Mr. Spoa had been in the grocery business in Ellwood City as long ago as 1922, which was the same time he arrived in Ellwood City. “Uncle Gus” as he was affectionately known, came to this country from a war torn Yugoslavia in 1922 through Ellis Island at the age of seventeen to join his brother. Originally born in the village of Gobesh, Macedonia (later part of Yugoslavia) May 12, 1905, he was one of eleven children.
His brother Ernest, who came to Ellwood City in 1917, was in the grocery business with Gus Henton at the corner of First Street and Spring Avenue. Costa Spoa later became a partner in the business when his brother died of appendicitis at the age of 26 on February 22, 1923. At that time, the area the store was located in was still part of Burnstown. Mr. Spoa returned to Yugoslavia in 1930 to marry his business partner Mr. Henton’s sister Donce Torbu on November 28th 1930.
As his family grew larger and Henton’s family also grew, the store was no longer able to sustain both families. Mr. Spoa branched out on his own and developed Spoa’s Market on First Street (later First Street Bakery & currently an apartment) in1940. Eventually he moved the market to Spring Avenue at the present site of Pizza Joes. In 1960, he built the Wampum Avenue Value King Store and leased it to Loblaw. 1963 Costa bought the “8 till Late” store in Frisco (later Riverside Chrsyler Dodge) and in 1965 he developed Christy’s Plaza which has housed a grocery store, a bank, pharmacy, restaurant, and other stores over the years. The grocery store at the plaza originally was not Costa Spoa’s store as it was leased out. The Spoas bought the former Herberts Market in Ellport in 1974 and sold the Spring Avenue location to Mario Morini in 1965. In 1985, Uncle Gus opened Christy’s Market in Christy’s Plaza in Franklin Township.
Mr. Spoa saw the grocery business change around him from a time when grocers went to the customers to get their order and groceries were delivered later in the day to a time when nothing was purchased with money but instead everything was bought on credit, to the current state of the industry today. He was one of the last area business men that could recall the days when supplies were unloaded from the Harmony Line street cars onto a horse drawn wagon and the cash registers were all hand cranked.
Costa Spoa was an avid supporter of the community receiving awards for his support of the Boy Scouts, the local YMCA and almost every other organization that asked. Since he spent up to 18 to 20 hours a day at the store, he had little time to join the various organizations himself. To say that Mr. Spoa was just a strong supporter of the Monastery of Transfiguration in Wurtemburg would be a gross understatement.
A little unknown fact is that Mr. Spoa owned the area’s first television; a large consol television with a seven inch black and white screen. He owned the television so early in the television era that he actually had to wait for the Dumont Station (later KDKA) to start broadcasting so he could use it. Even though there was no broadcast, people would come into the store just to see the test pattern on this new fangled machine.
Uncle Gus’s life in Ellwood City had a rocky beginning in Ellwood City as the passenger train he rode from Pittsburgh to Ellwood City in was involved in a collision with a freight train in the tunnel in Frisco. Even with the rough start, Mr. Spoa was a true patriot. He was very proud of America and that he became a citizen of this country. He loved the opportunities this country offered and the life he was able to have here.
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Originally Published October 16, 2009