SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — For 32 years Armando Corces owned and operated Corces Suprex Market, on the corner of Central Avenue and North Street. Throughout the 1950s, '60s and '70s, few people in Seminole Heights and Sulphur Springs were strangers to him.
"He knew everybody in the neighborhood," said his daughter, Nancy Lamson. "He was very people-oriented. He loved people and he loved helping people."
Mr. Corces passed away July 6. He was 96 and had been in declining health since around the first of the year.
The small corner grocery closed around 1980, Lamson said. It had thrived for more than three decades despite competition from major supermarkets and convenience store chains. It was largely Mr. Corces and his old-fashioned dedication to his customers that kept people coming back.
"His customers were extremely loyal," said his son, James Corces. "They'd move away but they'd still keep shopping there. There was someone who moved to Brandon, I remember, who would still shop there. People would come from Lutz, from Carrollwood."
The market was still profitable when Mr. Corces closed it. But he was in his mid-60s and had been working 14-hour days, six days a week, since shortly after World War II. It was time to retire.
After he retired, someone else opened a grocery in the same building, but without Mr. Corces there it quickly went out of business.
Mr. Corces was born and raised in Ybor City. His parents had emigrated from Spain and worked in the local cigar factories.
He graduated from Hillsborough High School, and opened a grocery in Ybor with his brother Jack shortly afterward. World War II put an end to that business when the Corces brothers were drafted.
Mr. Corces was assigned to an engineering battalion, and was headed to Europe on the Queen Mary when his superiors found out he had a background in the grocery business. They made him the battalion's cook. He spent the rest of the war feeding his battalion as they moved through England and Europe.
"Because he was the cook, he was everybody's friend," his daughter said. "On the Queen Mary they gave him a room all to himself."
Not long after they returned home, the brothers went into the grocery business again, opening Corces Suprex. Jack, a butcher, ran the meat department. Mr. Corces ran the rest of the store.
He bought a house on North Street, just a few blocks from the grocery, where he and his wife, Helen, raised their two children. The whole family worked at the store, and a lot of the neighborhood kids got their first jobs there after school and during the summer.
In the three decades he ran that grocery, the neighborhood had its ups and downs, and Mr. Corces would always help out his regular customers by extending credit.
His long work weeks didn't leave time for much else, but Mr. Corces was an active member of the North Tampa Lions Club for 25 years, and served at one time as its president.
It was always hard work, but Mr. Corces apparently never wanted anything out of life other than a chance to own his neighborhood market and take care of his family.
"I asked him about that once," his son said. "I said, 'Dad, what else would you have like to have done?' He just looked at me and said, 'This is my business. No matter what happens, my family will always have food.' "
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Corces is survived by four grandchildren and a great-grandson.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]