A Cornerstone of the Growing Lyon Village Community
Arlington has no shortage of local businesses offering high quality food, goods, and services, and it might surprise you to learn just how long some of them have been established in the community.
The Center for Local History has a growing collection of interviews with current and former business owners, the majority of which have been recorded by our volunteer Virginia Smith.
The Italian Store, a multi-location market replete with delicacies from fresh sandwiches to a gelato bar, opened in 1980 in the then “sleepy little shopping center” of Lyon Village. In this interview, co-owner Robert Tramonte takes us back to the days of the store’s founding before winding the clock further back to the days of his great-grandfather’s immigration to the United States from Italy.
NARRATOR: Robert Tramonte
INTERVIEWER: Virginia Smith
DATE: March 20, 2013
RT: The founding of The Italian Store. Well, we started in 1980 and right before 1980, my brother and I were working for my father. My father is an attorney in Arlington but on the side with his brother, Tony, he owned a nightclub in Georgetown called The Bayou. We ran the nightclub for four or five years until right between ’79 and ’80 when my dad sold it to the Cellar Door Company and within six months of selling the Bayou, we opened up The Italian Store.
VS: What was Lyon Village like in 1980 when you and your brother and dad went looking for a place to establish the joint as we say—the joint?
RT: Lyon Village was kind of a sleepy little shopping center. Back in 1980, I don’t even think very few people even knew the name of the shopping center. And the property where The Italian Store sits, they had for many years, even when I was a little kid, they had something there called Bernie’s Amusements which they had a pony ring there and they had these little boats and they had some batting cages and things like that. My sister and I remember riding the ponies when we were really young.
VS: So, you opened up the first day, who comes in? Who are your early buyers, early clients?
RT: In the early days, we really didn’t know what our clientele would be or we didn’t know what we were going to sell either. So, anybody that asked us for anything, we said yes which got us into a little trouble now and then. But, the very first day we were busy. People were anxious to have this new store open and we had a core of people I felt the first couple years that were Italian and they really supported us and they went out of their way to spend money to make sure that we survived. We knew their names. They knew us. We knew exactly what their order was going to be. We would put things aside, special ordered for them and they really helped us in the beginning. Also in the beginning, since we didn’t know exactly where this business was going to take us, we had a lot of restaurants that ordered from us.
VS: What would they order?
RT: Back in those days, this is 1980 now—but my brother made my fresh mozzarella and you can get mozzarella pretty easily nowadays but back in those days, it was very hard to find so my brother almost every day of the week, he was making fresh mozzarella and we would sell it to the restaurants. We do very little of that today because the supplies are there, much more readily available. We have to work a little bit harder now to get products that people can’t find and we do. I still think that we have the best network to New York of anybody in this area. We have suppliers that I don’t think anybody else deals with.
VS: Tell me a little bit about who came here in 1889.
RT: 1889 was my great grandfather, Vincenzo Tramonte. I haven’t been able to track down the exact location but, apparently [00:36:00] there was a group, they had an Italian food store there and my father said that it was a food store. It was also a general store. It was also a place where if you were a new immigrant, you could probably get a loan to kind of help you out. So we have a little bit of history in Manhattan, in the Italian food business.
VS: It is not out of the question that you should have opened The Italian Store, the food store.
You can find Robert Tramonte’s interview in its entirety in the Center for Local History – VA 975.5295 A7243oh ser.3 no.283. Photo: Lyon Village 1986; Source: Arlington Photographs: Before and After – The Guy W. Starling Collection PG210-0085
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
From June 2017 – May 2018, we will post one oral history clip and transcript each month, focusing on Arlington’s history, culture and identity.
What is the oral history collection?
Oral history is a popular method of research used for understanding historical events, actors, and movements from the point of view of people’s personal experiences.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.