Guercios

“ Hey Dad, we should buy this!” The indirect quote from Sam Guercio, over 50 years ago, that started an Italian markets legend. Guercio’s and Sons, located at 250 Grant St, used to be the Grant Poetry Market. Sam Guercio started working at the market shortly after his parents, Vincent and Nancy, moved the family from Cefalu Sicily to Buffalo NY in 1956. When the owner of the market decided to retire in 1961, Sam spoke to his father. Vincent and Nancy bought the market. Thus, the start of this Italian markets iconic journey.

The store is now run by five brothers. What started as a simple Italian market has grown and adapted to the economy and the cultural changes throughout the decades and has become one of Buffalos most reputable market. While maintaining their Italian roots, Guercios expanded their inventory to include products for all different ethnicities. Linda, an employee of Guercios for over 20 years, led me on an cultural journey through the aisles, showing me products that would tickle any of the different cultures that make up the west side. She led me through “Spain”, where any Spanish shopper would be thrilled with the selection. We visited “Albania” where I learned that vegeta (a mixture of spices and vegetables originating in Croatia ) is an extremely popular Albanian product. The selection of olive oils is out of this world. Through the whole tour, we remained in Italy (the sensational delicious aroma gave it away). Not only does Guercios cater to the vast cultural influences of the neighborhood, they also support many local vendors and groups. There is pasta from the pasta peddler as well as gondola noodles from a vendor on Niagara St. There is a featured display of special coffee beans form Brazil and Columbia distributed by Ann Salerno-Kobel, a Kenmore resident who opened a new and amazing type of store dedicated to the healthy nutrition of canines while allowing their owners to enjoy a cup of their fresh hot jo.

Guercios offers a variety of fresh produce. In the summertime, it’s prominently displayed in front of the store. While driving down Grant St. it is nearly impossible to not stop at the cascading barrels of apples and oranges. The second you step out of your car, the sweet aroma of all the mouthwatering nectars fills your senses. The great thing about their produce is the fact that a lot of it is from local sites. While they do acquire some goods from a greenhouse in TX as well as NYC, they receive a decent portion from the Clinton Bailey Market as well as from the Mass. Ave Project (MAP). (MAP is a local program designed to encourage healthy eating while making it affordable to people who may not have the means to eat healthy.)

There was a time when Guercios kept a cash register outside to make the purchase of these treats fast and convenient. Over time, safety issues emerged due to the deterioration of some of the neighborhoods. New residents conflicted with old ones. Demographics changed. Some people packed up their things and left while others stayed in hope of change; change for the better.

Within more recent years, the West Side is making a stand. People and businesses are committed to bringing the magic, the arts, the spirit, the revenue, and the safety back to their neighborhoods. There has been a large emergence of groups and stores who’s purpose is to bring the safety and “beauty” back to Buffalo. MAP and PUSH are just a couple of the organizations. Next to Guercios, there is a nail salon, which has been there about seven years now, and next to that is a newer business called the World Bazaar. They sell unique products representing different cultures. These are just a few of the groups/businesses that are striving for the better of Buffalo and its residents. Larry, a property manager for several businesses on Grant (including the ones just mentioned), has been doing his job for 20 years. There are apartments above some of these businesses and Larry has been responsible for their up keeping as well. He says there used to be a lot of drugs and drug busts in the area. It lead to the deterioration of the buildings and the property value. Constant repairs. While he and his workers were replacing doors and windows on these properties, he said that over the last five years, he has seen consistent improvement in the neighborhoods. “Every place has its moments, but it is definitely coming around,’ he says. The organizations, businesses, and people working together are finally making a large impact. “ Whatever they’re doing, keep doing it,” he says with a smile. In the meantime, one of his workers walks two doors down to Guercios. It is almost lunch time! Time for a home-made deli fresh sandwich from the finest selection of meats and cheeses around. Which brings us back to the root of this story.

Guercios has been an icon for the West Side for years. They have stood tall and proud and have earned a fantastic reputation. Reviews on them have been nothing but positive. The family-like setting, the “characters” inside, the food, the selection. Residents look up to Guercios. Non-residents come back for more. With the comparable, yet mostly cheaper costs of products, Guercios is a valuable melting pot market in Buffalo. Now, they are the wholesaler of choice by numerous local restaurants. Mothers, Buffalo Chophouse, and Left Bank are just a few examples.

Guercios and Sons employs roughly 20 to 25 people. Between the men who continuously stock their ever disappearing products, the men and women behind the deli cases who expertly cut meats and cheeses (the same folks who will make you the most delicious sandwich fresh from their selection of products), and the ladies who wait patiently for shoppers to bring their choice selections up for purchase, Guercios is a welcoming family oriented market dedicated to pleasing consumers of all nationalities and maintain and encourage improvement of the west side of Buffalo.

Part 3

     Connie Dispenza-Maue has been going to Guercios since its opening in 1961.  Having descended from Palermo Italy, she was keen to the Italian flavors of cooking.  Palermo is located in the island of Sicily.  It is rich in its history, culture, art, music, and food.  As a little girl, her mother loved to prepare delicious foods with the most perfect blend of spices.  Connie and her two brothers ( Joe and George Dispenza) would just eat up the delicious meals.  As Connie grew up, she learned all the secrets to genuine Italian dining.  She learned how to prepare classic and authentic Italian meals.  ” My mother and I would crush tomatoes by hand and then add a mix of sugar and spices to give it that distinct flavor.”  When asked what her favorite meal to prepare and enjoy was, she promptly responded,  “Spaghetti and meatballs, of course!”  When she moved to Buffalo New York, she brought her experience and love of Italian cooking with her. 

     She moved into the lower west side of Buffalo on West Avenue.  With her own family to think of, Connie began preparing her mother’s as well as her own variations of italian cuisines.  The trouble was finding the right blend of spices to match that taste of Italy.  That is when she discovered Guercios.  A small Italian market located at Grant and Lafayette.  As she approached it for the first time, the smell of Italian spices tickled her nose.  Connie looked at all the fresh fruits and vegetables prominently displayed in the front of the store.  The peppers and onions.  The apples and oranges.  When she walked inside, the smell of the meats, cheeses, and spices infused her senses. She was greeted with hospitality and warmth from the staff of the little market.  After only a short time in the store, she had met several of the owners.  The father and two of his sons.  Everyone seemed very proud of the market they created and were quick to assist Connie in the goods that she required.  They also took her around the store and showed her some of the Italian pictures and decor from and representing Italy.  She saw a beautiful painting of a city in Sicily, close to where she grew up.  After that display, Connie knew that this little market would soon be her go to place for all her cooking needs.  After happily gathering all her goodies, she could not wait to start preparing her delectable dishes. 

     As time went by, Connie continued to cook her Italian specialties with the help of Guercio and Sons.  As times changed, different group of families began to move into the neighborhoods.  Connie saw a change in the variety of goods available at Guercios.  In addition to the Italian delicacies, they began to carry other ethnic foods to keep up with the changing demographics of the neighborhood. 

     After many many years in the west side of Buffalo, Connie moved to north Buffalo to be closer with her son and his family.  Although no longer in walking distance to her favorite Italian market, Connie continues to visit Guercios on a regular basis.  Now, she brings her grandkids and great-grandkids as well, in hope of keeping this homey ethnic feeling with her and her family.

The Pasta Peddler is also a locally made brand of pasta. With its unique blends of pastas and raviolis, (not to mention its very catchy name), the Pasta Peddler is another example of the locality yet variety available in this Buffalo landmark.