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100-Plus Things: Savor the selection at Guercio & Sons

In Italy, they would say it musically, something like: "GUER-chee-oh."

Western New Yorkers say it, no-frills, "GURSH-ee-oh."

Why stand by formalities? We're family.

Guercio & Sons has presided over Grant Street for more than half a century. When weather permits, you can shop under awnings on the sidewalk in front of the store. Apples, pears, eggplant and cauliflower beckon from big baskets.

Walk inside and your head spins. This little place screams "Mangia."

"A lot of people know us for having stuff that other people don't have," said Howie Giomundo, the staffer who does the buying.

Guercio & Sons is a historic Grant Street food shop. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Those colorful Guercio's trucks seem to be everywhere, supplying all kinds of restaurants in the city and suburbs. Reviews of these restaurants from The Buffalo News can be seen papering the walls near the back of the store. But besides supplying restaurants, Guercio's caters to home cooks.

"People watch cooking shows," Giomundo said, "and they need things."

Five-kilo Belgian chocolate bars cry out for attention. So do three-pound jars of roasted peppers. Everything seems available in quantities large and small. Grape leaves. Chestnut puree. Whole Kadora figs in light syrup. Countless kinds of pasta, cheeses, olives, olive oils and various vinegars. There is a wall of Stewart's pop, including Key Lime, Cream Soda, Orange 'n Cream, Cherries 'n Cream.

Colorfully packaged Stewart's pop flavors sit on a rack. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

A nook by the window holds shelf upon shelf of commercial-sized spices, from allspice to za'atar. Around the corner, anchovies come in a variety of sizes, from tiny flat tins to big round jars.

You will likely want to turn off your cell phone, so you can soak up the sounds of the city, from boom cars to church bells.

You will certainly want to pocket your phone inside, while you're ordering from the deli. A sign gives you no choice.

Crystal Guercio -- she identified herself as "Louie's second-youngest daughter" -- explained laughingly that the sign was born of necessity. Deli customers have to take a number, and too many customers, occupied with their phones, were unaware when their numbers were called.

"It makes it easy to go back to the days when everyone paid attention and was respectful," she said.

Garlic, cipollini onions and shallots are on display at Guercio's. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The bossiness is part of the fun, as in the case of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. Most people don't seem to mind obeying, especially for the sake of a huge, juicy sandwich, like the Guercio or the Tommy Boy.

Frank Limeri visits regularly from South Buffalo.

"It's unique," he said. "Just the overall atmosphere, it's so cool."

"This place is an absolute gem," said Peter Tasca, who treks in from Williamsville. "I love to cook and eat. I always end up buying more than I expected. I start with a basket, then I need a cart. I always spend at least $50."

Lucinda Ingalls combines a weekly trip to Guercio with her errand to pick up her CSA share.

"Where else can you find this selection?" she marveled.

Derek Cannizzaro fills a deli order for customer John Richardson, who shops at Guercio's daily. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

You have to be in the right mood to go to Guercio's. They have a parking lot across the street, but street traffic can be tight. There's a crowded urban feel, inside and out.

"People from New York come in here, they say it reminds them of New York City," Giomundo said.

Prices tend to be low. The best bargains are in the store-packed plastic containers. Near the back of the store are grains and legumes -- Autumn Mix lentils, Black Beluga lentils, French green lentils, brown rice, wild rice, couscous, tri-color couscous, bulgur wheat, St. Lucia wheat, farro, amaranth.

In the center of the store are treats -- roasted chickpeas, wasabi peas, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts. This inventory will grow as the holidays approach.

"We buy in bulk, so we can sell it cheaper," said Howie Giomundo, who does the ordering.

You know Christmas is coming when Giomundo sends for cookies from Italy.

"He's getting ready for the cookie order," said Crystal Guercio. "After Thanksgiving, he gets the shipments."

Guercio & Sons employee Shannon Beaver stocks bananas. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Founded in 1961, Guercio's originally sold liquor and cigarettes. Then Sam Guercio began hearing that some friends who were restaurateurs had trouble finding the ingredients they needed. He saw a chance to help.

The store succeeded by adapting, and it continues to do so. Cheese in the dairy case with Arabic writing, as well as other Middle Eastern items like pomegranate and carob molasses, caters to the neighborhood's recent immigrants. Guercio's also keeps up with trends.

"We've started to include more gluten-free," said Giomundo. "And people are looking for low-salt items. The Lexington Co-Op gets some products from us."

Luckily, though, Guercio's knows not to change too much. There are no branches, just this one store. A weekday afternoon found Santina Guercio behind the counter.

"My mother retired when I was 23, and I began filling in for her," she said. "I liked it."

Grant Street is improving. Businesses are sprouting up, and new customers will surely be discovering Guercio's. What advice would Giomundo offer them?

He paused, perhaps overwhelmed by the question.

"Just ... look," he said finally.

"You'll walk out probably stunned that you saw what you saw, and bought what you bought."

Info: Guercio & Sons, 250 Grant St. 882-7935. Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday.

*Read the previous 100 Things entry, below:

100-Plus Things: Shriek at Frightworld's haunts




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