Editor’s Note: The purpose of this blog is to make connections with other people, because we are all connected to each other. The stories and images of the past help enrich our lives in the present, and the lessons learned will help us in the future. Often these connections are made in unexpected ways.
This post is one example. One of the images in our post Chicago Streetcars in Color, Part 2 (March 9) caught the attention of John Tenuto, our guest contributor for today.
His grandfather’s store was one of thousands of such markets in Chicago’s many and diverse neighborhoods. His story is emblematic of many such immigrant success stories. We should never forget how the dedication and hard work of people such as Natale “Nick” Colletti has helped make America great and a beacon to the world.
They say that one picture is worth 1000 words. Now, thanks to Professor Tenuto, we have the “rest of the story!”
My name is John Tenuto, a sociology professor from Gurnee, Illinois.
I came across the picture labeled: “Cars 269 and 1736 pass. One car is signed for route 52 – Kedzie; however, the slide says this is 2800 W. Chicago Avenue. The date is May 4, 1952. Andre Kristopans writes, “CTA 269 and 1736 are indeed at 2800 W Chicago Av. 52 cars used four blocks of Chicago to go between California and Kedzie. The left-hand turnoff to go north on California is right in front of 1736.”
My grandfather Natale “Nick” Colletti owned a grocery store at 2804 West Chicago Avenue from the 1920s until the 1960s. That is definitely his grocery store pictured there – it is the grocery store with the “Quality Market” and “coffee” signs! I have included a few pictures of Grandpa Nick in front of and in his store (my mother is with him in the 1941 picture). Of special interest for your website is the 1939 picture which has my Grand Uncle David Bullaro (my grandmother’s brother), my grandfather by a customer – and the customer is a trolley driver I believe (you’d know better than I)!
Natale “Nick” Colletti was born one of 9 children to Vito Colletti and Calogera Piazza on January 3, 1896 in Burgio, Italy. He worked in Italy until he was 18 as a farmer.
On March 26, 1914, he left for the United States at age 18 on board the SS Canada, the first member of his family ever to come to the U.S. He arrived at Ellis Island on April 8, 1914.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War I, and in 1918, petitioned for “fast” naturalization because he was in the military. It was granted and he became a citizen. He served some of his military service at Camp Hancock in Augusta, Georgia where he was made a citizen.
After the military, Grandpa Nick moved to Milwaukee where he worked as a blacksmith at a steel mill. He took a trip to Chicago with a cousin and met my grandmother Carmela “Nellie” Bullaro. He moved to Chicago and the couple was married at Saint Philip Benizi Church on October 31, 1920. They would be married until his death in 1972, for more than 50 years. They had three daughters – Caroline, Lucille, and my mother Josephine.
Grandpa Nick worked at various jobs, including as a shoemaker at Florsheim Shoes and as a boilermaker. In addition to taking care of his family, he saved money and brought 7 of his 9 siblings and his parents to the United States.
In 1928, he purchased a small neighborhood grocery store at 2804 West Chicago Avenue. He would own and run the store from 1928 until September 26, 1962 when he sold the store for an amazing $450.
The grocery store had a variety of food to purchase, despite being a small store. In many ways, the store symbolized the immigrant assimilation experience as it sold very American products like Coca-Cola and Italian specialty items like pasta (at a time when pasta was seen as a strange and exotic item by other Americans!). He loved wind-mill shaped cookies and in pictures you could see that cookies made up some of the prime shelf space at the store! The store had a full meat market and butcher shop, and chickens and sausage were sold fresh at the store.
His store had a phone as early as the 1930s, and he had trouble calling home because he could not pronounce the prefix “Independence” properly – it came out as “Indipidance” and the operator did not understand his accent always. His store served the entire “Patch” neighborhood and surrounding community, including the passengers and crew of the trolleys that went past the store all day.
On June 12, 1972, Grandpa Nick went to the bank to run an errand. He suffered a heart attack at the bank and passed away.
In 2000, we had his name added to the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island.
Thanks for a great website, and thanks for sharing my grandfather’s story.