run a deli in South Philly, and Angelo would later earn a degree in food marketing at St. Joe’s.

    Today, this “Best of the Main Line” grocery store is quintessential Narberth. When Paul and Angelo hold court behind the meat counter, or when manager Joe Kelley (an employee since age 13) greets you at the front door, you enter a bygone era of small-town America. The Family is where Narberth’s opinion makers gather. Each day, down-home advice is dispensed and the problems of the world solved — at least until tomorrow.

    Neighbors, family

    If you are new to town, a thoughtful neighbor might introduce you to “the boys.” Paul and Angelo will ask about your family, inquire into the condition of your new home, and then sell you some homemade sausage. You’ll meet Rick Nichols, retired food critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, or Fisher the handyman, who just might offer some advice for your rickety back stairs.

    The customers are not all “Narbs.” One day, a pleasant gentleman was reminiscing with Paul and Angelo about “the old neighborhood” in South Philly. He looked vaguely familiar. Then he smiled. I knew that smile! The man was Robert Ridarelli, better known as Bobby Rydell. Even 50 years after “Bye Bye Birdie,” Hugo’s wide grin was unmistakable

    Working at the Family has become a rite of passage for many Narberth teens. Often, it’s their first job. Paul and Angelo figure they’ve hired a thousand kids over the years. A steady stream of Daley’s, Sweeney’s and McDonough’s have learned how to work the finicky cash register, stock the shelves, and put in a good day’s work.

    Four of Lisa Familetti’s six kids have worked at The Family. “When my son, Christopher, applied to the Naval Academy, he had to write an essay about a leader,” she confides. “He chose Angelo. Now he uses Angelo’s lessons as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.”

    Teenagers working at the Family learn how to greet the public — and the public greets them. “Which one are you?” is a frequent question, as customers try to recall the name of the latest Scanlon son, or one of the Zeller twins.

    Take your time

    In a rush? Then go to the Giant. The Family checkout line is where we take time to learn that one neighbor’s daughter got engaged, another bought her first house, and the kid you’d swear was just a baby is graduating from Penn State. It’s where we find community.

    “Paul and Angelo are neighborhood guys,” says daily customer Connie Majka. “They keep our little corner of the Main Line real.”

    Anita, Paul’s wife of nearly 50 years, concurs. “These men are totally committed to their customers,” she proclaims proudly. “And their customers are totally committed to them.”

    Paul’s daughter, Gina, still helps out three or four days a week, driving up from her home at the Jersey Shore. One of her earliest memories is sitting in a shopping cart while her older brother, Paul Jr., raced her up and down the aisles. Now her 10-year-old son, Nicholas, is often in tow, learning the ropes from his Pop Pop.

    Keeping it going

    There have been more challenges every year for the independent grocer – competition from chain stores, distributors going out of business, and the plain old wear and tear of running a daily business for half a century. But, as Gina says, “The community keeps us thriving.”]

    Angelo agrees. “It’s the loyal shoppers, and the families whose kids have always worked here – they keep us going.”

    Declares Marina Cuchel, “The American Family Market is one of the reasons we moved to Narberth. I was born and raised in Italy, and the Market reminds me of so many of the small local food markets there.”

    Adds long-time customer Joanne Madden, of Merion, “Coming here is like visiting family.”

    Someday, when the history of 117-year-old Narberth is written, a whole chapter will be devoted to Paul and Angelo Bovo. Better yet, we’ll erect a statue of them. In a world where people often feel isolated, the Bovos’ American Family Market nourishes not just our appetites, but our souls. Stop in and see for yourself. And tell the boys I sent you.

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