For many Niagara Falls residents, this past weekend marked the end of an era. Mario's, a small family-owned grocery and novelty store located in the heart of the city's "Little Italy" section, closed its doors on Saturday after a run dating back to the 1930s.
Mario's, a longtime fixture on the 2300 block of Pine Avenue, was first opened in 1932 by the late Cesidio DiGregorio, an Italian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1913 and settled in the Cataract City five years later. DiGregorio's family ran the store until 1986, when the Mansour family acquired it, but left the layout virtually the same.
"We kept a lot of the original things," said Brenda Mansour, daughter of Foaud Mansour, one of the brothers who purchased the shop and ran it for the next 31 years. "We tried to keep it the same. We made it a home for people. It was more than a business. It was a home."
The store offered tobacco, penny candies, magazines, greeting cards, inexpensive toys and games and other items, and the Mansours mostly left it the same. Some of the antique drawers, humidors and cases were still there. But the racks where magazines were mounted were already removed on the final Friday of business. It was the first of many anticipated renovations awaiting the shop space.
Brenda Mansour explained that after more than three decades, her family felt it was simply time to move on.
"There was never a point where we could do family vacation. It was always that one person who had to stay back and interact with our business," she said. "Morning through night, from 5 a.m. until 8 p.m., it was honestly hectic just dealing with everything. It was too much on the family."
That sense of family, however, extended to a loyal customer base. Many of them came in and, after buying items ranging from lottery tickets to cigarettes to soft drinks, exchanged kind wishes and hugs with Mansour family members, who stood and often times fought back emotions. The family invited customers to the store Friday evening for pizza and a group photograph, and then hosted their final day of business on Saturday.
Tammy Lauer was among the loyal customers who came to get her lottery tickets from Mario's, one last time.
"They're a good family. Everyone who comes in, everyone knows each other," Lauer said. "You come in and play your daily numbers, and they know what your numbers are because you come here all the time."
New owners will soon take over the space. Brenda Mansour told WBFO that when reopened, the new shop will be known as Super Mario's, making reference to the popular video game character. Lauer was asked if she'd give the new owners a try.
"Oh yeah, of course," she said. "You've got to keep Pine Avenue going, the business area."
Yet the half-empty building reminded customers that a shop they knew for generations, one of the few remaining holdouts from Niagara Falls Little Italy's heyday, was going away.