Commerce Corner in Monmouth Beach
A corner store is 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, the spot remains busy as the 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 US 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 the 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 worked to shape fine things that borough residents now take for granted. He called the long-fought but vital sand 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 there was no beach and 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 loudly make his point. It worked.
In August 1994, the mayor officially hosted Governor Christie Whitman and scores of federal, state, and local dignitaries to celebrate an enormous new beach at the MBBP. I was there that day with my wife and new baby. 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 borough 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 started at the corner of Beach and Riverdale (then known as Fresh Pond Road) in 1924 when John Wheeler opened a US Post Office and adjoining luncheonette. Just before his death in 1953, Mr. Wheeler sold the property and business.
After some in-between ownership, Newark butcher, Salvatore C. Tringola, Sr., acquired the business in 1956 for about $35,000. “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 November 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, and improved the luncheonette. Later on they added pizza and gift shop. Thomas Smith of Rumson did the design. The whole family pitched in to help run the business and Rose Cerrato would gain Monmouth Beach immortality as “Rosie behind the counter.”
Sal left the business in 1980 and returned to Monmouth Beach in 1999 with Diane Bonpua to open 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. Sal was a fabulous host and customers loved the food. After his death in Sept. 2010, the business fell off and Hurricane Sandy wrecked the building in 2012. Today is stands spectacularly rebuilt as the Beach Tavern.
Monmouth Beach Deli …
In August 1964, the Monmouth Beach Deli & Liquors was opened opposite the new US Post Office in a new Beach Road building. The business was begun by Hansen & Germano 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 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 touch in the kitchen. Bruno, a former Little Silver fire company chief and president, died in March 1990 at age 58; Bill Geroni passed away in November 2006 at age 92. They left many good friends and good memories in Monmouth Beach. In the 1980s, the Monmouth Beach Mart acquired the deli’s liquor license.