Niles grocery store icon remembered

NILES – “He’s an institution in Niles. That’s the best way to describe him.”

Those were the words carefully chosen by Patty Malone to describe Gilbert A. Macali as she stood quietly outside the Joseph Rossi and Sons Funeral Home on Wednesday night.

Macali, a lifelong resident of the city, was best known as the owner and operator of supermarkets in Niles for more than 65 years.

Macali, 93, passed away Saturday at his Niles home. Waves of people showed up for the calling hours Wednesday, reciting a familiar theme when remembering the popular grocer.

“I used to work at Macali’s part time,” Marlene Hazlett of Niles said. “He was really an icon in this city. I worked there with him for three or four years, and he was just a wonderful man.”

The family noted that Macali was proud of the fact that many area youth drew their first paycheck from a part-time job at his store.

Macali graduated from McKinley High School in 1938 and served more than four years in smallcraft of the 12th Army Air Force Emergency Air-Sea Rescue Boat Squadron during World War II.

Once home in 1948, Macali and his brother, Palmer, opened Macali’s Deluxe Market in Niles. Later, the brothers purchased an old A&P grocery store at 48 Vienna Ave. and took on the Valu King franchise.

Today, this location is run under the name Macali’s Niles Giant Eagle.

Joy Allen of Mineral Ridge has worked at the Giant Eagle for 24 years.

“I actually just left the store to come here to the calling hours,” Allen said. “I started there when I was 16 and he always had stories to tell. He had the best laugh ever. He would laugh, clap his hands and just chuckle. He treated everyone with kindness.”

Allen said Macali continued working every day at the store until just before his 90th birthday.

“He’d sit in his little office up there and everyone would come up to see him,” Allen said. “Even once he retired, he would stop by in his car every now and then. We’d all run out to say hi to him and talk him.”

Niles resident Karl Raub said Macali treated him like a son.

“When I was younger, I used to walk from the west side of Niles to his house on Hogarth (Avenue),” Raub said. “I would mow his lawn and those types of things. We were always very close.”

Later in life, Raub worked in Macali’s grocery store.

“I started out on Sundays early, just cleaning up the meat cases,” Raub said. “He taught me a lot of things. I became a butcher in the process and I worked for him for 15 years. He was an all-around great guy.”

Macali was active in the community, serving for 25 years as a member and president of the Niles Civil Service Commission. He was a member and past president of the Niles Rotary, where he was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow.

He supported the international exchange program and his family hosted a student from Brazil, Virgilio Medina, who has kept in close contact with the family over the years.

Macali was honored by the Chamber of Commerce as Merchant of the Year and as a Partner in Education, and received the Giant Eagle Corporate Award for community involvement. He was a member of the Ohio Grocer’s Association. He was inducted into the McKinley High School Alumni Hall of Fame in 2002.

Macali is survived by his wife, Dolores Lapolla, with whom he had three children, Virginia Macali of Columbus, and Gilbert Macali Jr. and Robert Macali, both of Niles.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. today at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Niles, preceded by a 9:30 a.m. prayer service at the funeral home.

Burial will be in Niles City Cemetery, where Gilbert will be honored for his military service by the Girard Veterans Council Honor Guard.