Al Zupancich is a natural-born grocer. After all, he comes from the Zupancich family. Austrian immigrants John and Angela Zupancich, who settled in Ely, had sons Joseph, Eddie, Ludwig, Bill, Leonard, Albert and John Jr. Al is the son of the late Albert Zupancich and of Margaret Zupancich, a sprightly lady in her 90s.
Al’s store — Eveleth Country Foods IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) — is my very favorite grocery store. And I empathize with grocers during this pandemic as they try to keep up with the demand for toilet paper, and try to explain to disgruntled consumers why there might be a shortage of eggs, hamburger, yeast, flour, sugar, etc., etc.
Al is super-generous. He lets Girl Scouts sell their cookies at the store. He lets school clubs have car washes in the parking lot. He gives door prizes for Christmas parties — the 8-piece Henny-Penny fried chicken is great. And he has given free chicken dinners to many a local club.
He’s such a friendly man, and he always stops to exchange pleasantries of the day, asking me, “Where’s your sidekick,” meaning Gerry. He’s probably sitting by the front window of the store, I say, where he’s waiting not-so-patiently. Occasionally, I remind Gerry that shopping at the Eveleth IGA is a social occasion, with proper distancing.
Al and I have a common bond — members of the Class of ‘65, he from Ely and me from Biwabik. He has remained close friends with his classmates, a group of fellows, one of whom is Tom Berrigan. They travel the country to watch various national sports tournaments. One day at the store Tom stopped by and he got to talking about Al’s wallet — told me Al has had this wallet since he graduated high school. Al doesn’t just have the wallet — he uses the wallet every day.
So I inquired about the wallet with Al, and he smiled and produced it. The wallet was covered with cellophane tape holding it intact, and it was thick, packed with all manner of important things. It is a part of what makes up Al Zupancich, that personable fellow with the ever-present smile.
He now has a partner in the business, Dean Spragg, who began as a carryout boy when he was in high school. It was good to talk to Al by phone the other day. Funny how there’s an automatic connection with someone of the same class, of the same age. My guess is, as long as there’s work to be done at the store, Al will be there working and talking about the store. Like Gerry said, Al is a really good and very generous guy.
As for Al’s billfold, if there’s an “oldest wallet” category in the Guinness Book of World Records, I’ve got my money on Al Z.