Home > Business, Entrepreneurial, Food, Joe Vitale, Old Market, Omaha, Personalities-Characters, Writing > Remembering Omaha Old Market original, fruit and vegetable peddler Joe Vitale

Remembering Omaha Old Market original, fruit and vegetable peddler Joe Vitale


The Old Market.  Make that Omaha’s Old Market.  Sure, it’s a place, in this case a historic warehouse district that’s been gentrified into an arts-cultural hub and destination stop for locals and tourists alike.  But like any place worth it’s salt, it’s the people that make it.  One of the real holdover characters there from when the Old Market was still a wholesale produce center was Joe Vitale.  As the area transformed from industrial to retail consumer mecca he stayed on with his fruit and vegetable stand , still doing his thing amidst head shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, and live music spots.  When Joe passed away a couple years ago a little piece of the Old Market passed with him.  The following story for Omaha Magazine is a kind of homage to Joe and the slice of Old World commerce he kept alive.

 

 

photo
Vitale Corner

 

 

Remembering Omaha Old Market original, fruit and vegetable peddler Joe Vitale 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in Omaha Magazine

 

The late Joe Vitale was the last of the old-time produce vendors plying his trade in the Old Market. Long after the Omaha City Market closed, Joe stayed on.

The World War II combat veteran made a good living back in the day, first working for his parents Angelo and Lucia, and then with his business partner, Sam Monaco. By the time the Old Market took off, Vitale was set for life and well past retirement age, but he hung on there, wintering in Las Vegas.

Why keep at it, even into his 80s?

“He did it because of the love of doing business, being self employed, selling to new customers and former customers who wanted to buy something from the historic Old Market,” says George Eisenberg, a former wholesaler who did business with Joe.

“He was not only a throwback but he was the only one of the original market vendors that lasted that long.”

“I guess he enjoyed being down there with the people and doing his work,” says Tootsie Bonofede, who grew up with Joe. “You know, when you enjoy something you don’t want to give it up.”

Joe stayed through the area’s transformation from a wholesale-retail produce center to its rebirth as a cultural district. Manning the corner of 11th and Howard, he and his stand were fixtures before the modern Omaha Farmers Market started up.

Vitale, who died March 29 at age 92, was a popular figure among tourists, business owners and residents, who viewed him as a vital, living remnant of what used to be.

“He brightened up that corner,” says Mary Thompson, whose mother, Lucile Schaaf, was an Old Market entrepreneur and favorite of Joe’s. “He was a super guy. He was an energetic, happy person, and he always had a good word to everybody. He had been there for so many years, you could say he was almost the last of the originals.”

More than a merchant dealing in fruits and vegetables, Vitale was an engaging presence. “He had a lot of personality,” says Bonofede.

Douglas Country Commissioner and former Omaha mayor Mike Boyle, a longtime Old Market resident, recalls helping Joe out with an insurance claim once and being repaid with a basket of plums.

“That was about the lowest fee I’ve ever collected,” says Boyle. “Joe was really one of life’s great characters. He had a wonderful sense of humor and added a lot of color to that corner.”

Samuel Troia recalls he and his brothers going to Joe for business advice, not expecting much, but getting more than they bargained for.

“It was a great meeting and he helped us out tremendously, and with nothing to gain, other than to help these young kids, because we were in our 20s. He sat us down and said, ‘OK, this is who to talk to, and I’ll make a phone call for you.’ He told us about delivering what you promise. Joe talked to us just like he was our father.”

From that time on, says Troia, “every time he saw me he’d holler, ‘Troia,’ and my wife and I would walk over and buy fruit, and he’d wash it for us. It was so nice and refreshing to see him. It was just like having a family member down there in the Old Market.”

Joe treated everyone like a family member or friend.

“He was one of the most down to earth guys you’d ever want to meet,” says Troia.

“Everybody knew him and everybody loved him,” says Bonofede. “They can’t say anything bad about Joe. He was so kind to everybody.”

Advertisements
  1. June 19, 2012 at 5:12 am

    That was an excellent post today. Thank you for sharing it. I really enjoyed it very much.

    Enjoy writing? Join Us Today!

    Writers Wanted

    Like

  1. June 19, 2012 at 10:29 pm
  2. July 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm
  3. August 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: