Thieves cause Hazelwood grocery to give up
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Say good-bye to another ma-and-pa store.
After almost 80 years, the grocery Michael Dimperio took over for his father in 1968 is ending its run. Dimperio's Market, Hazelwood's most tenacious retailer, will close in mid-January.
The would-be robber who fired a bullet into a filing cabinet in the 1980s didn't discourage the Dimperios, nor did the thief who pushed Mr. Dimperio and broke his glasses several years later. It took shoplifters years to chip away at their hearts' work until finally they decided to close.
The decision leaves the neighborhood with no full service grocery and could have been avoided if shoplifters were punished, Mr. Dimperio said.
"We've been working here for the benefit of thieves," he said of himself, his wife Carol and their son, Michael. "We've had it."
Not just a grocery, Dimperio's is one of the last local markets known for smoking its own meat and making its own sausage.
In 1929, Michael Dimperio's father, also Michael, opened a little grocery on Second Avenue, across the street from the current store. He and his wife both worked to within weeks of their deaths.
"I remember packing eggs when my hand was so small I could only pick up one at a time," said Mr. Dimperio. "I was delivering orders at 11. Me and my dad would get up at 3, 4 in the morning to pick up produce in the Strip."
He was working at Westinghouse, helping at the store on weekends, when his father asked him to return. "I said I'd do it for awhile, and now 40 years later, here I am."
Running a neighborhood grocery is one of those jobs of the heart. Michael and Carol have worked side by side for the past 35 years. Their 39-year-old son Michael, a meat-cutter like his father, started going with them when he was 6.
Among the handful of long-time workers, Seville Hibbs and her daughter, Patricia Kea, have worked there a combined 17 years, and her sister-in-law, Kathy Crist, has worked there 17 years.
"This store outlasted the A&P and a Giant Eagle that was across the street," Ms. Hibbs said proudly. "It's sad. I like the hours and it's close to home, but at least they're closing with a lot of loyal employees."
The incident that led to the closing occurred about three weeks ago when the owner's son caught a shoplifter who ditched her ID and gave police a false name. Mr. Dimperio found the ID later and reported her identity to a district judge, but by then it was too late.
"This woman had a police record this long and had just gotten out of jail."
He said the police have told him they can't arrest someone for stealing merchandise valued at less than $150 unless that person already has a record, but police in this particular didn't know this shoplifter used a false name.
In general, however, if a shoplifter is caught by a storeowner or security, police will hold the suspect long enough to get their identification and provide it to the merchant, who can then file charges with a district judge.
"If we catch someone, we will run their name," said Officer Waverly Morton, "and if they have more than one theft conviction, even if they just stole a candy bar, we can arrest them."
As Ms. Dimperio teared up, Mr. Dimperio said that, if any good comes of their departure it would be that the law is changed so authorities can start protecting the kind of businesses they say they want to attract to the city.
"I draw no salary because there's no salary to draw," said Mr. Dimperio, 68. Business has dropped by half in recent years, he said. "But I love doing what I do. I didn't plan to go out of business, but I don't want to work so people can take stuff."
Bill Boyle, a Hazelwood resident who used to live around the corner from Dimperio's, said he shopped there "every day for a lot of years."
"The hand-cut meats, homemade sausage, fresh produce and the prepared foods were second to none.
"Mike and Carol sponsored our softball teams in the 1980s and 1990s, so I wore the Dimperio name on my chest proudly, even winning a few championships along the way."
Mr. Dimperio said that, when he found the ID of the last shoplifter, he called the Zone 4 police to report it as evidence. "They told me to call 911," the emergency number. "So I can't even talk to the officers" who had reported to the scene. "I called the mayor's hotline, 311. I said, 'We have a problem here.' I heard nothing back from them.
"We've worked so hard, and we like the neighborhood, but we sat down and talked about it and agreed that all we would be handing our son is a heartache."
First Published December 23, 2008 12:00 am