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Oct 12, 2010 3:48 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Joseph Schiavoni, longtime Sag Harbor merchant, dies

Oct 12, 2010 3:48 PM

Joseph Schiavoni, longtime owner of Schiavoni’s IGA Market in Sag Harbor, died Saturday morning, October 9, following a long illness. He was 79.

On Sunday, the family received a phone call from an unidentified woman who told them that 23 years ago she had lost her job and realized, while on the checkout line at the market, that she had no money. She told them Mr. Schiavoni told her to take her groceries—including Halloween candy for her children—and to pay him whenever she could.

“That’s what he was like,” his son, Andrew Schiavoni, said on Monday. “There were many instances like that—when he knew people were having a hard time, he’d just wave them through. He was very generous in all sorts of ways.”

Joe, as he was known, was born to Angelo Schiavoni and Concetta LaSpina Schiavoni in his parents’ house on Main Street in 1931. He started working at his family’s Main Street market when he was just 8 years old, delivering groceries to customers by bicycle. He worked weekends and summers in the store until he graduated from Pierson High School and headed off to college in New Paltz.

But after just a year and a half of college, complications from a kidney injury he had suffered years earlier forced him to leave school. He returned to Sag Harbor and immediately went back to work at the market full time.

Shortly after he and his brother John took over the market from his father and uncle in 1967, the Schiavonis bought a neighboring building and expanded the two aisles of groceries, adding a produce section and meat butcher. Two more expansions over the years made way for the bakery and a deli counter that have kept the store bustling.

In addition to running the village’s centerpiece market, Mr. Schiavoni was a volunteer member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department and was the secretary for the Montauk Hose Company. He was also the troop leader of the local Cub Scouts for more than a decade, according to his daughter, Mary Mather.

“He always gave to the community,” Ms. Mather said. “He volunteered at Stella Maris to read to the children for many years and would take the kids down to the store and give them different treats at Christmas time, like a dad or grandpa. He felt like he was a grandpa to the whole community.”

His children all went to work, as he had, at the market at an early age. They packed groceries on weekends for 25 cents an hour, Andrew Schiavoni remembered.

“He was tough, but fair—at the market and at home,” Mr. Schiavoni recalled. “He wanted us to do the right thing, so he was strict, but he was very openly loving.”

The market is now run by Michael Schiavoni, Joseph’s son.

Mr. Schiavoni is survived by his wife, Victoria; three children: Mary Mather, Michael Schiavoni and Andrew Schiavoni, all of Sag Harbor; 10 grandchildren; a sister, Constance Taylor; and nine nieces and nephews. He was pre-deceased by his brother, John Schiavoni, and a sister, Leatrice Sherry.

A funeral was held on Tuesday at St. Andrew’s Church in Sag Harbor, followed by interment at St. Andrew’s Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Stella Maris School, St. Andrew’s Church or the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance.

April Schiavoni, a niece and manager at the market, called Mr. Schiavoni a “very integral part of Sag Harbor.”

“Joe told it like it is, but it was all tough love,” she said. “He had the biggest heart, and he cared about everybody, and if he had an opinion about something, you were going to know.”

Staff writer Will James contributed to this story.

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My sympathy to the family
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Oct 10, 10 11:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Oct 11, 10 2:34 PM
Joe was a integral part of local Sag Harbor - we extend our sincere condolences to the entire family.
By SagHarborBob (91), Sag Harbor on Oct 11, 10 4:28 PM
I'll miss those folksy commercials on WLNG. Condolences to the family.
By hamptonsnrcit (47), sag harbor on Oct 11, 10 5:39 PM
Joe was a wonderful person. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him, especially those here in Sag Harbor. My sincere condolences to the entire family
By Dayo (33), Sag Harbor on Oct 12, 10 10:30 AM