At the Corner: Business in MB
A corner store — something to be found in most every American community. Like in Monmouth Beach. Down through the years many a borough youth can say they “hung out at the corner store.”
Today, it is a still busy Monmouth Beach Supermarket & Liquor store — the town’s commerce center, where Riverdale Avenue and Beach Road meet. It was most well known as Lou’s Corner Store. Owner Louis P. Sodano was a four-term borough mayor and 32-year owner of the business. Generations of Monmouth Beach residents remember the corner store as a spot where “things happened.”
Renowned for his work ethic, Lou moved to Monmouth Beach in 1959 after service in the U.S. Army. He took over the corner store with his brother-in-law Sal Tringola, Jr., in 1965. The partners greatly expanded the business in 1968 and added a gift shop in 1976. Lou assumed full control in the early 1980s. About sizable investments to grow the business over the years, the commerce savvy Lou said, “I wanted to work a little harder and I thought the town was growing so the business needed to grow too. Besides, working keeps you out of trouble.” And work he did — arriving at the store before dawn to start baking operations and putting in 15-hour days.
For nearly two decades the Monmouth Beach Mart was the epicenter of town politics. Long active in town public service, Lou Sodano served 16 years as mayor and three years more before as a commissioner on a “low tax, low debt” policy. “As the mayor I wanted to be available,” he explained. “I always felt close to the townspeople — there’s nothing like Monmouth Beach.”
“Dream big. Start small. But most of all, start.”
In his years as mayor he labored mightily to shape many fine things that borough residents now take for granted. He called the long-fought but vital beach replenishment project his finest achievement. “When it came to getting that sand, we never gave up,” Lou explained. “We couldn’t. Some summers at the pavilion we had to truck in sand.” Working with shore area Congressman James Howard, Lou testified many times in Trenton for the $20 million in funding. One time even climbing on a table to make his point. It worked.
In August 1994, Lou officially hosted Governor Christie Whitman and scores of federal, state, and local dignitaries to celebrate an enormous new beach at the MBBP. The town still reaps the benefits today. Lou also promoted the development of Griffin Park and performed more than 500 marriages during his time as mayor.
He was a longtime member and president of the MB First Aid Squad. “I’ll always remember Lou running out of his store — still in his butcher’s apron — answering an emergency call,” said an admirer. “In the tough early days of the First Aid Squad, he was among the most dedicated and caring, always the first on the scene.”
The Sodano family owned the Mart until 1995 when they sold the 10,000-sqaure-foot operation to Charles Sloughfy, Jr. of Wall Twp. Later on the store was leased by Andy K’s Dairy & Deli. The property was purchased in 2008 by Tamara and Kerrin O’Brien and later sold. Today it is the Monmouth Beach Supermarket & Liquor (at 73 Riverdale Avenue).
In the Beginning
Commerce first began at the corner of Beach and Riverdale (then known as Fresh Pond Road) in 1924 when John Wheeler opened a U.S. Post Office and adjoining luncheonette and store. Postmaster Wheeler, along with his wife Anna, ran the business for 28 years until 1952. He died the following year at age 70. A Vermont native, Mr. Wheeler was known for his stern yet principled New England ways.
In early town years there were no letter carriers; residents had to come to the post office to collect their mail, making the corner quite the gathering spot. A.O. Johnson was famous for “holding court” in the store during his four-terms as borough mayor. Shortly before his death in 1953, Mr. Wheeler sold the property and business to local businessman Edwin O. Peterson, Sr.; the deal was reached during a card game. Peterson then rented the store out to Walter Bloom (the father of longtime Borough Clerk Bonnie Moore).
Soon after Mr. Wheeler died, William Kittell became postmaster. Laura “Dolly” Bradley succeeded him and held the job for four decades. Appointed to the position by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, Mrs. Bradley was also a community leader — founder of the MB School PTA and charter member of the MB Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary (and a terrific athlete too: she a star on the 1927 Asbury Park High School state championship team and a perennial women’s golf champion at Old Orchard Country Club). She’s part of a legacy of public service. Her husband, Bill, was a borough clerk and a 24-year MB School board member; her son, Bruce, served as a borough public works commissioner for nearly 20 years.
In 1956, a Newark butcher, Salvatore C. Tringola, Sr., acquired the business from Mr. Bloom and the property three years later from Mr. Peterson, spending about $35,000 for the acquisitions. “Monmouth Beach was a quiet, sleepy place back then — not a whole lot going on, but Dad saw something about the town,” explained his son, Sal, Jr. “He had a vision of what Monmouth Beach was — a great community with great families. He was right, of course.” Sal, Jr. started out as a 17-year-old “soda jerk” at the corner store working behind a classic marble counter.
Along with his brother-in-law, Lou Sodano, Sal, Jr. took over the works in 1965 when his father passed away. It proved to be a very successful family business for many years. In 1968, the two partners completed a large expansion of the corner store, creating the Monmouth Beach Mart. At a cost of nearly $70,000 they added a large grocery section, butcher shop, bakery, gift shop, and improved the luncheonette. Later on they added piazza. The whole family pitched in to help run the business and Rose “Rosie” Cerrato would gain Monmouth Beach immortality “behind the counter.”
Sal left the business in 1980 and returned to Monmouth Beach in 1999 with Diane Bonpua to open the 230-seat Sallee Tee’s Grille. Located on the riverfront at the foot of West Street (site of the old Haul Out Restaurant), Sallee Tee’s would become one the Shore area’s premier restaurants. After Sal’s death in Sept. 2010, the restaurant business fell off and Hurricane Sandy wrecked the building in 2012. Today is stands rebuilt as the Beach Tavern.
In 1962, the post office was moved east up the road into a new building (near the location of today’s Michael Angelo’s). Home delivery of mail didn’t begin until 1964, with the first postmen being Mike Heath and Pat Germano.
In August 1964, the Monmouth Beach Deli & Liquors was opened in the same building on Beach Road. The Bruno family had acquired the business from Hansen & Germano, Inc. who had taken over from the Koch family, who had operated a store across the street for many years. Koch’s Grocery Store stocked meat and dry and canned goods and had the town’s first liquor license.
Little Silver residents C. Fred Bruno and Bill Geroni were partners in the deli, offering friendly service, quality food and good booze. Fred’s mom, Lucy, was particularly known for her homemade food touch in the kitchen. Fred Bruno died in March 1990 at age 58; Bill Geroni died in Nov. 2006 at age 92. In the 1980s, the Monmouth Beach Mart acquired the deli’s liquor license.
In the mid-1980s, Jerry Primavera, a leading area builder, and his son Thomas built the borough’s Village Square at Monmouth Beach mini-mall off of Beach Road. The old post office and deli building, along with two apartments on top, were razed. The development included a 26,700-square-foot retail and office building and a one-story post office. The construction cost was $3 million and businesses opened in 1987. Although somewhat controversial during its proposal, today the location is a beehive of activity — boasting several businesses and a busy U.S. Post Office.