100-year-old labor of love is a bright spot for the community

It’s a bright, brisk Wednesday morning in the Cumberland neighborhood in Bossier City. The tranquility is pierced by dogs barking, playfully scuffling to determine the alpha in their backyard domain. From down the street comes the muffled sounds of hoes, shovels and conversation as folks tend a community garden.

It’s a bright, brisk Wednesday morning in the Cumberland neighborhood in Bossier City. The tranquility is pierced by dogs barking, playfully scuffling to determine the alpha in their backyard domain. From down the street comes the muffled sounds of hoes, shovels and conversation as folks tend a community garden.

At the corner of East Third and Thompson streets stands a modest brick building. A faded metal sign on the wall marks where a pay phone stood long ago. An ice merchandiser hums by the front door. Signs and flyers plaster the windows — one promoting a local ministry, one curled up piece of paper seeking information about a missing person, stickers selling cigars, lottery tickets and ICEEs, neon Bud Light signs. An American flag dangles from the awning, waving in the cool gentle breeze.   

Some folks drive by slowly, making eye contact with others who mingle on the sidewalk. They just shrug their shoulders and say, “Nah, they ain’t open yet.” The drivers pull away. They will return to check again later. In the meantime, the pedestrians pace anxiously and grumble, “He’s late.”

He is Vince Maggio. And as the sign on the front of the store proclaims, his family has run Maggio Grocery & Deli at 401 Thompson St. since 1923.

Keith Thompson walks across the street to unlock and open the gate that blocks the driveway next to the store. Soon, Maggio turns his pickup into the driveway and disappears behind the building. Moments later, the fluorescent lights inside flicker to life, and Thompson pulls back the bars and unlocks the front door. Maggio’s is open for business. 

After catching his breath, he explains he ran late this day because he was at home caring for his mother-in-law, Josephine Peters. Maggio won’t even consider any other option for her, even if it makes him late for work. He doesn’t believe in nursing homes, he says.

Inside the store, Maggio utilizes every square inch of space he can. The narrow aisles are lined with shelves stacked with everything from car fuses and fishing hooks to canned chili and snack cakes. The deli is in the back of the store. Thompson is slicing meat and cheese for customers, as well as fixing chili cheese hot dogs and nachos. It’s a one-stop shop in a neighborhood where options do not abound.

Maggio seems to just know what to keep in stock. He should. Like many of his customers, he grew up within walking distance of the store his father and grandfather owned before him — just one block north on Montgomery Street. As a boy, he delivered groceries in the neighborhood on his bicycle.

“I was brought up right here,” he said. “This is my home. I was born at old Schumpert Hospital in Shreveport, brought here and have been here ever since.”

The Maggio family’s roots already ran deep in the Cumberland neighborhood. Vince’s grandfather, Sam Maggio, opened the original store 100 years ago, next door to its current location. Running the store has been a team effort for this close-knit Italian family from the earliest days. That included Vince’s mother, who was a nurse at Bossier Hospital.

“Aunt Grace, Daddy, Uncle Joe, and Momma helped part-time running the store,” Vince recalls. “And Grandma was in here. Grandma died in ’79. Grandpa died in ’71.”

Maggio walks through the store recalling the history — so much he hopes he can remember it all. A photo of the original store hangs over the door to the cooler, which used to be a kitchen. Photos of four generations of the Maggio family hang behind the cash register.

“Grandpa came here and read the Bible, inside and out,” Maggio said. “Every Saturday, right here, with the First Baptist Church preacher, my grandpa would help him write the sermons.”

That faith has been passed down in the Maggio family with the store.

“Jesus is first,” Maggio explained. “Then second, you have your country — USA. Then you have your family.”

That faith also sustained the family when Vince’s daughter, Melissa Maggio, died in a car wreck in 2011.

“She was on her way to church to meet me and her momma,” he said. “I had just talked to her. She got killed in a car wreck on Benton Road. She was 24. That really aged me right there. I was in church, praying on my knees, when they came and touched me and took me to LSU. You can have everything you want, then when a life is gone, you don’t have anything. Only thing you’re going to leave with is your heart and your good name.” 

Vince’s wife, Sharon Peters Maggio, is his full partner in the store, as she is in life. It’s a union that seems more destined than determined.

“They had the oldest store in Bossier, too,” Vince said of his in-laws. “The older Mr. Peters and my grandfather played in Italy together. Mr. Peters and my grandfather were on the same boat from Italy. A week later, they saw each other — didn’t know they were on the same boat. They hugged each other and cried.”

