Amid chains, Trucchi’s finds a market
By Paul E. Kandarian Globe Correspondent

William Trucchi Sr. started a grocery business in 1928 in Taunton with $500 borrowed from his Italian immigrant parents. Now the five-store, Raynham-based Trucchi’s Supermarkets chain will add a sixth, with a Middleborough opening scheduled for February at a former Stop & Shop.

Times are hard, and the company’s growth hasn’t exactly been explosive over the last 83 years, but president James Trucchi, the late founder’s son, says expanding now is the right thing to do.

“When this came up, we absolutely jumped at it. Middleborough was something my father looked at for years, and he thought he had a deal nailed down once, but it fell through,’’ Trucchi said of the founder, who died in 1982 at age 69. “He’d be delighted to see it finally happening.’’

In a harsh economic climate, as consumers stretch their food dollar at giant chains like Stop & Shop and Shaw’s, and with retailers like Walmart and Target also getting into the groceries game, a small company expanding might seem a risky decision. But Trucchi, 58, said the company is relying on what it always has: customer loyalty borne out of quality and personal service, along with competitive prices.

“I think people are still looking for those special touches we like to give, great service, getting to know our customers, getting to know their names, helping them put groceries in their car if they need it, like it was in the old days,’’ he said.

Another big part of the equation, he said, is that Trucchi’s has its own distribution center at company headquarters next to Interstate 495 in Raynham, allowing the company “to buy direct and stay competitive.’’

The center’s location means not having to ship that far. The new Middleborough store, less than a mile from I-495, is 7 1/2 miles from the Raynham warehouse, Trucchi said.

The company has two Taunton stores and one each in Abington, West Bridgewater, and New Bedford. The latter was the company’s last, opening in 1996.

The sixth will be where a Stop & Shop existed for more than 10 years, in a shopping plaza on West Grove Street. The Quincy-based supermarket giant, with more than 375 stores in seven states, didn’t renew its lease in Middleborough and closed the store in July.

The store was gutted and will be renovated into a 45,000-square-foot space, Trucchi said. Construction should begin in early November, he said, declining to say how much it will cost, other than that it will be “a significant amount.’’

The new store will be the same size as the company’s largest on Tremont Street in Taunton, and be slightly different from the rest. It will house a small café - a company first - and a branch of the Taunton Federal Credit Union, which was founded in 1947.

“It’s the bank’s first expansion,’’ he said of the credit union, which in 1993 was the first to be included as a payroll deduction option for Trucchi’s workers, adding with a laugh: “It’s two small companies joining forces to fight the goliath.’’

Trucchi’s has 800 workers, compared with Stop & Shop’s 59,000.

Trucchi’s Taunton and West Bridgewater stores were built from the ground up. Those in Abington, a former First National, and New Bedford, a former Almacs, were renovations. All have been expanded and renovated over the years; West Bridgewater, the company’s busiest, was more than doubled in size in 1998.

“Opportunities like this don’t come up too often,’’ he said of expanding into Middleborough, where the nearest competitor is a Hannaford supermarket about two miles away. “Big companies have the resources to do it, while we get left in the dust. You have to be careful not to overextend, but you do want to grow.’’

Trucchi said his father worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, up to the day he died. The large family’s presence is still felt around the company, with two of his brothers and two sisters working for the business, as well as a smattering of nieces, nephews, and cousins.

The company also relies on employee loyalty, with many having worked 40 or more years - or, in the case of Richard Palazzi, 75, of Taunton, many more. Palazzi, a receiver at the County Street Trucchi’s in Taunton, was hired in 1953; he remembers delivering groceries to third-floor apartments and getting a $1 tip - “pretty good money for the 1950s,’’ he said.

These days, Palazzi uses a hand-held scanner to record deliveries in the store’s back room, a far cry from the paper-and-pencil ledgers of days gone by. He’s a man of many stories and a quick, biting wit, calling a pair of passing co-workers “Ding and Dong,’’ and is respected by fellow employees, who call him “Mr. P.’’

“I used to work for him; now he technically works for me,’’ said Richard Caron, 50, the company’s director of operations, who started as a bagboy at 16 under Palazzi. “He knows the back end so well, he keeps the flow going. He’s very important to this company.’’

Trucchi said the expansion into Middleborough will also help the local economy, by adding up to 150 employees. A job fair will probably be held in Middleborough in late November or early December, he said.

Asked whether he’s been approached by the large chains to sell his company, Trucchi said, “Yes, we have, but we won’t sell. My family came to this country with no money and worked hard to get where we are. We’re not selling on my watch.’’