By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELLAND – Big numbers of people dropped in at Arcuri’s Cheese World on Saturday, its last day of business after 34 years. Some were even sandwiched in the crush.
The mom and pop at the corner of Welland Street and Crowland Avenue was a local landmark to many.
Wait. Did I say mom and pop? Perhaps mom and pop and daughter is more appropriate. Forgive me, Rachel.
Arcuri’s is iconic to more than a few. A family business operated with tender loving care by Joe and Assunta Arcuri and their daughter Rachel Polito. A family business where customers were treated like family. A family business where the ambience said: sit down and stay with us awhile.
Its closing was being lamented by many who walked in. In their heart of hearts, people knew they were losing something they would not see the likes of again. And they were missing it already.
Everyone knows Joe. Or so it seems. He was a Mio Brio soft drink distributor for 25 years. He also worked in Thorold’s Hayes Dana plant before starting Arcuri’s Cheese World in 1982.
He has the gift of gab. He relishes sharing a joke or two. Or three or four, once he gets started. He sings praises of Rachel, his pride and joy and her three daughters: Marissa, 28, Adrianna, 25 and Bianca, 21.
They “all helped” in the family business, he likes to brag, a smile lighting up his face. Rachel adds there was always “a playpen and a crib in the back” because the girls were brought up here. I get the picture: Italian ‘famiglia’ at its finest.
Working with her parents all these years became special to Rachel.
“I loved working beside my parents. Just raising a family and being all together like this, all the time, it was a gift.”
It was easy to see how the ties that bind meant so much to all three.
The business grew with the opening of Joe’s Geleteria Café and Ice Cream Parlour in 1986.
Rachel said her father scooped the idea from business trips to Toronto where gelato was well known. In Welland, it wasn’t. The frozen Italian dessert became a big hit in the local community. It also diversified the family business because customers could drop in for dessert, espresso or a “custom made” sandwich. Arcuri’s became a meeting place where friends could get together and socialize, and that they did.
The Arcuris also wanted to express appreciation to customers. Many became loyal customers, the kind who come to the store week after week after week. Some brought their children with them, years have gone by and now those grown children bring in kids of their own with them.
Frank Kurcz, a former Wellander who lives in Fonthill dropped in Saturday hoping to buy some of Joe’s storied homemade Italian sausage. To Kurcz’s dismay, the links were missing, all were sold.
“In my opinion he had the best,” said Kurcz who also bought his cheese and cold cuts here.
He was saddened to learn the store was closing: “I’ll be lost without it,” said Kurcz, a weekly shopper at Arcuri’s for many years. The loss of another mom and pop family business shouldn’t be taken lightly, he said, because it will be difficult to find the kind of service they provide.
On social media, friends and customers were sharing comments about the news. A small sampling:
Mary Poszmik: It’s sad (the closing), but the whole family did a terrific job serving their customers….will be sadly missed and enjoy your retirement.
Pamela Poulin: We always went there for ice cream. We will miss this place and the kindness of Mr. Arcuri.
Grace Brochu: We will miss visiting the store and the friendly smiles. Happy retirement.
Raffaela Vescio: You’re a beautiful family with kind hearts and spirits. Many years of long hours and hard work has been put into your business. May God Bless You all, with love peace happiness and great health. You now deserve to enjoy this time for you. Many will miss you all.
Rita Anne Gibbs: Congratulations on your retirement…well deserved… Now take time and enjoy with your beautiful family… may God Bless you always
Well, it was time to make the move. Joe Arcuri is 84 now. Things have changed in Welland and with many factory workers gone, business isn’t what it used to be. You know the story.
The property was purchased by someone in Toronto. The Arcuris say they do not know what’s coming in.
“It will not be a deli, that’s all I know,” Rachel said.
I asked Joe what he will do with his time now that retirement is at hand.
He answered with a verbal Italian expression. Rachel was there to take it down and to provide a translation:
“Buona Saluti e un paro di scarpe nuove e giramo tutto il mondo.”
“Good health and a pair of new shoes will travel the world.”
I say: Best wishes and happy travels to a great family!
(Sunday Surprise is an occasional feature on the blog, today’s being the first.)