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Constantine Charlie Smerlas

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Constantine Charlie Smerlas Obituary
Constantine Smerlas Charlie Smerlas Constantine Charlie Smerlas, a legendary fruit and vegetable vendor in the Brookline, Back Bay and Beacon Hill neighborhoods during his time, died on July 20 at the age of 87 after a period of declining health. For Constantine Charlie Smerlas, his fruit and vegetable truck along with the family-owned John Smerlas & Sons grocery store at 167 Amory Street in Brookline served as a second home, and each customer who patronized his business became a member of his extended family. Mr. Smerlas began working in the family business in 1930, at the age of seven, joining his father Frank and Uncle John, who took over the business in 1920 when their uncle, George Smerlas, who first began delivering fruit via a horse-drawn cart in 1911, returned to Greece. From 1930 until his retirement in 1986, Mr. Smerlas was a fixture in Back Bay and on Beacon Hill where he peddled the finest produce to generations of Bostonians from first a horse and carriage and later a red and then silver truck affectionately known as the silver bullet. His daughter Donna recalls that Charlie Smerlas always made sure his customers had the choicest of the produce. Up until the time my Dad retired, the way we shopped in our house was my mother would always call him about an hour before he was coming home and tell him what she needed. I knew that my Dad always repackaged the fruit and veggies that he got at the produce market because he didnt want anything that wasnt the best for his customers. I used to joke with him that I was 37 before I knew fruit came without bruises. In 1954, Mr. Smerlas, his brother Peter, and cousins Chuck and Lambert Buckyopened the store on Amory Street, expanding their clientele to Brookline, Chestnut Hill, Newton, and Cambridge, as well as the Boston University community. The Smerlas grocery store became a home away from home for countless students at the Universitys College of Fine Arts, located just a block away. It also became a stop for visiting artists with the Boston Pops | most frequently among them, Danny Kaye | thanks to Mr. Smerlas long-standing relationship and friendship with the Pops Associate Conductor Harry Ellis Dickson. And Elizabeth Taylor paid a visit during one of her appearances in Boston. Throughout their familys seventy-five years in business, the Smerlases always stressed a personal relationship with their customers who appreciated their commitment to quality produce and old-fashioned friendliness. Profiling Mr. Smerlas in a Vogue Magazine article about the economics of shopping at a supermarket versus a grocery store, customer Scott Burns wrote: Mr. Smerlas is our neighborhood grocer. His family owns and operates one of the few stores in Boston which takes grocery orders by phone, fills them, and then delivers. In addition to offering these rather rare services, he performs small but very satisfying miracles. He can, for instance, produce Casaba melons that will be ripe on the day you plan to eat them, arrange for tender veal in a nation that caters to chuck roasts, and deliver large quantities of red, fresh strawberries in the midst of a snowstorm. He is also a warm and cheerful human being, a species that has long been on the Endangered List at the local supermarket. Because of this, we often shop in person rather than by phone. Our Mr. Smerlashas salvaged entire days that might otherwise have been lost to the blahs. And thats priceless. Mr. Smerlas had an incredible memory, never forgetting a face, a patron, or a personal history. His daughter Donna recalls taking her parents out to dinner in celebration of their 57th wedding anniversary in 2005. Retired at that point for 19 years, Mr. Smerlas not only recognized the waitress as a BU student who had shopped at his store, but also remembered what she had studied and her family background. This was just one of countless such instances throughout his retirement years where Mr. Smerlas would meet former patrons and renew friendships with them. The son of Greek immigrants, Mr. Smerlas grew up in Cambridge and attended public schools there. In 1941, he graduated from Rindge Technical High School where he played varsity basketball, winning the Tech Tourney that year. In 1998, he was honored by the Rindge Alumni Association for his outstanding civic achievement and in 2005, he was inducted into the Rindge Hall of Fame. During World War II, Mr. Smerlas served in the Fifth Army Headquarters under the command of General Mark W. Clark from 1943-1946, first in Africa, then throughout the invasion of Italy, and finally in post-war Vienna. He was discharged with the rank of Technical Sergeant. Having lost his own father in 1941 at the age of 17, Mr. Smerlas told his family that General Clark became a surrogate father to him. The fruit and vegetables that were his lifes work led him to the love of his life | Betty, his wife of 62 years. As a young boy in the produce business, he met a fellow peddler, Nicholas Makris of Watertown, who would become his father-in-law. After the war, Mr. Smerlas began his courtship of his future wife, whom he married in 1948, under the guise of visiting her father on Sunday afternoons. My father lived his life according to the principle that you should treat people as you yourself would like to be treated, said his son Frank. He was a sweet, generous, and compassionate individual whose smile lit up a room and who took a genuine interest in each person he met. When my father asked how are you?, he truly wanted to know the answer. A deeply religious man, Mr. Smerlas was proud of his Greek heritage. He was a founding member of the Watertown, MA Chapter 406 of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, which honored him this year for a lifetime of service, and a charter member of the Messenian Society. He was part of a team of master salad makers at the Watertown Greek Orthodox Churchs annual Grecian Festival. He was well known and admired for his skill in dancing the Tsamiko, a dance popular in the Peloponnesian region of Greece from which his parents came. Mr. Smerlas devoted his retirement years to his passion for gardening, especially his roses and his vegetable garden, and to this day, gardens in his neighborhood thrive with flowers and plants that began as cuttings from his garden. He enjoyed opera and singing and was fluent in Greek, Italian, and Yiddish. A true sports fan, he had a special place in his heart for the Boston Celtics. In addition to his wife Betty, daughter Donna, and son Frank, Mr. Smerlas is survived by his daughter-in-law Terri, grandchildren Frank Jr. and Kristen, and sister Catherine Yaitanes. Services have been held. |

Published in The Brookline Tab from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20, 2010
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