To read Part I, click here.
In the 1930s, Ferdinando’s son young Ambrose went to kids bounce house work at his uncle’s butcher’s shop in South Philadelphia, which he would eventually take over. Because few families owned cars during the lean years of the Great Depression, most Philadelphians still shopped for food in their neighborhoods, bringing home only what they could carry. Meat was expensive. Housewives would usually pick out a live turkey, chicken, or goose, have the butcher do the slaughtering, and then take the carcass home to pluck and dress themselves. “The animals were our pets all year,” remembered Ferdinando’s grandson Michael Sr. “Well, until Eastertime.”
In 1947, joining the postwar exodus of second and third generation Italians out of South Philly, Ambrose Campo set up a new establishment at 2401 S.62nd Street in a squat, two-story brick building decorated with pressed-tin bay windows and cornices. Like countless Philadelphia business owners, the Campos ran their butcher shop on the first floor and lived in an apartment on the second floor. Everyone in the family was expected to help out, whether it was mixing meatballs, manning the cash register, or sweeping up at closing time.
By the 1970s, as supermarkets squeezed family butcher shops out of business, Ambrose’s son Frank decided to remake Campo’s as a delicatessen. The delicatessen was originally a German concept: it served sandwiches and other prepared meals to sit-down customers, and also catered meals for family events and local fraternal organizations. Jewish delicatessens served only kosher meats (pastrami, corned beef, brisket) and sold no dairy products, while Italian and German ones served plenty of pork products (salami, prosciutto, soppresata) and specialty cheeses such as provolone. “Butcher shops were becoming a thing of the past,” said 33-year old Frank Campo, grandson of Ambrose, “and after some years of decreased sales my father started making sandwiches with the shop’s steaks and sausages.”
Yet despite this adaptation, the old Italian-American community in Southwest Philadelphia that had sustained Campo’s Deli continued to disperse. Many of the residents moved to newly constructed automobile suburbs in South Jersey and Delaware County, a pattern followed in other mostly-Catholic neighborhoods such as Grays Ferry. In 2001, Campo’s Deli closed its 62nd Street location and moved to a new site at 214 Market Street in Old City, and also opened concession stands in Citizens Bank Ballpark. Not long after that, the Philadelphia Archdiocese announced that Our Lady of Loreto parish was to be shuttered. “Yes the area has become somewhat economically depressed and church attendance has declined,” wrote Damian D’Orsaneo to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003, “but is that any reason to close a church? I’m not a biblical scholar, but one thing I remember from 12 years of Catholic schooling is that Jesus’ followers were, for the most part, the poor and downtrodden. If this church provides peace and comfort to even a few, isn’t that a good enough reason to keep its doors open?”
The church thankfully did not meet the wrecking ball, and continues to serve local worshipers as Grace Christian Fellowship. Its colorful murals and Art Deco facade still attract the attention of airport-bound motorists hoping to avoid traffic on I-76.
Campo family history provided to Steven Ujifusa by Michael Campo, June 23, 2016.
Email correspondence, Michael Campo to Steven Ujifusa, June 23, 2016.
Email correspondence, Michael Campo to Steven Ujifusa, October 18, 2016.
Anna Maria Chupa, “St. Joseph’s Day Altars,” Louisiana Project, Houston Institute for Culture, http://www.houstonculture.org/laproject/stjo.html, accessed October 16, 2016.
Damian D’Orsaneo, “The Sad Fate of Our Lady of Loreto,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 2003, http://articles.philly.com/2003-05-27/news/25459497_1_church-attendance-final-mass-parish-school, accessed October 14, 2016.
Interview of Ron Donatucci by Steven Ujifusa, January 26, 2016.
Natalie Hardwick, “Top 10 Foods to Try in Sicily,” BBC Good Food, http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/top-10-foods-try-sicily, accessed October 14, 2016.
David Rosengarten, “The Cuisine of Abruzzo: Easy to Love, Not So Easy to Describe,” The Huffington Post, August 6, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-rosengarten/the-cuisine-of-abruzzo_b_5651554.html, accessed October 14, 2016.
Inga Saffron, “Good Eye: This Catholic Church Celebrates the Miracle of Flight Two Ways,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 14, 2016, http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/inga_saffron/20161016_Good_Eye__This_Catholic_church_celebrates_the_miracle_of_flight_two_ways.html?photo_3, accessed October 15, 2016.
“Puglia,” Rustico Cooking, http://www.rusticocooking.com/puglia.htm, accessed October 14, 2016.
“The Best Food of Calabria,” Walks of Italy, https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/food-and-wine/food-of-calabria, accessed October 20, 2016.