Whitney Web Page -
Southbridge History & More

The Birth of Big Bunny Market – by Peter Palmerino

1968 Dick Whitney photo

Peter-President, Henry -Treasurer, and Santino - Secretary

Given to Dick Whitney

Nov 10, 2010

 While I was in the Pacific during WWII aboard the USS Wrangler, A munitions ship used in the invasion of Iwo Jima, I had a lot of thinking of what I wanted to do when the War was over. I thought I would like to go in business and I could not think of working on the bench at the AO all of my life.

In 1947, my brother in law told me there was a food market for sale – Thibeau’s Market on Pleasant St in Southbridge, located behind the Delehanty building. I asked my brother Santino Palmerino if he would like to come in with me as a partner and he said yes.

So in July 1947, we purchased Thibeaus Market for $4000. I contacted my brother Henry Palmerino and asked if he would work during the days. I offered him double what he was making at the Digregorio’s plant on North St. He said he would take the offer.

Thibeau’s Market had a lousy business in 1947. I was making $100 a week at the AO in 1947. Santino had a good job in the Machine shop at the AO. I told Santino it would be a good way to make things easier if we stayed working until we got the business going well. So we both stayed working at the AO for five years. I would take over from Henry when I came home at 6 O’clock in the evening as well as on Saturday and Sunday. Santino would work with the Thibeaus who had a wholesale cigarette license. So Santino would do the selling of candy and Cigarettes and work with me on Saturdays.

The market at that time was selling food on a credit book and pay the balance on Thursdays (AO Pay Day).  I did not like the system so we went along with it for 5 years. I took over promoting the store advertising. After a little thinking I needed a plan to improve the sales.

I left out when we bought Thibeaus Market, it was this way to do business. The customer of the small markets was the way to do business. They would telephone their food order every week and we would put up the order and deliver the groceries to their home, mostly on Satudays. When we decided to move into the new location I told my brothers we would no longer supply food by credit, only cash.

I knew the mothers planned their meals around meat, so to take some of the business from the chains I advertised with a lot lower prices on meat and deli, and this started to increase our sales. After 5 years the store was too small so we bought the hotel next door and had a bigger store and went only cash. (The best thing I did was to go cash). I advertised with flyers to all of the surrounding towns with a lot lower prices than the chains -First National and A&P. By the way, both the First National and A&P moved out of town.

We increased our sales after 5 more years. We had to do something because we had no parking lot. The customers would ride around on Thursdays, and weekends to purchase their food. When we moved into the new store on Pleasant St in 1952 I told my brother Santino we should make Henry a partner. Henry was the meat cutter. We had a salesman from a meat company who was a former butcher in Worcester. He told Henry how to cut meat and display in in a meat case. After 5 years in 1951 we had to do something about parking. My sister had a large plot of land on main street where the new store is now located. We offered my sister a lot more money than the land was worth. So we purchased the land in 1957 and borrowed $250,000 from the U.S. little business department. So we began building a larger market where the Big Bunny is now.

Oh, I forgot to tell you how Big Bunny got its name. When we moved into the new store on Pleasant Street I would like to change the name of Palmerino Brothers Market to Big Bunny because Bugs Bunny was on TV and it would be a good way to have the kids tell their mother to shop at the Big Bunny! When we opened the new Market in 1958, I knew we had enough sales to make it successful. We put a replica of a Bunny at that time.

After 5 years at the new location, I suggested to my brothers that we should be looking for another market. So we bought a large lot in Stafford Springs, Ct. and built a large market at that location with a shopping center. So, in 1963 we opened the new market in Stafford Springs. I sent flyers to all of the surrounding towns. It came to be a big success because I used the same formula as the Southbridge store. I moved with my family to Stafford Springs in 1963. When we opened the new store, I told Henry we needed a new meat manager. So I had Amadio Ricci transferred to Stafford Springs. Maddy drove to Stafford Springs six days a week. He was a good employee.

After 21 years in Stafford Springs my wife one day asked me when I would retire. My wife was Elizabeth Lavalle. I told my brothers I was going to retire in January 1984. We contacted Big Y if they wanted to buy the market and the plaza and they agreed to buy it. So we sold the plaza to Big Y on July 1, 1984. We (Santino and Peter) split the amount and Henry kept the market in Southbridge with some adjoining stores. In 1984 the Southbridge Store had sales of $10 Million and the Stafford Springs store had $7million!

I bought a condo in Boca Raton that had a golf course called Boca west. This was in 1980. So I spend Winters in Florida and summers in Southbridge.

My partners in Big Bunny Market-

Santino Henry Palmerino died in 1993. Henry’s family now own and run Big Bunny market. Peter Cournoyer and Larry Gaine now run the business and are doing a good job.  We became the number one in sales in both towns.

Written by the former President of Big Bunny – Peter Palmerino

Big Bunny - Then  and Now

Ellen Zepp recalls Big Bunny Easter Egg hunt!

Jimmy Piersall at Big Bunny

 Recollections of Southbridge

Southbridge Page

Whitney Home Page

Last update Nov 11, 2010