Sept. 16, 1980
After decades spent running his grocery store, Anthony Jannetta still finds that "it’s nice to open the door and meet the people." (Charles Curtis / Duluth Herald)
A. Jannetta Grocery: Epitaph to an era
By M.L. Levandowski, Duluth Herald
The hemp rope hanging from the hook behind the plate-glass store front no longer has a purpose. Nor does the pouch of Velvet cigarette tobacco or the box of Van Dyke five-cent cigars that lie behind dusty glass.
It all remains undisturbed. It’s been that way for decades in the A. Jannetta grocery store at 715 Piedmont Ave.
Even Lord Nelson, the English sheepdog with his head propped up against the old ice box, seems to be one of the grocery store’s fixtures.
But 89-year-old Anthony Jannetta wants things that way – the way they used to be back in 1899, when his father opened the store.
Bunches of bananas hung from the knotted rope in the store front then and baskets of fresh fruit were displayed below. But not anymore. The store window is empty and dusty.
"It’s because there’s no good fruit," Jannetta says. "We used to go down and pick our own fruit in the fruit houses on Michigan Avenue. They’re not there anymore. And bananas don’t come in bunches anymore. They come in boxes."
And there were bulk foods. Sacks of flour, rice, peas and beans. Not anymore, he says. Instead, Pampers, Campbell’s soup and Kellogg’s corn flakes have been put on the shelves.
"My goodness, it’s all packaged stuff these days," he says. "But it’s easier to handle," he concedes.
Penny candy is more than a dream of past childhoods to customers of the A. Jannetta grocery store on Piedmont Avenue.
And so he says he adjusts to the changes. But some things don’t change. His penny candy stays penny candy. The vanilla ice cream cones have stayed at 35 cents.
"You know, I still make ice cream cones," he says. "I don’t make colored ice cream cones because colored ice cream is too expensive. And when white ice cream goes up, I’ll have to quit making those cones for my price, too."
He continues to open the grocery’s door at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. He’s open on Christmas and other holidays. And he won’t take a vacation. He never has.
The routine has been the same since he took over the store in 1938 when his father died.
He didn’t really plan on taking charge of it. After being born in the upstairs apartment and helping out in the store as a child, he had intentions of getting out of it.
"I could have had a job on the railroad," he says. "But it was wished on me. … It was in my [dad’s] will that I take over.
Since then, he’s never thought of retiring or leaving his home above the store.
"As long as my health has been all right, I have never thought about it," Jannetta says. Then an afterthought and a grin. "It’s nice to open the door and meet the people." ….
The times have changed and so have most of the people. Only five customers from the old days still come to the A. Jannetta grocery store.
"Most of the oldtimers are about gone," he says.
The neighborhood children, however, still come in after school to buy penny candy out of the old-time glass case.
"They come in with slips of paper from their mothers telling them what to get," he says.
Odds and ends – items the neighborhood residents forgot to buy at the supermarket – are all they want.
"They just don’t buy like they used to."
Jannetta says he keeps busy, nonetheless. Back in the room behind the store he watches television and does his bookwork at the desk that sits below the Archie Bunker poster.
"I have a lot of bookwork. Too much bookwork. Too many taxes," he says. "It’s not like it used to be."
FOOTNOTE: Jannetta (who actually was about 80 years old when the story was written, not 89) continued to operate the store into the mid-1980s. He died on May 13, 1988. According to his obituary, he was a Navy veteran of World War I, and had been a widower since his wife, Amy, died in 1949.
Anthony Jannetta stands by the counter in his grocery store.