Tuesday, May 12, 2015

John Vlasic Groceries

Victoria, Pauline, John, and Genevieve Vlasic
John Vlasic Groceries, Poultry, and Bakery
338 Maplewood Avenue
circa 1912
photo courtesy of Mary Ann Vlasic Syzmoniak
used with permission

The photo above is of John Vlasic, a Croatian immigrant and long-time Ambridge grocer, his first wife, Pauline, and two of their children, Genevieve and Victoria, born December 1907 and September 1909 respectively. The identity of the uniformed man near the store's delivery wagon is unknown.* The wagon was used to make deliveries as far as Ohio.

The Vlasic family is standing in front of John Vlasic's store, Vlasic Groceries, Poultry, and Bakery at 338 Maplewood Avenue, which also was their home; like most small business owners at the time, John and his family lived above the store. While there currently is an Ambridge building with that address, it is not the building in the photo.*

John and Pauline had four children in addition to Victoria and Genevieve: Helen, John, Alphoso, and Katherine, who died at 2 1/2 months old. Pauline Vlasic was killed in an accident in 1920 when the truck in which she was a passenger, driven by one of John's brothers, rolled over during the return trip after making a delivery.

Pauline's young niece, Mary, had been planning to come to Ambridge from Slovenia, but after Pauline died, Mary thought she would need to cancel her trip. However, John had five children who needed care, so 17-year-old Mary came, alone, to Ambridge in 1921. When she arrived at the Ambridge train station near American Bridge, she spoke Slovenian, no English, and there was no one to meet her. Fortunately, a woman who spoke Slovak was at the station and understood Mary well enough to get her to John's home.

John married Mary in May, 1924, and they had three children together: Isabel, born in 1925, Eugene, born in 1929, and Mary Ann, born in 1945.

John and Mary Vlasic
Wedding photo
May 1924
photo courtesy of Mary Ann Vlasic Syzmoniak
used with permission

Isabel married Mayor P.J. Caul's son Jim. She is 89 and still lives in her home on Highland Avenue. Longtime Ambridge area residents may remember Eugene's Mister Softee ice cream truck. He passed away in 2008. Mary Ann, who lives on Woodside Drive in Economy, became a nurse and worked at The Medical Center in Beaver for 40 years.

2407 Duss Avenue
former Vlasic Wholesale Grocery building
credit: Nancy Knisley
March 27, 2014

Around 1930, John built a large three-story brick store at the intersection of 24th Street and Duss Avenue for his wholesale grocery and feed store business which he ran with his sons. The family moved from above the Maplewood store to the apartments above the new store about 1931. Mary Ann remembers how noisy the building's interior was, with the train tracks directly behind the building and the Spang-Chalfant (later Armco Steel) mill on the other side of the tracks. The building is now used as an apartment building.

Mary Ann says, "My dad didn't trust the government I guess. Social Security was optional at first--at least if you were self-employed. He invested in property instead." So, in addition to the wholesale grocery building, John Vlasic owned, but did not operate the businesses on, several neighboring properties: the tiny beer distributor's shack at 2409 Duss Avenue, still there, abandoned; the Amoco gas station at 2399 Duss Avenue, now replaced by CoGo's; a "lunchwagon" next to the Amoco run by Dorothy Toogood; and a Giant Eagle supermarket across the street at 2400 Duss Avenue, later the first location of the Pic 'N Sav supermarket, now a laundromat.

Harmony Distributors
building owned, but business not operated by, John Vlasic
The Daily Citizen Trade Area Directory

Former Harmony Distributors building
credit: Nancy Knisley
March 27, 2014

In 1932, John and his family moved to Highland Avenue in Harmony Township. John, who was 63 when his daughter Mary Ann was born, passed away in 1957. His wife, Mary, stayed in the home until 1963 when she sold it to the Karnavases. The family rented the 3rd floor apartment from the Karnavases until Mary built a small home on Elmer Street, also in Harmony Township. Mary died in 2002 at 97 years old. 

John Vlasic wasn't the only Vlasic with a grocery. His brother, Nick Vlasic, also had a store on Maplewood. And there were several Vlasic Brothers stores owned by Nick Vlasic and another brother, Matt. More about their stores in a future post.


Thanks to Mary Ann Vlasic Syzmoniak, John Vlasic's youngest child, who provided the information for this article. She has been looking for a photo of the Vlasic wholesale grocery building at 2407 Duss Avenue before it fell into disrepair, showing the Vlasic sign on the building. If you have one, or know where she might find one, please leave a comment.

Mary Ann has an interesting story to tell about the photo of John Vlasic's Maplewood Avenue store.

Sad thing is my Mother always told there only one of those pictures in existence and she had given it to my nephew in Minnesota many years before. I asked him for a copy many times, but never got one. A few years ago my husband's cousin found the picture of the store on eBay! We were in shock. It came from an auction in Washington, PA. The best I can figure it came from Genevieve's belongings. Her son had a business in Moon Run and kept his trucks at the old farm house. Eventually the farm house was torn down. I'm assuming they put some of her things in boxes and stored them in the garages. Her son retired and gave the business to his son-in-law. Then his daughter and son-in-law got a divorce. Maybe he just took the things to the auction without asking anyone in the family about them.
*Also unknown: the identity of the dog. And the horse.

**Mary Ann Vlasic Syzmoniak says that the grocery building in the photo was on the west, now odd-numbered, side of Maplewood and was razed long ago. Ambridge established a building numbering system in 1917 requiring even-numbered buildings to be on the east side of north-south streets. Before then, even numbered buildings were on the west side of Maplewood Avenue and Merchant Street.


  1. marc sachs bourdelleMay 12, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    Great-just great.thank you Mary Ann. More please.

  2. my great-grandfather. thank you nancy and aunt mary ann.

  3. Oh thank gooodnesss for finding this!

  4. Oh thank gooodnesss for finding this!