Legacy of Beloved Neighborhood Grocer Shines on in Brooklyn

Paolo Pesce, the humble owner of La Bella Marketplace, passed away at the age of 75 on May 16.

Brooklyn (Dyker Heights), N.Y. — A Brooklyn neighborhood lost a beloved merchant and patriarch on May 16 to cancer, his name was Paolo Pesce.

Born Aug. 12, 1944 in the fisherman’s town of Mola di Bari, Paolo had little more than a fifth grade education when he and his family emigrated to the U.S., but it was his humility and old school work ethic that opened the door to the American Dream.

In 1976, he and his two brothers started up a deli at Bay 45th Street and Cropsey Avenue, according to Paolo’s son, Nick. Eleven years later, they opened their second store which is still operating today at 18th Avenue and 66th Street as C-Town Supermarkets. They launched the next location in Dyker Heights called La Bella Marketplace and another in Staten Island.

In a tribute, his daughter-in-law, Rossella Rago, wrote:

“[Paolo]…devoted his very existence to my mother in law, Maria with whom he also shared a birthday. In a few short months they would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Despite his great means he was a man of even greater simplicity who preferred growing tomatoes in his Brooklyn garden over globetrotting. His yearly pilgrimage to our hometown in Puglia to walk behind La Madonna Addolorata in the annual procession would be the highlight of his year.”

A legacy worth preserving 

You may not recognize Paolo, but you know scores of nonni who were just like him, nonne too—the 70-and-over fixtures at Italian restaurants, delis and shops, who spent decades clipping your hair or making your favorite pasta, all while sneaking candies to the local kids.

They hail from the Baby Boomer, G.I. and Silent generations, and like with Paolo we lose another every day, but in an enduring and hopeful way, their story shines on through the good deeds and hard work of those who knew them best.

Paolo is survived by his wife Maria, his children Antonella, Janet and Nick, his three grandchildren and brothers Lenny and Frank.

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