By Caroline Benveniste
On the awning of its store on Greenwich Street between Bethune and W. 12th, D’Agostino’s boasts that it has been “Family Owned and Operated since 1932”. But when you talk to Nicholas D’Agostino III, the CEO of the store, you discover that the history of D’Agostino’s starts even earlier.
In 1908, a gentleman named Frank Tucciarone opened a small grocery store on Lexington Avenue and 83rd Street. Frank had a daughter, Josephine, who grew up working in that store. In 1924, the D’Agostino family immigrated to America from Italy. In 1928, one of the sons, Pasquale (Patsy) D’Agostino bought into Frank’s business. Eventually, his brother Nicola (Nick) married Josephine, and Josephine asked him to buy out her father’s share of the store. And so it came that Nick and Patsy now owned the store together.
Since the market was located in an up-scale neighborhood, they decided that they would continue the service-oriented approach of the store, but they added to the grocery and dry goods selection fresh baked goods, and later a meat department with butchers. This arrangement was innovative for its time, and in 1932, the store was incorporated and became one of the early examples of a supermarket.
Patsy died in the 1960’s, and by then there were 8 stores. After his death, there was a rift between his family and Nick’s. In the end, two of Nick’s children, including Nicholas Jr., took over the business. Eventually, the business passed to Nicholas Jr. and his children when Nicholas Jr.’s brother left. Today, Nicholas III, the CEO of the company, is the only brother left in the business.
The Greenwich Avenue store was opened in the 1980’s in a building used for steel storage and some fabrication. Luckily for the family, they were able to purchase it a few years later, and 15 or 20 years ago, added some residential floors to the building.
Unfortunately, most of their stores are rented and not owned, and this has contributed to the challenges the company has faced. In addition to skyrocketing rents in some of their locations, the company faces increased competition from the internet, which according to Nick III, can eat up 5-10% of sales. Also, in New York City, some shoppers are willing to travel to the suburbs for groceries, and the diversity of food shopping options in the city have proliferated. The grocery business has small margins, so anything that impacts sales can be serious. At its peak in the 1990’s, the company had 25 stores, but now that number has dropped to 8 or 9. D’Agostino’s is not the only supermarket to face difficulties: As we reported last month, the Associated on 14th Street and 8th Avenue is likely to close in May. Fairway is apparently on the brink of filing for bankruptcy and will probably close some of its stores.
But Nick III is taking steps to adapt to change. Even in the early days of the business, customers or their staff could phone in orders and have their items delivered. D’Agostino’s was one of the first supermarkets with a website, which was started under Nick Jr. Now, in addition to their website, D’Agostino’s has partnered with Amazon, and Amazon Prime customers can order from D’Agostino’s with Amazon Prime Now to receive free two hour delivery.
Other initiatives that are being developed are targeted at seniors, and D’Agostino’s is planning to pilot these at the Greenwich Avenue store. Their first step was to expand the weekly 10% senior discount to every day, a move that has been very popular and has increased traffic to the store. We have been told that other offers are in the works, and we will continue to report on them as they go live.