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Vonetes Palace of Sweets

Vonetes Palace of Sweets brightened many a day in downtown Derby as attested to by the record breaking number of correct answers and comments received for this quiz. Respondents from all across the country not only correctly identified the ice cream shop, but also shared their memories. And, if you look carefully at the list, you will see that proprietor Fran Terlizzi was one of the respondents!
Click on images for larger pictures.
Rather than trying to recite any history for the Main Street fixture, we want to thank Randy Ritter who suggested the quiz, sent along the pictures, and also forwarded this eloquent story on "The Passing of An Era" written in 1997.

The Passing of An Era 

When my aunt, Frances Terlizzi, closes and locks the door on Vonete’s for the last time, an era will end for my family and for downtown Derby. The store and its history has been part of my family for over 50 years, and its passing marks the closing of a major chapter in our lives. My family and the “Palace of Sweets” are bound together.

My father met and courted my mother, Mary, when she worked as a waitress there after the war. One of my earliest memories was of being carried into the store and watching the ceiling fans slowly turn. I couldn’t have been more than 4 at the time. Twenty-two years later my wife and I carried my daughter into the store on one of her first trips out of the house. She was 6 months old.  

I learned how to work at Vonete’s. I started there when I was 13 and continued there in one form or another for the next 33 years. I had two of the hardest working people I know to teach me, my aunt Fran and my uncle Ted. To this day, I believe my aunt could still work rings around most men and women I know. At 75 she has more energy than most teenagers and a quick wit and charm that has characterized her management of the store for so many years. Her brother, my uncle Ted, taught me by example the meaning of “attention to detail” and an “honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work”; lessons that would last a lifetime. In those days the ice cream was delivered every week from the Ansonia store in 20 gallon stainless steel cylinders which we stored in a huge basement freezer, whipped cream was made fresh 2 to 3 times a day (especially during the summer months) and chocolate covered ice cream bars were hand dipped. I knew I was growing when I was able to lift those cylinders and carry them without having them scrape the floor. 

The seasons were measured by the decorations Fran would put up in the window facing Main Street. For the Christmas season the window would be strung with lights and a miniature tree would be decorated and set in a corner of the window. The main treat was a huge hand made candy cane, which was the prize in a contest to guess its weight. Valentine’s Day was dominated by a display of hear shaped boxes of candy from Whitmans, Schraffts and, of course Vonete’s home made chocolates. But the main event was Easter. Planning and preparation for the East season started right after Christmas. The chocolate bunnies, ducks and crosses would be made ready, hundreds of wicker and plastic baskets would be ordered as well as “commercial” candy basket stuffers, stuffed toys and other novelty items. As Easter approached new shelves would be mounted around the cream fountain. The rear of the store would be transformed into an Easter basket factory’ batches of 25 to 35 at a time. Friends and relatives would join in to help, my uncle Art (Fran and Ted’s brother) my cousin Judy, Joe Dorsio, “Tootie” DeGennaro and in later years, my wife and children would lend a hand. Fran would make the bows and place the finished products in the window and on the shelves, we would fill the baskets and Ted and I would wrap each one. Be Easter week all the shelf space in the store was filled with chocolate baskets, chocolate rabbits, chocolate crosses, and filled baskets ranging from .99c to $100. The candy case would be filled with assortments of home made chocolates and jellybeans, which were weighted out on a vintage 1898 scale of marble and brass. Good Friday was our busiest day’ we opened at 7am and didn’t close until 10pm. Customers would be lined up 3 deep along the length of the fountain and all the table sin the rear of the store were occupied. The year’s profits would be determined by the success of our Easter season; and the season's success was determined by our business on Good Friday.

