By Lee Jones
For more than 80 years, Carmazzi’s Deli & Candy Store has impacted the community not only by selling candy and signature fruit baskets, but also by its dedication to what once was.
The store is nestled in the city’s oldest building, constructed in 1811. The business began in 1893 as Bianchi’s Fruit Store, owned and operated by current owner John Carmazzi’s maternal great-uncle Sam Bianchi. Carmazzi’s still sells fruit baskets, which are often given as holiday gifts. Carmazzi says about 100 baskets are ordered in a given season.
The store was renamed Carmazzi’s after John’s parents, Frank and Victoria Carmazzi, assumed ownership in 1931. They had come to Urbana, by way of Ellis Island and Waynesburg and Bucyrus, from their native Italy. John’s father, Frank, was a hard worker who established a rapport with the burgeoning city that lives on to this day.
Even now, stepping into Carmazzi’s is like stepping back in time. It is packed tightly with nostalgia, hearkening to an era when corner candy stores were the rule, not the exception. There still are old-time candy and comics, along with cigarettes and lottery tickets and newspapers, and it remains a place where children and old-timers congregate.
His mother, Victoria, ran the store after Frank Carmazzi died of a brain tumor in 1944. John spent his childhood and adulthood helping her manage the shelves.
“I remember waiting on customers before I could see over the counter,” Carmazzi said. “There is so much I owe to this store.”
During his school years, he was in the store as much as possible, even during his lunchtime. He would relieve his mother of her counter duties so she could have lunch herself. But sometimes he had to leave before she got back.
After one of his lunch-time shifts was over and he was back in the classroom, he remembered in a panic that he had left the door wide open, instead of closing the door as he should have done. He quickly called his mother and confessed.
He was right; he had left the door open. When his mother returned to re-open the store, she found a line of people patiently waiting for service and nothing stolen.
“Nothing surprised my mother,” he said, recollecting this childhood scene with a smile.
Over the years, five generations of Carmazzi relatives have taken their turn working in the family store. Carmazzi’s three nephews have sweat equity in the store, and his niece-in-law Janet Todd helps him manage it today.
Passing the torch
The responsibility of running the store and owning the building was passed to Carmazzi after the death of his mother. He has carried on the family business since 1993 and faces mixed feelings about selling the business and building to Jeffrey Donay.
He is happy to know that the chiropractor wishes to maintain the store and keep its name, but it is still hard to part with the business that was at the heart of his family for generations.
“It’s something that I feel had to be done sooner or later, so I’m glad we got someone there who is willing to back it up,” Carmazzi said of Donay. “I hope people patronize him.”
Lee Jones may be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 223 or on Twitter @UDCJones