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Sarnelli's Market — a mainstay in the mountains since 1978

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Linda Harkcome | For the Daily Courier
From left are Michael Sarnelli Sr., Michael Sarnelli Jr., 14, Lisa Voke, Robbie Sarnelli, 10, Rose Sarnelli, Joe Sarnelli, Jeffrey Sarnelli, Jr., 14, and Jeffrey Sarnelli Sr.

In the 1970s Joe and Rose Sarnelli would take their family to Champion to go camping. On their way from their Jeannette home, they would pass this empty lot on the corner of Routes 31 and 711 North in Jones Mills. Little did they know that 35 years later that lot would become known as Sarnelli's Corner.

The complex that currently houses three businesses began with Sarnelli's Market in 1978.

“Before we were here, there was only a store four miles in each direction and I thought this corner needed a store,” Joe Sarnelli said.

Sarnelli has been in the grocery business now for 57 years. He began his career with the former Thorofare Supermarket chain. He worked with that company for 11 years before opening his own store in South Greensburg. He had owned the store in South Greensburg for 11 years when he decided to buy the corner lot in Jones Mills and open the market.

“We used to camp at Cutty's at the time and we had a small store in South Greensburg, and I wasn't happy there and I just really liked the area,” he said.

The market quickly became popular with both locals and tourists alike.

“People used to bring their groceries with them from Pittsburgh or Ohio and now they know they can come here and get what they need,” Rose Sarnelli said.

The market has a full service grocery store with a deli featuring DeLallo Authentic Italian Food products and a variety of homemade salads. There is even a freezer section where Sarnelli's sells their own brand of meatballs and sauce, meat sauce, Italian roast beef and pulled pork.

Rose Sarnelli said the sauce is the same as she used to use in the Italian restaurant the family ran from 1982 to 1992 and when they operated a catering company from 1982 to 2010.

“The nicest compliment I ever got was someone telling me my sauce tasted just like their grandmother's,” she said.

Over the years, the market has become a community hub where in addition to getting groceries, local customers can pay their electric bill, buy lottery tickets, check out the community bulletin board for local events and even return a library book.

In 1980, the family opened Sarnelli's Beer Distributor.

“There was not a beer distributor up here on the mountain at all and we thought it would do well being we are so close to Hidden Valley and Seven Springs,” Joe Sarnellis said.

The beer distributor has more than 1,000 different kinds of beer, coolers and specialty drinks that can be purchased by the case. The store also offers kegs of many of the products. In addition the store offers pop and tobacco as well as ice.

In 2008 the family opened Sarnelli's Wine Cellar.

“People were always stopping in and asking where they could get wine,” Rose Sarnelli said.

The Wine Cellar offers wine from Glades Pike Winery and Christian Klay Winery. There are 35 different bottles open for sampling. It also offers non-alcoholic wine.

In addition to those businesses, the family had a video store at the location from 1984 to 1990.

“All of our businesses did well in their time, but we closed some because we just didn't have the family manpower to run them,” Rose Sarnelli said.

All of the businesses are family owned and run. Daughter Lisa Voke manages the market, and her brothers, Michael and Jeffrey Sarnelli, run the beer distributor. Joe runs the wine cellar. While they each run different parts of the business, they all pitch in wherever they are needed.

“It's nice that you get to spend time with your family every day. We have been working together since we were young. Others may not get to see their siblings but once a year at Christmas. It's unique that we have been together for so long but it works well. We all run different parts and it works well. No one person runs everything and we make all business decisions together as a family,” said Michael Sarnelli.

In addition to the family, the businesses employ 11 others. Linda Teets of Melcroft first worked for the family in the restaurant when she was 15. She worked there for three years. A year ago she returned to work in the market.

“People who live here and people who come up here for vacation come back time and time again because the Sarnellis treat everybody like family,” Teets said.

Lisa Voke said she is amazed at all her parents have accomplished over the past 35 years and said it was not without sacrifice especially in the early years when the family still lived in Jeanette.

“We did it with the idea for the kids to have something,” Rose Sarnelli said.

Through it all the couple's marriage remained strong and last month they held a special open house to not only celebrate 35 years in business, but also their 50th wedding anniversary.

Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.

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