I learned about community at Vonete’s. Downtown Derby was the shopping center for the Valley boasting a J.C. Penney’s store, F.W. Woolworth’s and Howard & Barber’s department store. Hubbell Bros. Shoe store was on one corner and Lee Drug store on the other. Along both sides of Main St. and Elizabeth St. we had shops such as the Fulton Market, Bergner’s, The Model, Rexall Drugs, Saxon-Kent and the Toggery Shop. Friday night was shopping night and the stores would be open until 9pm with plenty of foot traffic. There was a shared camaraderie among the shop owners and a willingness to help out one another, such as taking deliveries for one another should a store happen to be closed. Vonete’s was the gathering place where local news and gossip were discussed over a cup of coffee or an ice cream soda. My uncle had a runyonesque circle of friends with nicknames like “the owl”, “the colonel” and “the whale”. During football season, the finer points of every game the Giants played would be discussed in depth. 

Vonete’s was my classroom for the lessons of life’ how to treat people’ the value of work’ the meaning of responsibility, the strength of family and above all, determination. Determination as demonstrated by Frances, who carried on the running of the store after the death of her brother Ted despite the inexorable flight of downtown businesses. It stands as a lesson in how Hemingway defined courage, “grace under pressure”.

Vonete’s was and always will be a part of my life, of my family’s life. It (along with Hubbell Bros.) was truly as “anchor” store for downtown Derby. The saying is “you never know what you have until its gone”. I think we all knew what we had and are thus the sadder at losing it.

Anthony Montefusco, 1997

Well said!!

This quiz brought out more correct answers than any we have ever done! Correct answers were received from: Fred Columbo, Jay, DELPHINE KREZEL, David M Hughes, Ken Dupke, Joe Titta, Robert Loftus, Scott Fredericks, Barbara DeGennaro, Jack Vagnini, Tony Cannici, Jim Mascolo, jim sheehy, Carol Della Rocco, Edward H. Williams, Sr., Marc J. Garofalo, Chuck Stankye, Beth Colette, Gary Parker, Fran Terlizzi, Ken Burgess, Julia Romano,  Joe Dedo, Renee Mercede, Markanthony Izzo, Ray Allen, Naya Esposito, Renee Luneau, Cyndi Poppa, Dave Petz, Jenniegrace Finch, Millie Fatterusso, Jack Moran, G. S. Harak, SJ, john Marganski, Laurice Boutagy, John M. Rak, nick from Terryville, Andrew DeTullio, MARY SUESS, Bob Ahearn, Bill Smolinsky, Jack Skelding, Gene Melewski, Kathi Ducharme, Kimberley Shelton, Marilyn Mizii, MaryAnn Meyer, BARBARA from Monroe, Jack O'Callaghan, Dominick Boanno, Patti Villers, Bernie Conlon, mark from Bristol, GENE WAJDOWICZ, Richard Chromik, Bonnie Berman, Leo P. Moscato Jr., Rick Schreiner, Joe Romano, Pat Oates, Frank Colonese, Lynne Anglace, Adam Rak, Fred Grant, Sylvia Stevens, LISA DETULLIO, Amy Cobaugh, barbara lynes, Joy Vars, Bernard Williamson, Vincent Afasano, Dave and Gail Grant, mary porter, Stephanie Anne D'Onofrio, frank lazowski, sr, Jeffrey Tracz, Paula Imperato Byrne, fred ferrara, Sharon Ritton-Holly, Paul Dinice, Howard Bradshaw, Pat Shelton, Mary Lou Boroski, Tom Francione, Paul Comkowycz, Jim Bartlett, jay b, Kristen Jecusco, Doug Adamson, Edward Baclawski, Sharon Tracy Sonsini, Rosalie Cota, Mike Sheahan, Tim Hession, Sue Witek Patten, James Allaire, Jean Malone, Frank Princevali, Carolyn Nowakowski Kovach, b sill, ROBERTA SCHNEIDER, Paula Tyszka, Ann Searles, Pete, Pat Duggan, Brian Calvert, Elizabeth Genovese, Virginia Ljungquist, Patrick Dalia, Gregory J. Golski, Marilyn Kassheimer, John Whalen, "G", Ray Staffieri, Jim and linda Mascolo, Robert Pasquini, Joe Drauszewski, and two who wishe to remain anonymous.

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