As I sat down to compose this week’s column, the first thing I did, as I always do, is change the date and the week of the year at the top of the page before I write a single word. The date at the top held special meaning for me and my family. Some 115 years ago, on July 11th, 1907, my father, Samuel D. Costa, Sr. was born! I don’t mean to imply that that’s an important date in this country’s history or anything, but it is to his family and descendants.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and how his vision and hard work made our business possible. We are in our third generation of operation in Smethport and considering the age difference between my oldest son and my youngest, who recently joined the staff, we could realistically qualify for a 4th generation!
When Dad came to Smethport in 1950, there were some 11 grocery stores in town. Seemingly every neighborhood had at least one. As age and attrition began whittling this number down, there were eventually just two; Costa’s Grocery on West Main Street and the Market Basket some two blocks further West.
Feeling that there was much to learn, my father joined the Pennsylvania Food Merchant’s Association and regularly attended their annual convention. He often sat in on round-table discussions with other store owners. One of the questions that always circulated those discussions was, “how many stores do you own?” The answers varied from 6 stores all the way down to two stores. And there, quietly sat Dad with his one little neighborhood market. It was most likely during one of those roundtables that he got the idea to build a supermarket.
He was told by a local banker, “You can’t build a big city store in a little town like Smethport, Sam!” But he persevered and after many stressful months he ultimately opened the absolute first supermarket in McKean County. By today’s standards it wasn’t much – 5 aisles and two checkout counters, but it brought a lot of change to this little community. Ten years later, he saw a glaring need and brought the first hardware store chain to town.
Why do I hold my father in such high regard? Because if it had been up to me, I would not have had the vision and courage to risk everything as he did. With no education beyond a couple of years of high school, he made the most of his talents and maximized his opportunities. For those reasons and so many more, I am and will remain forever grateful to be his son.