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Palma Torchia Vescio: A Grocery Store Becomes a Self-Serve Supermarket

“Services will be held Monday for Palma Vescio who with her husband opened a small grocery store with merchandise valued at $337 in the midst of the Depression and saw their business grow to a chain of 43 supermarkets.

Vescio Family


She died Saturday at the Hoyt Nursing Home at the age of 85.


Palma Torchia was born Dec. 27, 1897, in San Mango daQuino, Italy. She was married to Ralph Vescio on March 8, 1923, in Italy.


They came to the United States that year and settled in Saginaw. Vescio worked first as a laborer for the former Pere Marquette railroad and later in the casting shakeout room at a foundry [Malleable Iron]. Each week the couple would set aside a few dollars of his pay for the day they could start their own business.


In 1931 they opened a grocery in a small frame building on Wadsworth near Sixth. Mrs. Vescio tended the store while her husband worked at the foundry, joining her at the grocery when he returned home from the foundry.


She continued working at the grocery for many years and the Saginaw-based family business which became known as Vescio’s Inc. grew to 43 supermarkets in 31 Michigan cities with 1,300 employees and inventories running into the millions of dollars.


Mrs. Vescio was a member of St. Josaphat Catholic Church.


Surviving besides her husband are two sons and one daughter, ten grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, two brothers and one sister.”


-“Vescio Store Chain co-founder dies,” The Saginaw News, February 6, 1983.


Original Store Interior. Family outside Wadsworth Store.

For many of our readers of a certain age, the name Vescio will bring back memories of mid-20th-century grocery shopping. At one time, the stores, located throughout the Saginaw region, advertised daily and the chain was large enough to have its own newsletter – The Vesciogram.


Just a decade after its founding, the Vescio family celebrated the construction of the new store at 1321 Wadsworth. Located next door to their first store, the sleek new building was christened the Vescio Self-Serve Supermarket or Food Market. A newspaper announcement detailed the early growth of the store:


“In 1931  as the depression neared its depths, he looked into the future and opened a small grocery at 1317 Wadsworth, which he managed to operate with the aid of his family, while keeping his job at the foundry. When business increased to the point where the foundry pay check wasn’t necessary, Vescio quit his job and turned all his energy and ability into operating his grocery business.


Quality and service continued to win trade and Vescio found his store too small to meet demands. So construction of a new modern building at 1321 Wadsworth, which he equipped as a self-serve supermarket. The new store’s formal opening is set for Friday, when the once penniless immigrant youth, now proprietor of a thriving business, will great his customers as living proof it happens only in America. (The Saginaw News, January 15, 1941, p.2.)


In 1953 the Wadsworth store was expanded. Four years later, in 1957,  the family acquired a grocery store in Midland. Soon additional units were added, and corporate offices were constructed on Bay Road. At its peak, the chain had over 40 stores, and in 1973, reported 136 million dollars in sales. However, the expansion did not continue, and by the later part of the 70s, Vescio’s had to downsize. On September 30, 1985, the remaining markets were sold to Hamady.


Groundbreaking for Alma Store. Sheridan Plaza Store. Ralph Vescio stocking shelves.

Although the chain no longer exists, there was once a time when the Progressive Grocer proclaimed:


“If You’re ever driving in the vicinity of Saginaw, Mich., turn on the car radio. You may hear a commercial without words – a muted string ensemble playing a theme song. It may Sound only like so much pretty music to you, but thousands of area residents can identify the tune with a local supermarket firm [Vescio’s], and to its employees it means ‘They’re playing our song!’ (Progressive Grocer, March 1965.)



The Recipe: Mrs. Ralph Vescio’s Spaghetti Sauce


1 sm. bottle olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 lg. onion

⅓ lb. each beef, pork and veal, cut in ½-inch cubes

1 (No. 2½) can tomatoes

⅛ lb. Romano cheese

Pinch of ground cloves

⅛ c. brown sugar

1½ c. water

1 can tomato paste


Cook sliced onion and garlic together for 10 minutes in covered fry pan in ½ of the oil. Remove to large saucepan. Brown meat in fry pan in remaining oil. Place in kettle with onions and garlic. Add remaining ingredients except cheese, cover and cook at least 4 hours over low heat. During last hour, add ½ cup of the grated cheese. Rest may be sprinkled over the sauce when served.


History Note from Savoring Saginaw: As passed from Mrs. Vescio to Mary Kull to Marianne Kull Gilmore.


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