||Family Works Market for Century
Steve Bongiovani is the owner of Bongiovani and Son, Inc., a stall within the Cross Street Market that offers produce and, more recently, fruit baskets and vegetable and fruit platters. To others at the Cross Street Market, his story may not be too out of the ordinary, but to the general population, it is certainly worth a look.
Like a handful of other market workers, Bongiovani's family has been in the business for quite some time. His grandfather, Tom Bongiovani moved from Milan, Italy, took a brief stab at the tailor business, and then opened the stall in the early 1900's. But as many like many in that time (compared to today's averages), Tom Bongiovani died relatively early on.
"He died when my father was only fifteen," Steve said. "So my mother started helping out."
From the name, it is obvious that the stall is mainly a family-run business. Steve, in fact, began helping out at the young age of eight, and has been working at the market ever since.
"I swept and took out trash--whatever an eight-year-old could do," Steve said. "I can't remember back that far but I don't think I was making much. My father probably gave me money to go to the movies and things like that."
His early years in the market were evidently good enough to gain his loyalty as he has been there ever since.
"I've never had any other job. I worked right up through junior high, taking the bus from school. During high school I drove because I had a car.
"After high school my father said, 'Go anywhere you want to college.' But I wanted to get married, so I did, and now all of a sudden I have two kids."
One of them, Steve's 23-year-old son, helps out at the stall three or four days out of the week. His wife also helps out, along with one other older gentleman. Clearly, the business is an intimate one.
Steve has been around the market long enough to have seen many changes take place.
"The biggest change has been in the neighborhoods," Steve said. "There aren't as many big families. There are more of what I call 'DINKS' or 'double-income-no-kids' families. They are the white-collar couples who both have jobs. We have to cater to these people differently. The small sales still add up. With higher income, people want more upscale stuff."
"People still come in with food stamps though," he said. "They buy their meats at the market and freeze them."
The stall may not be a huge money-maker, but Steve is content thus far, and is looking to the future with plans for gradual growth.
"We only get so much out of this walking traffic," he said. "There's only so much you can squeeze out of here.
"We're trying something new now with fruit baskets and platters. We're trying to get bigger accounts with large businesses.
The corporation Baltimore Public Markets took over several Baltimore markets in the past few years, including the Cross Street Market. They have begun work on certain changes--changes which Bongiovani thinks are for the better.
"They've had people coming in here recently. An AC guy came in the other day."
"They just raised the rent for the first time in five years so I can't complain about that."
About a hundred years after his grandfather started the business, Steve Bongiovani has no intent of leaving. The hours are long and hard, but he seems to have grown accustomed to them over the years.
Showing no signs of wear, Bongiovani said, contently, "This is all I know."