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Museum talk features Save Mart’s Bob Piccinini

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POSTED January 11, 2010 2:03 a.m.

Bob Piccinini – the Manteca High graduate who helped build the family grocery business into more than 250 stores – is speaking during Thursday’s Manteca Historical Society meeting.

The society meets at 7 p.m. at the museum, 600 W. Yosemite Ave. There is no charge. Refreshments will be served.

Piccinini recalls when he was 16 and overseeing a crew of eight Mexican nationals picking and packing 1,000 crates of cantaloupes on Dutch Mitchell’s farm in Lathrop near where Interstate 5 is today.

They spoke little English. He had one year of high school Spanish. By the time he returned to school as a senior for a second year of Spanish things were “cool” as he was way ahead of his classmates.

The money he earned allowed him to buy the gold 1950 Mercury with candied apple red scallops he used to cruise Yosemite Avenue from The Patio past the Manteca High bell tower to the Foster Freeze and back.

It was a good time to be alive for Piccinini who played linebacker and guard his sophomore and junior years for the Buffaloes and swam freestyle four years for the green and white. He was good enough to be part of a relay team that established as school mark that stood - and was acknowledged -until a few years ago on the walls of Winter Gym.

He spent a lot of time thinking about the grocery business that his father Mike had started with his uncle Nick Tocco in Modesto several years earlier.

“Back then we thought it was pretty boring,” recalled Piccinini in an interview three years ago of Manteca that had 5,000 residents when he walked across the stage for his high school diploma in 1959. “If you wanted to have fun, you’d go up to Stockton or to Modesto. Looking back now, I realize that those were fabulous times.”

He is the quintessential small-town-boy-make-good who also fits the bill of a David standing up to the Goliaths of the supermarket world without driving down the wage and benefits of the people who have made it all possible -Save Mart’s 23,000 plus workers.

Piccinini, majority owner of the privately held company, is well aware of the fact those workers aren’t widgets, they are people who depend upon Save Mart for their well-being and that of their families.

Piccinini hasn’t worked in a Save Mart store for 38 years. When he did, however, he did every job except cut meat and trim produce. That included working as a box boy, cashier, stocker, warehouseman, truck driver and warehouse manager.

He got his first taste of the grocery business as an 8 year-old boy working for his father at Mike’s Grocery that was located  where Accent Carpets is now on the 100 block of North Main Street in Manteca.

Piccinini didn’t have his heart set on the grocery business after high school.

He worked in the casinos at Lake Tahoe one year and when they were cutting back for the winter, he ended up working at one of the stores his father and uncle owned.

It wasn’t until a stint in the Army that he decided what he wanted to do.

Piccinini ended up joining the family business spending about three years working at the Manteca store - Save Mart’s 15th location. It was where Hafer’s Furniture is located today.

Piccinini has spent about a third of his life - 18 years growing up and then another three years when he worked at the original Manteca Save Mart store - living in Manteca.

Piccinini was inducted several years ago into the Manteca Hall of Fame.

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