Generosity by local merchants supporting Thorold families in need is part of our community’s heritage captured in this story about Rapattoni’s Groceteria. John (Jack) Rapattoni reached out to John Henderson recently to share a couple of pictures that fit perfectly with the collection of heritage photos displayed at Henderson’s Pharmacy.
Jack showed us photos of the original Chapel St., N., store pictured in 1927, the year his mother Adele came to Canada from Pianella (near Pescara) in Italy. Adele and Costatino are pictured in front of the store as a young lad, Alec Maltychuck stands to the side. Their store offered a promise of a bright future for the young couple.
A few years earlier in 1922, two friends, Costantino Rapattoni who emigrated from Cepagatti (Pescara, Italy) partnered with Tony Distilio who moved from Montreal to open a grocery business in Thorold. The store would sell foods to their loyal customers visiting Rapattoni’s Groceteria, located in the northeast corner of Thorold at 50 Chapel St, N. until 1957.
This picture shows the store after the major renovations were completed in 1949. Jack says the building was “state of the art in its day.”
“During the building of the Welland Canal, they also sold groceries to immigrant construction workers living in makeshift shacks at Queenston Quarry, where the partners had built a small store front,” said Jack.John (Jack) Rapattoni, son of Adele & Costantino
Rapattoni’s Groceteria was one of many grocery stores in various parts of Thorold in this era, mostly owned by Italians who were friends and worked cooperatively. DeRose, Luciani, Carbone, Cecchini, Macoretta, and DiManno are some of the Italian families that also operated grocery stores around this time.
Like so many of these grocery stores, Rapattoni’s set up charge accounts listing family names, in small ledger books, and payments would be received around payday.
“The accounts at Rapattoni’s were ongoing and the grocers knew each member individually, becoming friends over time,” Jack recounts the old fashioned credit system.
The store operated during the Great Depression, and continued after WW II with this friendly customer service.
“People recall that Costantino supplied families who had little or no income. He also gave food daily to some homeless individuals in the neighbourhood. His beliefs would not allow him to see children especially go hungry, even if it might impact his own family,” Jack reflects on his father’s generosity.Jack Rapattoni
Along the way, Tony Distilio left the business in Thorold to open his own store in Silvertown, but Costantino managed to maintain the Chapel Street store, while being grateful for all he had.
“At the end of the war, the accounts owed ran in the thousands of dollars! Most debt was never repaid, even after employment returned,” said Jack.
In 1949, Costantino and Adele began much needed structural renovations. The building was raised, a new basement added, and then the storefront was reconstructed. Business picked up for Rapattoni’s until the impact of competition from supermarkets shifted the marketplace.
After a valiant battle with cancer, Costantino passed away in 1957 and the business closed. Subsequently, Adele converted the store into an apartment, and rented it to son Robert, and his wife Esther. The property sold recently after being in the family for 98 years!
Following his father’s commitment to community service, Jack is keeping the Rapattoni family traditions alive in Thorold by sharing a few photos for the heritage collection at Henderson’s Pharmacy.