You know the old joke, or variations thereof: “Go to Church and Wellesley to find a bunch of fruits and some fresh meat.” While this cute saying holds true for a variety of indulgences, the centre of the gay village has long been blessed with some fine independent grocers. One of the jewels of the street is Pusateri, a classic fruit and veg store known for impeccably fresh produce and a gay-embracing atmosphere.
Having recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, Pusateri has remained an anchor for many of the other Village businesses, offering local shoppers a cluster of well-maintained, competitively priced alternatives to big-box grocery stores. Certainly, there have been some recent closures since the arrival of the Loblaws juggernaut several blocks south, but for consumers looking for fresh local produce, there really is no comparison.
“We handpick everything,” says co-owner Tony Cerminara. “Every morning Frank [Mangione] goes down to the Ontario Food Terminal at 5:30am to pick up produce from the market there. As much as we can, we get our produce from local farmers, and I think it really shows.”
Mangione is the store’s other co-owner and the son-in-law of Joe Pusateri, who opened his shop back in 1966. Though now retired, Joe’s penchant for carrying only the best-quality fruits and vegetables still holds true, as does his fair-minded ethic in dealing with an astonishingly long-term staff.
“Joe did a great job in keeping those employees,” Cerminara says. “We’ve got our manager who has been with us for 25 years and a cashier who’s been here the same. We try to make it a hospitable environment for everyone.”
Marcy Rogers is one long-time customer who recently crossed the aisle to put on one of Pusateri’s trademark green aprons. A well-regarded writer and poet, Rogers landed a job there a year ago to help make ends meet and couldn’t be happier with the result.
“I’ve been shopping here for 20 years,” she says. “I’ve always loved this place because they treat their customers like family, but they also treat their employees the same way. They knew my situation, and I think they went out of their way to make sure I had the opportunity to make a living.”
It’s undeniable that the proximity of the new Loblaws has affected Village business somewhat, but Cerminara points out that his family-run store offers services that would be impractical for a big-box grocery behemoth, such as home-delivery and a responsive product request system. “Loblaws’ coming really forced us to step it up a little,” he says. “We’ve expanded our organic presence substantially, and it’s still all handpicked every morning.”