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He fed Ybor City's families

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 7, 2003


PALMETTO BEACH -- If you lived in Ybor City in the 1940s and 1950s, chances are you knew Jimmy Giglia.

It was a very different Ybor City back then, a residential area populated mostly with families who had emigrated from Spain, Cuba or Italy only a generation or two earlier.

When many of those families sat down to dinner, the food came from Giglia's neighborhood grocery store.

From the early 1940s through the mid-1950s, Mr. Giglia -- who died Jan. 31 after battling a severe infection -- owned and operated Torres Market on Third Avenue and 22nd Street.

"Groceries were delivered to the house," said his son, Joe Giglia of Riverview. "People would call and order a few things and I'd deliver them after school."

Mr. Giglia lived all 91 years of his life in the Ybor City area. His family lived next door to the grocery, which was named in honor of his stepfather. In the last few years he had lived in Palmetto Beach, just south of Ybor.

In his younger days, almost everyone in Ybor knew him.

"He was very well known," his son said. "But at his age, he had outlived most of his friends."

Mr. Giglia's renown spread well beyond Ybor.

"He was a butcher and he specialized in Italian sausage," Joe Giglia said. "People would come from all over Ybor and even from West Tampa for his Italian sausage and his chorizo."

Even after the grocery had gone out of business, Mr. Giglia still provided sausage, palomilla steak and other specialty meats for Demmi's Market in Ybor and Cacciatore and Sons on Armenia Avenue, his son said. The sausage often came to those stores directly from a smokehouse next to the family's home on Third Avenue.

Mr. Giglia and his wife split up soon after Joe, their only child, was born. Joe Giglia was raised by his father and his grandmother.

When not working, Mr. Giglia would often play dominoes at the Italian Club or Centro Asturiano. But his real passion was the outdoors.

"He was an old-fashioned father," Joe Giglia said. "He was a strict man, he was a stern man, but he was a straight man. I got to know him better when I got to be a teenager, and I was old enough to do the things he liked to do. He'd take me hunting or fishing."

Whatever they caught or shot would end up on the family's dinner table.

"My grandmother could make anything out of anything," Joe Giglia said. "She was a great cook, and my father was a great cook because he learned from her."

After the store closed, Mr. Giglia worked for 10 years as a custodian for the Hillsborough County School Board. He retired in the 1960s and continued to work part time for Demmi's Market in Ybor City.

He never remarried. He took care of his mother until her death. Not long after, in about 1985, he moved to the second home he had ever known, the one that would be his last. It was only a mile away, in Palmetto Beach.

He was fiercely independent. He drove and cooked for himself until just a few weeks before his death.

"He would never eat out," Joe said. "He didn't believe in outside cooking, because there was no cooking that was better than his own."

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