Universal Brings Community Spirit to Noank

by Barbara Reed Collins

The Universal Food Store makes the quaint village of Noank a “community.” Julie Sutphen Wechsler, now living in Maryland, returned to the neighborhood where she once lived.  She spoke at the Noank Historical Society’s annual meeting and potluck supper, June 18, in the Latham Chester Store.  Curator Mary Anderson gave a brief history in her opening comments for the program, titled “How the Universal Store Reinforces Community in Noank.”

Plain-talking Frank Quaratella Sr. stoked the standing-room-only crowd into warm applause and a loud appeal: “Come on Frank. Stand up Frank.”  Frank stood and spoke briefly.

The members of the Historical Society- now boasting 460-plus members- filled in the store reminiscing about the bygone days and praising recent renovations.  For some, memories  bring the people together in this community.

Seated elbow-to-elbow at tables during the supper,  residents reminisced about living on a little peninsular place that is unique. Mary Bradley Foster recalled that she was “about age 10 or so and would have to pick something up from the Universal for her grandmother.” It was an easy task. “You just told them what you wanted and they would get it for you,” she said. Mary was born in a house on Front Street and lived there until about 1949.

Howard Davis, seated nearby, remembered that his grandmother (the late Mrs. Charles Specht) would place an early morning order that would be delivered by noon. The total amount owed would be written on one of the delivered paper bags.

Alicia Crossman remembered her wishful window viewing of a special cookie that was not affordable until she grew old enough to earn babysitting money. She was finally able to pay the 10 cents for the chocolate covered cookie.

Even the dogs had their days, courtesy of Universal. Sal Quaratella, it was said, handed out bone treats so big the canines could barely walk with their trophies. Also, once upon a time, there were dances on the top third floor.

Pat Quaratella and Dan Simonelli bought the property and opened the Universal Store in 1947.  And, the rest is history in the making ever since.  The third floor was once the location for Van Zandt Sails. It was the site of Joe Quaratella’s wedding. A young man – then a recording artist – fell in love with the village in the 1970’s and wanted a place to live. Dean Wallace found it – courtesy of that same “community” spirit. He still has a small apartment in the building. In 1989, Frank Quaratella, Sal’s son, took over ownership of the Universal Store.

Recently, Steve Jones purchased the real estate. Congrats Steve!  The Quaratella name remains and is the signature to Noank as “community” in the finest sense of the word.  A heartfelt thanks to the Quartellas, for all you were in the past, and all you will be in the future. You are community!