Last week, when that big newspaper down town gave out its 2019 Family-Owned Business Awards, I was surprised that I had met some of the recipients in one way or another through the years.

There was Gary Barbera. He had wanted to be an automobile dealer since he was a little boy, because he admired a car dealer neighbor. He began working in the business right after high school.

At age 23, with his older brother Gene, he started his dealership in Roxborough in 1989, about a year before my first column in The Review. The publisher, the late Dick McCuen, took me to meet Gary, who had become a big advertiser.

When his acres of automobiles threatened to overwhelm Ridge Ave., Gary moved to the wide open spaces along Roosevelt Blvd., in Northeast Philly where he grew up.

 Another family business winner was Pete Ciarrocchi, whose mother Henrietta, known as Chickie, and his father, Pete Sr., began operating a taproom in Mayfair in 1977. Pete Jr. has spread his parents’ names over 16 restaurants, and about four dozen other food venues.

I encountered Pete Jr. when the National Society of Newspaper Columnists had a luncheon at Chickie’s & Pete’s South Philly location during the society’s annual conference in Philly in 2007.

I told him that my name and his are on the graduates’ Hall of Fame plaque that the Northeast High School Alumni Association maintains in the school’s lobby. He pumped my hand enthusiastically and said, “Yeah! Ain’t it great?”

In the supplement announcing the family-owned business awards, two and three-quarter pages were taken up by Firstrust Bank, now led by the third generation of the Green family.

I knew the first generation, Sam Green, who had started what was then called the First Federal Savings Bank on is mother’s kitchen table in 1934.  I met him because of my interest in Philadelphia history.

Green, in 1948, had bought, and saved, the tiny Comly Rich house in Frankford. It was important to him because it had been purchased with the first mortgage loan in the United States, and maybe in the western hemisphere.

Two British-born Frankford mill owners knew about associations in England that used depositors’ money to finance realestate purchases. In January, 1831, they organized the Oxford Provident Building Association, unique in America.

And on April 11, 1831, they made their first loan to Comly Rich, the lamp lighter and town constable of Frankford Borough, Philadelphia County. He was well known because he walked the streets every evening with his ladder and his glowing wick, lighting the street lamps.

Rich borrowed $375 to buy a tiny 7-year-old, two-story frame cottage. His monthly payment was $3, plus $1.90 interest.

He made history again a few months later by being the first person to miss a mortgage payment. He was fined a 25 cents late charge.

Later he borrowed $125 more to add a rear kitchen to the house, the first home improvement loan.

The 600 square foot two-story house, just living room, kitchen, bedroom and bath, is still there. I won’t mention the address, because it’s a private home, not a tourist attraction. It used to have a Philadelphia Historical Commission plaque on it. I don’t get around much these days, but the last time I saw the house, a few years ago, the plaque was gone.

Much of the foregoing has little to do with family business owners, but I’m pleased to have met some of them.

Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at

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