TAMPA — A local institution that began as a corner grocery serving Italian and Cuban immigrants in Ybor City has closed after 120 years.
Castellano & Pizzo went out of business this month at Henderson Boulevard and Lois Avenue in South Tampa, its home since the mid 1980s.
Paul Castellano Sr., who still owns the building at 4200 Henderson Blvd., said the current tenants, Robert and Mandy Pallone, saw sales decline and couldn't keep the store going.
"I was just as surprised as anyone,'' he said Wednesday. "The whole family was disappointed. We thought they would stay open through the holidays because we always did a phenomenal business this time of year.''
Castellano and his wife, Jackie, leased the Italian market to the Pallones in 2010 after more than a century in family hands. At the time of the change, he said the market was the oldest, surviving independent business in Tampa.
Castellano's great-grandparents opened the store in 1892 on Eighth Avenue and 18th Street in a small building with a horse stable. The store expanded to South Tampa's Palma Ceia neighborhood in the '80s and, a few years later, the Ybor location closed.
The gourmet market has catered to generations of Tampa residents looking for authentic Italian meats, cheeses, desserts and prepared foods. Its wine tastings and lunch buffet and salad bar were big draws.
Lifelong customers like Marty Peate, 44, considered its closure a huge loss for a community like Tampa that's so defined by its cuisine.
"We're adamant about our food and local heritage,'' he said. "It's not like Chick-fil-A or Wendy's closing. It's sad to see it go. You can't go to Publix and get what you get when you walk through the aisles of Castellano's.''
Peate went for the Cuban sandwiches, sausages and sweets. He liked the mom-and-pop, nostalgic atmosphere not found at chain grocery stores.
Within its walls, hundreds of people learned Italian. Roberto Alvarez taught Italian classes at the market for about six years until the Pallones took over. Students ate lasagna and cannoli as they learned about the Colosseum in Rome and practiced saying mangia (eat).
Alvarez was shopping at Mazzaro's Italian Market — St. Petersburg's version of Castellano's — when he heard about the closing. He was disappointed but not surprised. "I watched the decline,'' he said.
The Pallones discovered the market while vacationing in St. Pete Beach. Someone there recommended they try Castellano's and, soon after, they bought it. Mandy Pallone described it as a "beautiful business'' and said they had no plans to change it.
A sign posted on the door this week said the market is "closed until further notice,'' and the phone was disconnected. The Pallones, who live in Madeira Beach, could not be reached for comment.
Castellano said he has received several inquiries about taking over the space, either as an Italian market or something else. At 71, he has no plans to reopen it himself.
On Christmas Eve, the Castellanos changed the marquee:
"Thank you Tampa for 120 years. Merry Christmas.''
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.