Meet you at Corsi's Market

February 09, 2011|BY TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Frank Corsi Jr. with his dog, Amanda, opens Corsi's Market in Hagerstown on Tuesday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Editor's note: This is a first in a monthly series about neighborhood grocery stores.

The lament of shop owner Frank Corsi Jr. went beyond the expected reminiscing about when penny candy really cost a penny and soda fountain drinks cost a dime.

It's the people coming into Corsi's Market, said Corsi, the corner store's 77-year-old owner, as he looked across the semi-filled store shelves to a vacant soda fountain counter.

"That soda counter used to be full," Corsi said.

Aside from imported pasta, soda pop and subs for sale, Corsi's offers a peek into the quaintness of a mom-and-pop shop borne from the work ethic of its patriarch. Corsi took over the business from his father, Nazarene "Frank" Corsi, an Italian immigrant who opened the shop on Hagerstown's West End in 1947.

The elder Corsi left the Mother Country in the early 20th century to find new opportunities in the New World. He came to Hagerstown in the 1920s and eventually built a business in Hagerstown in pursuit of the American dream. "Pap," as his son called him, owned a grocery store in downtown Hagerstown in 1941 prior to opening up the West End shop.

"He was a hard man," said Sandra Corsi, the wife of Frank Corsi Jr. Sandra Corsi runs the store with her husband. "Yep, he was a hard man."

But now, Corsi's Market belongs to the endangered breed of neighborhood grocery stores. Not only are its customers fewer in number, but more and more, Corsi said, their faces are less familiar. The store now closes at 4:30 p.m. instead of at 8, which "wasn't doing us any good as a business," Corsi said.

A separate family business, Corsi's Pizza Parlor in Hagerstown, did not fare so well. The business closed in 2008 and now has a new owner. Corsi's Pizza was started by Frank Corsi Jr.'s stepmother, Irene Corsi, and was later run by his brother, Gene J. Corsi, now deceased, and wife Peggy.

Corsi's is like a deli-grocery store mashup. Customers came in on foot seeking everything from freeze pops and lunch sandwiches to dishwashing detergent. Corsi's sells imported pasta from Italy and has a dedicated group of customers who come in to get grated cheese, Corsi said.

The store does not accept food stamps.

In many ways, Corsi's is a snapshot of the past.

You can still buy drinks from the original soda fountain — Frank and Sandra, 59, insist soda tastes better this way, but that might have more to do with the story behind how they met. Sandra was a teenage soda fountain girl; Frank Corsi was an admirer and the son of her employer. They married when Sandra turned 18.

But the stream of regulars is drying, Frank and Sandra said.

This doesn't worry them.

Corsi holds on to the dream of his father. He hopes to pass the business on to his children, as his father passed the business on to him.

He said the next in line to take over the shop would likely be his daughter, Melissa "Missy" Corsi-Miller, 40, who lives in the apartment by the shop — the same place his father lived when he ran Corsi's.

But is she interested in owning it one day?

"Maybe," said Corsi-Miller, a former cosmetologist who now works as a paralegal and has two teenagers, Gregory, 15, and Hanna, 13. "But I know my kids are really interested."

Corsi's Market | 601 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

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