PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Family touch made Ferrara's a Kent institution for nearly 75 years (2024)

Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor

Ovidio "Obie" Ferrara grew up in the grocery business. He was 10 years old when his parents began selling macaroni and produce out of the living room of their home in Kent in 1915.

Ferrara's Quality Store, located on Summit Street at the corner of DePeyster Street, was similar to many of the family groceries found on street corners in Kent neighborhoods, including several run by Italian immigrants that stocked "ethnic" items -- such as pasta -- that weren't found on the shelves of other stores. Many store owners and their families sacrificed living space for their businesses.

What made the Ferraras' store different was that it endured. While the vast majority of the family-owned groceries eventually closed in the face of competition, theirs prospered. It lasted for nearly 75 years, until Dec. 30, 1989, when Obie Ferrara and his sisters, Jennie and Genevieve, finally called it quits.

By then, Ferrara Sparkle Market was an institution in Kent.

"There's nothing to it but hard work. We have no regrets," said 84-year-old Obie Ferrara, who was no stranger to 10-hour shifts, even as the store neared its final days.

The family business got its start with Obie's father, Emilio Ferrara, who had come to Kent from Rivisondoli, Italy, and found work on the Erie Railroad as a blacksmith's helper. He saved his money until he could send for his wife, Carmela, and their son, who was 2 years old when he and his mother came to the United States.

Emilio and Carmela eventually had seven children. Growing flowers and vegetables was a hobby for Emilio, but it soon became a source of supplemental income, too. The Ferrara children found a market for their father's produce in the neighborhood, and that helped convince Emilio to open a small grocery in their home. "We all worked as a family unit to develop our business," recalled Obie, who got his nickname from a teacher who found it difficult to pronounce Ovidio.

The grocery business eventually proved to be Emilio Ferrara's ticket out of working on the railroad. By 1923, he had quit his job to become a full-time grocer. He bought a truck and the family began grocery deliveries. Obie began traveling to wholesale markets in Cleveland each week to stock the store.

By 1931, Ferrara's Market had outgrown the family home -- Emilio and Carmela and their family had taken to eating in shifts so that someone was always available to tend to customers -- and a new store was built on the site of the original one. It was an imposing brick structure designed by Kent's foremost architect, Charles G. Kistler, with an ornate rounded entry way.

With the death of Emilio Ferrara in 1944, Obie took over managing the store. His siblings worked with him. Frozen foods and fresh meat were added to the inventory, and as the business grew, so did the need for larger quarters.

The Ferraras turned their sights across the street to a location on South DePeyster Street, where they opened a self-service supermarket, affiliated with the Sparkle chain, in 1955.

The new store was the largest grocery in Kent, housed in a modern, brick facility designed by Joseph Morbito, who later would head Kent State University's architecture school. At 9,000 square-feet, and fully air-conditioned, it was hailed as a marvel by the Kent Courier-Tribune, which noted such innovations as the glass exit door "opening automatically when package-laden customers step on the door mat to leave the store."

Keeping up with the times was one of the keys to the success of the Ferraras. "We've always catered to our customers," Obie said in 1989. "If they saw such and such at another store and said, 'Could you get that?,' we'd ... try to get it for them. That kept them coming back."

Personal service made a difference, too. The Ferraras -- who were joined in the business by Obie and Philomena's five children -- knew their customers as neighbors and friends and the store never lost its sense of family, even as larger supermarket chains began to establish themselves as competitors.

Customers at Ferrara's Sparkle Market were a cross-section of Kent: Large families who would turn up on payday. Solitary seniors from the Kentway complex who found single-serving items on the shelves. Kent State University students. Firefighters from the station across the street.

As the Ferrara children went on to successful careers, grandchildren could be found packing groceries working alongside their grandparents, great-aunts and uncle.

Obie, in his 80s, came in every day to "mind the store" from his corner office while his sisters worked the checkout counters. He and his wife and sisters lived in a house across the street, where, like his father, he tended a large flower garden.

The decision to close the store came about in part because there was no one to carry on the family business as Obie and his sisters grew older. Ferrara's was the second longtime family-run grocery in Kent to shut its doors 25 years ago: Kline's Market, which opened in 1908, closed a month earlier.

"We feel happy and grateful we've been a part of it all these years," Obie Ferrara told the Record-Courier. "You've got to like it to stay with it as long as we have."

Obie Ferrara died in 1994 at the age of 88. Several months later, in March 1995, the former location of his supermarket at 325 S. DePeyster St. reopened its doors as Kent City Hall.

PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Family touch made Ferrara's a Kent institution for nearly 75 years (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Chrissy Homenick

Last Updated:

Views: 5718

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Chrissy Homenick

Birthday: 2001-10-22

Address: 611 Kuhn Oval, Feltonbury, NY 02783-3818

Phone: +96619177651654

Job: Mining Representative

Hobby: amateur radio, Sculling, Knife making, Gardening, Watching movies, Gunsmithing, Video gaming

Introduction: My name is Chrissy Homenick, I am a tender, funny, determined, tender, glorious, fancy, enthusiastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.