Editorial: Honoring a Northampton community leader, Chris Cavallari of Serio’s

Last modified: Monday, June 09, 2014
Serio’s Market closed for business for the day Friday, only the third time in its history the family-run grocery store halted operations. The sad occasion was the funeral for owner Christina Cavallari, who died unexpectedly at age 57 after a brief illness May 30. The store closed two previous times for the burials of her grandparents, who started the family business in 1902 peddling fruit and vegetables in a cart around the city.

At Cavallari’s wake Thursday at the Czelusniak Funeral Home, friends, customers, former store employees and local business owners stood in a line that snaked down North Street and around the corner onto Orchard Street. Over the course of four hours, that line never got shorter because people kept coming.

Many waited for two hours or more to have a chance to pay their respects to Cavallari, and to hug her husband, Gary Golec, with whom she ran the store, her parents, Edward F. and Josephine (Serio) Cavallari, her brother, Edward Cavallari, and other members of the family.

Cavallari was not a politician, or an elected or appointed official, or the head of a nonprofit agency, or the CEO of a big company. She was a shopkeeper, who ran a small, family-owned business. The store she operated was not a superstore, but a small grocery store with narrow aisles, cramped shelves — and expansive and spunky spirit.

Cavallari personified that spirit.

The customers she came into contact with every day, drawn there for the most elemental purpose — to gather their supplies for the home front — often felt like she personally welcomed them into her store.

Yet Cavallari was more than a shopkeeper. She, like other small-business owners, was a powerful presence in the community, touching the lives of the two dozen store employees, including clients from Riverside Industries, the wide variety of people who bought groceries there, and the legions of area residents — including many sets of brothers and sisters — who count Serio’s Market as their first place of employment.

The cliche “taken before her time” is apt here.

Her death came when she was still young and vibrant, and solidly at the center of the family business. It brings to mind other untimely losses that also shook this community.

Others who died while still in their prime include Dennis Delap, owner of Delap Real Estate, in 2012 at age 65 after a brief viral illness; Eva Trager, longtime owner of the former Main Street clothing store Country Comfort, in 2011 when she was 65; and Douglas Kohl, who owned Thornes Marketplace and other local businesses, in 2010 at age 51.

Each time, decisions had to be made about whether and how the business might continue after the loss of the person who held the vision.

Country Comfort closed after Trager’s death, while Delap’s agency continued, though with different people and a new way of running the business. Kohl’s business endeavors have continued, led by former colleagues and business partners.

At Serio’s, no doubt changes will take place. Golec has said it will be hard to run the business without his wife, but plans to forge ahead. There is a striking monument on the sidewalk on Main Street dedicated to the memory of people who have played a role in the vibrancy of downtown. Inscribed on its base are the names of nine people, many of them business owners who contributed to the vitality of downtown Northampton.

In some ways, that monument is a testament to what has often been described as the “renaissance” of Northampton.

Chris Cavallari’s name belongs there too. Her business may not be fancy, but it is part of the backbone of this community.