When the Chilmark Store opens in April, it will be familiar through and through but with new faces behind the counter. Primo and Mary Lombardi of Chilmark, proprietors since 1986, sold the store on Monday to four Chilmarkers.
Frank and Judith LoRusso and Bill and Stephanie Rossi purchased the property and business for $1 million. The Rossis, who have two children, will run the store. The LoRussos are backers behind the purchase.
The Chilmark Store, one of only a few stores up-Island, is located at a critical spot in the town center. It is a family business, and Monday's change of ownership upholds that tradition.
The Rossi and LoRusso families are familiar to the Island community. Mr. and Mrs. LoRusso purchased the Cornerway on Jan. 20, two years ago. At that time it was known as Feasts. Mr. LoRusso said this week he wants The Chilmark Store to be what it has been for years.
The porch is a familiar meeting place for town residents and visitors. The store is about feeling welcome and friendly. Inside is a small grocery and delicatessen. And there is the familiar pizza, which both the LoRusso and the Rossi families insist will continue with few changes. What works at the store will continue.
"I think it is important that someone running the business understand Chilmark. And to know Chilmark, you have to live here for a certain amount of time," said Mr. Rossi.
Bill Rossi, 46, has been a real estate broker with Wallace and Company Inc. for five years. He is the chairman of the town's zoning board of appeals. He has brothers who are police officers in the town of West Tisbury and Edgartown. He is also a youth basketball coach in the elementary school.
Stephanie Tilton Rossi has roots that go back generations on the Island. While she is busy as the mother of two, she also has plenty of food service experience. She worked at the Edgartown Market as a cook in 1985 and for Wil Holtham at the Square Rigger in 1986. In the 1970s her mother, Shirley Tilton, was one of the co-founders of the culinary arts program at the regional high school. Her father, Bob Tilton, is a familiar face to anyone purchasing building supplies.
Mr. LoRusso said he began thinking about purchasing the Chilmark Store long before he purchased the Cornerway building. "It goes back to four years ago. Negotiations fell apart between us four years ago. I then purchased the Cornerway. We started negotiations around February of 2002 and came up with an option to buy that summer," Mr. LoRusso said.
During that process, Mr. LoRusso said, he started thinking about a family running the store, just as the Lombardis had done before. "Bill and Stephanie were the first people to come to mind. We have a relationship," he said, noting that he and Mr. Rossi serve together on the zoning board of appeals. "We have worked together on a couple of real estate deals," Mr. LoRusso said.
The Rossi family not only wanted to work at the store, they wanted to be part owners, and that suited the LoRussos perfectly. They formed the Chilmark Store Limited Liability Corp. to make the purchase, $900,000 for the real estate and $100,000 for the business - recipes included.
"We felt comfortable about going in on this," Mr. Rossi said. Mr. and Mrs. Rossi even see their children, 11-year-old Haley and eight-year-old Joe, helping behind the counter just as the Lombardi's children did years ago.
Mary Lombardi said this week she and her husband are happy about the sale and pleased that the tradition of the old store will continue. Mrs. Lombardi and her husband ran the store as a family operation, with their children behind the counter. They have since grown and gone in other directions.
"We are very happy that Bill and Stephanie have taken over the store and we wish them well and success in the years ahead," Mrs. Lombardi said. Mr. Lombardi declined to comment, not because he didn't feel strongly about the change, Mrs. Lombardi said, but because he prefers to let this moment belong to the Rossis.
The Lombardi family moved to the Vineyard in 1978 from Lynn. They started Papa's Pizza on Circuit avenue and ran it there until 1990. Mr. Lombardi brought his popular recipes for pizzas to Chilmark when they bought the store in 1986. Mrs. Lombardi ran the store in the first couple of years. The whole family got involved in the Chilmark Store when they left Circuit avenue.
Both Mr. LoRusso and Mr. Rossi had high praise this week for the Lombardi family.
Mr. Rossi said Mr. Lombardi was careful about keeping notes on the operation of the store, had a strong work ethic and was personable and warm with all who visited. "Our goal," Mr. Rossi said, "is to follow the Lombardi system as closely as possible." In the summer the store ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. There were 20 employees.
Shortly after the sale on Monday, the Rossi family joined Primo in the kitchen to learn how to make his legendary pizza dough.
Mr. LoRusso said: "It was a deal, basically, that took place on a handshake."
"He did everything he said he would do," Mr. Rossi said.
In the summer of 2002, Mr. LoRusso said he and his wife and the Lombardis completed the agreement for the purchase. Both couples' attorney, Ronald H. Rappaport, came over to offer assistance. Mr. LoRusso said: "Ron was amazed. He said something like if this deal goes through based on a handshake, this will be a first."
Of the transition, Mr. Rossi said: "We want this to seem seamless for the community. To those who frequent the store, it will be different, but we will try and make it seem as though there is no change at all."
As for Mr. Lombardi's pizza recipe, don't expect to see it published anywhere soon.
"We are sworn to secrecy," said Mr. LoRusso.
For those driving past the store there will be nothing new to see until spring. The Rossi family plans to spend the next three months cleaning up. Of an opening date, Mr. Rossi said: "We are targeting beginning in April. We want to feel the flow of the store before we get inundated by the season. Typically it closes on Columbus Day." But Mr. Rossi said that after the first year there might be some changes, such as extending the season if the community wants it.
"As long as he has the backing of the community," Mr. LoRusso said.
Many of the changes in town are taking place elsewhere. By summer the Chilmark police will be in the old Menemsha School. Town hall employees will be back in their renovated municipal building. Dukes County Savings Bank is moving a small branch into one of the offices at the Cornerway between Tea Lane Associates and the restaurant.
"We would like to put our own footprint on the store," Mr. Rossi said. "But that will happen after a year's time, after a season. I have heard that this is the center of the universe more than once. A lot of people come and meet at the porch." And that, he promised, won't change.