They fought in the Army together before both landing in Bossier City, where both opened a grocery store.

Vince went to Airline High School. Sharon went to Bossier High. They met one night at McDonald’s. 

“It was about 9:30,” Vince said as he recalled that night. “I had to be home by 11. That was my limit. My daddy was strict on us.”

Vince’s friend Pete Glorioso knew Sharon’s father and helped broker the introduction.

“I went to see Mr. Peters before I ever talked to Sharon,” Vince said. “The old Italian way. I talked to her momma and daddy. They were so sweet to me. I didn’t know her daddy and my daddy went to school together.”

They hit it off that night, and 41 years later, they are still together and still running the family business.

“You tell somebody the grandpas played together on the same street, fought together in the war, then came to Bossier City and opened two of the oldest stores, and then we married each other, they say, ‘That’s a mafia wedding.’ I say, ‘No, God worked it out.’”

Sharon said it takes that kind of connection to keep a store like Maggio Grocery & Deli going.

“It was the perfect union for us,” she said. “I was used to being in the store all the time. You definitely have to have family. Somebody who understands this type of business. This little neighborhood depends on this place.”

The Peters’ family store eventually closed. Maggio is working to ensure the tradition remains in the family.

“We’re still going, thank the Lord,” he said. “I am training my nephew, Joseph Maggio, to run the store if something happens to me.”

Maggio greets everyone who comes through the door, calling most by name and asking about their families. At Maggio Grocery & Deli, bottled drinks are $1.99. Love is free.

“You’ve got to give it from the heart,” he said. “When you give from the heart, you don’t keep up with it. You just keep giving, because God will give it to you. If God lets me live one more day to see my family, my friends, my customers, I’m happy.”

One woman calls out, “Hey, Vince,” as she’s walking out the door. He doesn’t let her just slip away. “Hey, sweetheart,” he calls back in reply. “How you doing? You have a nice day.”

Joe waits patiently while Maggio is on the phone. “He’s good people,” Joe says of Vince. “I’ve never met anybody better than him. Never.”

“This is a neighborhood store,” Maggio explained. “When they come here, you want them happy and safe. I’ll take care of them like they are my own family.”

That love drives Maggio to give back to the community beyond the four walls of the store.

He was staring out the window of the store one Monday morning, sipping coffee and considering what more he could do for his neighborhood, when that love prompted him to take another step — running for city council.

“Bossier City has been so great to my whole family,” he said. “I want to give back to my community I was born in District 5. I live in District 5. I work in District 5. I’ve never left District 5.”

Maggio’s campaign platform was built on safety and infrastructure.

“We ain’t got safety, and we ain’t got infrastructure,” he said. “Every penny I spend for the city, I want it to go back to the basics — safety and infrastructure. That’s what we need right now.”

Maggio backs up his commitment to his district with his actions. He has organized cleanup efforts to keep trash out of the neighborhood.

“I’ve picked up 13 dumpsters already,” he said. “What the trash people don’t pick up, I pick up — limbs, posts, iceboxes, dishwashers, basketball goals. I hate to see something on the side of the road. I’m giving back to my community. I don’t mind working.”

Through the years Maggio has bought properties in the neighborhood to keep them from going dormant. One of those properties is now Cumberland Farms — the urban garden down the street from the store.

Cumberland Farms’ mission is to “Restore Lives. Create Jobs. Ignite Hope.” It is an extension of The Lovewell at Cumberland, whose expanded mission is to help people in the area move out of poverty.

Maggio gave the Lovewell permission to the property with no strings attached. 

“We couldn’t do a lot of what we do without their help,” Mark Rodie, co-founder of Cumberland Farms and director of operations for the Lovewell at Cumberland, said of the Maggios. “It was a clean slate, an empty lot. We just show him pictures of what God has done, and he says, ‘That’s awesome.’”

On this particular Wednesday, a group of Haughton students were volunteering at the garden on their Spring Break. Maggio treated them to burgers and sandwiches from the store for lunch. On Thursday nights, he pays for security for The Underground, a Bible study and dinner for young people in the area.

For Maggio, it’s all a way to share a simple message with the community.

“If you have Jesus, honesty and work hard, you can have anything I’ve got,” he said. “I didn’t go to college. Daddy kept me at the store, helping on rent houses and at the farm. I’m teaching them how I was brought up.”