must go — for good
is closing his Pine Avenue furniture store
Dec. 23, 2006
By KEVIN PURDY
Vincent A. “Jimmy” Cancemi
furniture in 1971, hauling around catalogue items in the trunk of his
very compact Dodge.
More than 35 years later, Cancemi is working a
late night —
like almost every night — in his namesake Pine Avenue store.
He’s reminiscing about the spaces
between then and now, and he still can’t believe his good
fortune at ending up here.
“When I was growing up, if you made it
onto Pine Avenue,
you’d made it,” Cancemi said. “Everything
was happening there. It’s where all my goombahs
By the end of January, the late nights probably
won’t be a
thing of the past. But Cancemi Furniture, the store that occupies a
half-block of Pine Avenue, will be.
Last month, Cancemi, 64, sold his property to what
he said was
“a major corporation.” His store will be open extra
hours until its furniture is sold, or before his property’s
new tenants decide he has to move out.
Real estate records show V.J. Cancemi Associates
14,840-square-foot property on the corner of 26th Street to an
Atlanta-based company named RentProp for $340,000 on Nov. 17.
Other Pine Avenue merchants said that
Arkansas-based representatives of
a furniture store chain have been in the area recently. Cancemi would
not name the company behind the purchase, but said the property would
likely be sub-divided.
Staying with a tradition
Charles O. Marazzo, owner of Latina Importing Co.
on Pine Avenue and a
longtime friend of Cancemi’s, said the furniture store is
just the latest in a long line of small businesses driven off the
“It’s very hard for somebody
like Jimmy to do
business nowadays, to compete with the Raymour &
Flanigans,” he said. “He did a good job, as a
salesman and at picking the items he liked. Now it doesn’t
matter how good you are, you just have to buy 25 couches or something
Cancemi said the city’s declining
population has also taken a
toll on his business.
“When I started out, there were 23
furniture stores in the
city,” Cancemi said. “I’m the last guy
here, the last independent one. Now there won’t be
Before the recent offer for his building, Cancemi
had never considered
closing down his store.
Not when he found out in the mid-1990’s
that he owed roughly
$230,000 in back taxes and economic development loans — a
story Cancemi says he can’t talk about, other than to say he
thought an employee had been paying them.
Not when, soon after the tax discovery, state
found low-level petroleum contamination in a city right of way near his
store, scuttling a refinancing effort and forcing Cancemi to turn to
friends for money.
Even when the city was threatening to foreclose on
him in 1998, Cancemi
said he wouldn’t seriously consider closing his shop.
“My pride would never let me,”
“A great loss to our
With his private and public debts paid off,
Cancemi said he has no
regrets, other than wishing he’d had more time to spend with
his sons — Vincent, now 30, and Anthony, 17.
“It was a hard decision … but
a good run,” he said. “It’s been a lot of
work, but I’ve never considered it ‘a
job.’ I’ve enjoyed every day of it.”
Marilyn Lojek, a former head of the Pine Avenue
who remembers buying from Cancemi during his trunk-sale days, described
the closing of Cancemi’s as “a great loss to our
“He’s a fixture on Pine
Avenue, and a fixture in
our city,” Lojek said. “He’s a wonderful
decorator, he’s done so much for the Business Association,
the Boys & Girls Club … people can’t
believe he’s closing.”
From trunks to showrooms
Cancemi was born and raised in Niagara Falls, the
son of Anthony, a
fruit peddler, and Paula. His father died when Cancemi was 7 years old,
and his mother worked at Sears Roebuck and other jobs to make ends
While in college he started working for an
installing draperies and other items. His taste and knack for
decorating led him to start a small business selling furnishings from
his home and his car.
He grew into a space on Highland Avenue, above the
building, and then to a space on Sixth Street, before purchasing the
property at 2525 Pine Ave. from Robert L. Andrews in 1989.
Cancemi expanded the space to make room for
repair, storage and
painting operations, and told the Gazette in 1998 that sales, at their
peak, had reached about $1.2 million per year.
More than anything, Cancemi enjoys tackling entire
rooms customers are
buying for, especially when he gets to travel to the homes themselves.
He admits to being somewhat strong-willed, a
quality testified to in a
poem written about him by former Mayor Jacob A. Palillo, tacked to a
wall in his break room:
“You go in to buy your choice / of a
dresser, lamp and bed, /
by the time you leave you end up/ with Jimmy’s choice,
Cancemi retired five years ago from working days
as a special education
teacher at Niagara Falls High School. He doesn’t have any
plans for after the liquidation sale is finished.
“I haven’t taken a real
vacation in 35
years,” he said. “My family says about me,
‘Jimmy can go anywhere he wants, as long as he’s
back in a few hours.’ ”
Shortly before closing Thursday, Dorothy Cancemi
Jimmy’s sister — “My left hand and my
right hand around here,” he says — was talking with
a couple who were long-time customers., both about their recent couch
purchase and the birth of their three new grandchildren.
“It’s been like a family
reunion since we put the
word out,“ Frost said. “They come in, they tell us
what’s been going on … we’re going to
Cancemi may agree, but his take on closing after
more than three
decades comes more from experience than sentiment.
“I’m probably going to see
everybody come in, at
least once,“ he said. “Everybody loves a funeral in