Business, Community, Latest News, Preston County

DeMary’s Market — a mom-and-pop shop still going strong

BY REBECCA L. HUNN, For The Dominion Post

They were the heartbeat of America’s neighborhoods — mom and pop groceries with their aproned butchers, delivery trucks, and cashiers fluent in the neighborhood gossip.

But as time marched on, the mom and pops succumbed and the lights went out.

So how did this one survive? On average, in the two weeks before Christmas, DeMary’s Market in Rivesville will sell over 2,000 pounds of handmade sausage, both hot and mild. The majority will be link, but a healthy portion of ground goes out the door as well. And, just for the holidays, they make a sweet sausage and a liver sausage.

In other words, Demary’s has a signature product, and a very popular one at that.

It was 1918 when Julio “Pete” DeMaria, an immigrant from northern Italy, opened his store in Monongah, a stone’s throw from south Fairmont. But eventually, his interest turned to Rivesville, and one spot seemed just right.

You see, Pete DeMaria did his research. He watched traffic and counted cars to find the perfect location.

Unfortunately, the spot he wanted was occupied by a gob pile — a slate dump abandoned by the mines. You could still see smoke rising from it, but Pete was determined. That’s where he built the store in 1938.

His grandson, Richard “Rich” DeMary, the store’s current operator (and butcher), said he remembers his grandfather chuckling and saying that no one expected the market to succeed. He told Rich that a lot of people said the store would go broke or burn up. “But,” Rich noted, “here we are 81 years later.”

DeMary’s Market is about 500 feet from U.S. 19 and the Monongahela River in Rivesville. Turn northwest towards Baxter and Grant Town, cross the CNX tracks, and the store is on your right.

Pay attention, and you’ll see that you’re in a triangle of railroad tracks, tucked between the two spurs that head up through Grant Town and Fairview as they come off the main line that follows the river.

One spur is just a few feet from the back of the building, the other sits about 100 feet from the front door. They converge just beyond the store’s parking lot. Business is conducted to the sounds of train whistles combined with the metallic screech of the wheels against the tracks as they negotiate the sharp turns in the spur lines.

You may have noticed the change in the name, DeMaria to DeMary.

“Well they came here from Italy, and a lot of people changed their name,” Rich said, a note of resignation in his voice.

There are many other examples of name changes among those early Rivesville families. Sometimes it just made life easier. Rivesville was very much an immigrant community — Italian, Polish, Czech and Hungarian, to name a few. Rich remembers, as a kid, routinely hearing Italian and other languages spoken in the store.

DeMary’s Market has always been about family. Pete DeMaria’s four sons, John, Joe, Leo and Fred (Rich’s father) all worked in the store. In its heyday it was a thriving center of commerce that supported four growing families. Rich remembers when they didn’t just sell groceries and meat.

“Back then they would sell everything from bales of hay to baling twine to barbed wire. They would sell a little bit of everything when the mines were going good. We would sell horse feed, cattle feed, whatever the farmers needed.”

Rich has a faded copy of the newspaper ad for opening day. It says, “Announcing the Opening of the DeMary’s Cash Market, Saturday Morning, July 30, 1938.” It went on to list items and prices like coffee at 15 cents a pound, 25 pounds of sugar for $1.24, and 5 cent candy bars, six for 25 cents. But, from the day the market opened, it had a butcher shop — and a good one.

Rich said it was the butcher shop that always had his attention. He’d watch his uncles’ expert moves as they cut the beef and pork and chicken that filled the display cases.

And every day they would grind mountains of pork, carefully adding the seasonings for the fresh Italian sausage, the product that would propel them into the future after the other small stores faded away.

And, while Rich’s first real job at the market was delivery boy, he always had his eye on the back room, where the meat was cut and packaged. Little by little, he learned the trade from his uncles and eventually became DeMary’s full-time butcher.

DeMary’s continues to be well-known for its cut-to-order beef, and fresh ground meat, chicken and pork. And, befitting a hometown market, it also supplies several locally owned restaurants, as well as fire departments and other organizations doing fundraising dinners.

Meat is DeMary’s claim to fame, but mid-day there’s a steady stream of townies, workmen and visitors who know a good lunch when they taste it. DeMary’s Market makes a mean sausage or meatball hoagie. There’s a display case with fresh-made chicken and ham salad, pasta and potato salad. And, like many authentic West Virginia lunch spots, DeMary’s can serve up a tasty pepperoni roll with cheese and sauce.

Waiting for your lunch can be an experience in itself. Look up at the branch suspended from the ceiling near the door. It holds one of the biggest wasp’s nest you’ll ever see.

There’s a display of Budweiser holiday steins in their boxes from the 1980s and 1990s. In the middle of the market there’s a huge Toledo scale, a monument to a bygone time. It was used to weigh full sides of beef, as well as produce the store bought from local farmers.

Keep looking and, in among the groceries, you’ll spot more throwbacks. Demary’s Market has the air of a grocery museum, the good old days on display.

Rich’s father, Fred DeMary, died in June 2018, at 95. He, like his brothers, was one of the revered “greatest generation,” proudly leaving the store in 1943 to serve in World War II, where he was an active participant in D-Day at Utah Beach. He continued to work in the store a few hours a day through his 95th birthday.

Fred DeMary’s widow (and Rich’s mother), Mary Jane DeMary, still appears on a daily basis, making the short walk through the store parking lot from her home next door. She started working in the store in 1987 when her brothers-in-law retired. To Mrs. DeMary it’s a story of hard work and long hours that counted for something in this world.

“We were always there for anybody. We would help them out any way we could,” she said.

Living next to the store meant there was sometimes an after-hours knock on the door from someone in need. They were never turned away.

And the next generation has already stepped up. Rich’s nephew, Ryan Dolog has been at the store for 20 years now, mastering, among other things, the art of cutting meat.

Shannon Bradley, a long-time family friend rounds out the crew.

“With just three people,” Rich said, “everyone pitches in to do whatever needs to be done.”

Rich started a Rivesville tradition in the early 2000s. Just north of Rivesville, in a gentle curve on 19, there’s a very long, shear rock wall where in winter thick icicles form for about 100 feet.

As a kid Rich wanted to paint them, but his dad would just laugh and tell him it couldn’t be done. Well, it can and he does. Using biodegradable dyes, Rich waits until it’s very cold (he said it won’t work otherwise) and then heads out with buckets of water dyed in vivid primary colors. He stands by the road throwing the liquid upward until the icicles come alive in reds and blues and greens. It’s a Rivesville curiosity, well photographed and much talked about.

But for now, Rich and his crew are hard at work ordering and planning for that holiday onslaught when sausage goes out the door faster than they can make it.

It’s not just a product, it’s a tradition, a link to the past, and a tribute to those who came before.

TWEET @DominionPostWV