How do you know your business is a community "institution?"
Part of it may be when that business is wrapped into local, and urban, legend. That's the case with Pallucca's Market on E. McKay Street, set to turn 100 in 2009. Ask owner Richard "Dick" Pallucca about many of those legends (many involving the store's back room and Mafia members) and, depending on his mood, you may get a smile, a laugh or a shake of his head.
"You hear a lot of those," Pallucca said. "But it's mostly (expletive). They just aren't true. They're just tall tales that keep getting taller.
"We've had a lot of people come through here. But they are just normal, regular people. I love so many of the people that have come through here."
But the store will see fewer of those people starting on Jan. 1. That's when Pallucca's will be closing its grocery side and its regular operations. The business will still stay open on a semi-regular basis – Pallucca said the catering side would continue and added that they would have occasional meat sales for people to scoop up large quantities of the store's famous meats.
"Retail sales just aren't what they used to be," said Dick, 69. "And honestly, neither am I. If I could do what I used to be able to do, we might be able to keep going."
The change is one of many that have occurred in the market's storied history.
In 1909, Attilio Pallucca, Dick's grandfather, entered into a partnership with Enrico Moriconi, starting a small grocery store on Cherokee Street in Frontenac. The store, then known as the Italian-American Cooperative Store, mainly supplied to Italian-Americans, who were the early settlers in Frontenac.
In 1930, the business moved from Cherokee Street to its location on East McKay Street, and three years later, Attilio bought Moriconi's share. It's been in the Pallucca family ever since. When Attilio retired, he sold the business to Joe, Dick's father, and Raymond Pallucca, Dick's uncle. Five years later, Dick became a man when his father, who pushed himself hard at work, died of a heart attack in 1959.
Joe hadn't allowed Dick to cut the meat, an important job for the market's business. But Joe passed on a Thursday, the funeral on Monday and on Tuesday, Dick, 20 at the time, began cutting the store's meat. He served as co-owner with Raymond until Raymond's death in the 1990s, making Dick the full owner.
Dick said he had many memories of the business he's served for almost his whole life, many of which involved the store's relationship with immigrant coal miners in the area. The store always offered credit in the lean times, something that carried over from Attilio to Dick.
"It was just a good friendship and participation in the community," said Lew Moriconi, son of Enrico Moriconi around Pallucca's 90th anniversary. "They extended credit to the coal miners during some very bad times."
Page 2 of 2 - But Dick said times were different back then.
"You never had to worry about them paying you back," Dick said. "They could be in the worst state, and still struggling, but whenever that next payday came and they had enough money, they were back in the store paying us back. It was pretty amazing to watch.
"You could trust people like that then. People were different. If you gave somebody $100 or $200 in credit for groceries today, you might as well just send the money out the door with them. They won't come back."
Then there were the characters who came into the store, or in many cases, worked at the store. Along with one of them, Uncle E. Mannoni, Dick came up with the store's famous version of sausage.
"There's no great story behind it," Dick said. "My dad made sausage a certain way, and I didn't really care for it that much. So we started trying things out, and one day it was this, the next it was that. Then one time, we just hit it. There it was. And that's how we've made it ever since."
Pallucca's doesn't ship its meats, Dick said, but it doesn't typically need to. Former area residents come from all over to stock up before heading home, including a Chanute resident who left with about 150 pounds of meat after a recent visit.
"It's always been the most popular part of the store," Dick said. "My dad took a lot of pride in that."
It's been a long road for Dick, who started as a delivery boy for the store and "walked 4,000 miles and never went anywhere."
"I may be 69, but I've never worked a 40-hour week," Pallucca said. "So I'm really more like 138. What the hell else was I going to do? I've devoted a lot of time to this.
"I've loved my time here. I've enjoyed it. What I'm going to miss most are the people. We've had a lot of great people here. This place gets to be a part of you."