Roma Grocery featured Italian specialty items
In the not too distant past, the consumer shopped at as many and varied stores as there were different items on his shopping list.
If he needed a can of corn, he went to the grocery store; a prescription, to a drug store; flowers for any occasion, the florist; and on and on. Today’s larger retail stores offer not only groceries, but also a prescription drugstore, floral section, and on and on. At some places you can order a custom-built sandwich, complete with your favorite specialty coffee drink! In other words, our supermarkets are in reality super-mega general stores.
During the heyday of gold mining, more so than today, Nevada County was home to ethnic groups that included persons native to England – mainly from Cornwall – or Ireland or Italy, to name a few. Each group enjoyed its own customs and culinary specialties.
A while ago, I featured a number of small neighborhood grocery stores that were scattered throughout Grass Valley and Nevada City; a few were unintentionally overlooked. To that list I add Nevada City’s long departed, but not forgotten, little Roma Grocery.
In the early 1930s, on Sacramento Street at the top of the hill near the intersection of Adams and Prospect streets in Nevada City, Mario Angelini and his partner, Lorenzo Cicogni, opened the small neighborhood Sacramento Street Grocery. Here they stocked many specialty items that appealed to the town’s residents of Italian descent. Imported olive oil, specialty sausages, provincial cheeses and the like were featured.
The partnership lasted only a brief time and Mario soon bought out Lorenzo. A disastrous fire in the mid-1930s, said to have been caused by a tipsy neighbor carelessly throwing a burning mattress out an upstairs window onto the roof, destroyed the building. After the fire, Mario moved the business to a downtown location at the southwest corner of Main Street and Union Alley.
Union Alley is the one-block long street that connects Broad with Main and is so named due to its proximity to the long gone Union Hotel. Here, on a corner vacant lot, Mario built a small, one-story white stuccoed building with its entrance at 201 Main Street. He named the new store Roma Grocery, presumably to honor his native Italy.
Here also Mario, assisted by his wife, Mary, sold their imported Italian delicacies as well as standard American groceries, meat and produce. The store offered free delivery. During World War II, the store’s delivery truck was also utilized by the Nevada City Post Office for mail delivery.
Little Roma Grocery prospered and joined a host of other downtown stores, supplying the daily food needs of the town’s residents.
Also in the not too distant past, grocery shopping was mainly a daily chore. Residents could choose from Plaza Grocery, Painter’s Market, Central Food Store, Food Palace, City Market and Purity and others for their groceries.
In the late 1950s, a proposed freeway construction project by the state of California was announced and immediately began to polarize Grass Valley and Nevada City residents regarding its route. The plan was to join the two towns with a limited access freeway, with on and off ramps between and in the two towns.
In the early 1960s, the state began acquiring the right of way for what became the Golden Center Freeway. Roma Grocery was in the path of one of the proposed ramping systems as was the hot mill, South Yuba Canal and Ott’s Assay Office buildings and two blocks of homes on the east side of Coyote Street.
These properties were sold to the state, after which Roma Grocery and the homes on Coyote Street were demolished. Union Alley and Coyote Streets were widened to accommodate the proposed ramps. The other buildings were spared after civic outrage coupled with political pressure finally caused the ramp design to be changed.
Today, Ott’s and the South Yuba Canal buildings remain after having been completely rebuilt for seismic stabilization and were deeded to the City of Nevada City by the state.
Both Mario and Mary Angelini are gone. Mary died in 1959 at age 58, while Mario lived to be 81 and died in 1971. The little Roma Grocery is a fading memory of when everyday life was less complicated and moved at a slower pace – a memory of “The Way It Was in Nevada County!”
Bob Wyckoff is a retired Nevada County newspaper editor, publisher and photographer and author of local history. His latest book. “The Way It Was, Looking Back in Nevada County,” published by The Union, is available at a money-saving prepublication price. See an order form elsewhere in today’s The Union or check online at http://www.theunion.com. Keep in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 216, Nevada City CA 95959.
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