A favorite S. Phila spot for water ice is shuttered

Nancy Italiano speaks with Nick Bongiorno about her family business' being closed. Bongiorno said the whole city is waiting for the reopening.
Nancy Italiano speaks with Nick Bongiorno about her family business' being closed. Bongiorno said the whole city is waiting for the reopening. (ANDREW RENNEISEN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 10, 2013

Every summer for the last 37 years, Italiano's, a South Philadelphia landmark, has sold a South Philadelphia trademark: water ice. But this summer, the first-floor window of the Italiano home on South 12th Street has never opened to customers.

The store, which once sported a hanging white sign reading "Italiano's" in red block letters, has consistently ranked as one of the best water ice and gelato shops in Philadelphia.

After the sudden death of the owner's 52-year-old brother, Frankie Italiano, in February, the family decided to pay respects to Frankie and delay the shop's planned summer opening. That delay then became a summerlong closing.

Nancy Italiano, Frankie's sister, who owns the store, said at her home Monday that the closure pained the community and the family, which has sold water ice for three generations. While Nancy would prefer to reopen Italiano's, she said she is honoring the wishes of her father, Domenick.

She said the store probably will not open this summer - and maybe not next summer either.

"Who knows what could happen next year?" she said. "It breaks my heart to have missed a beat."

Customers are heartbroken, too. Italiano said loyal patrons still continue to stop by their home, searching for a treat, and leave disappointed.

The driver of a silver Honda with Jersey plates stopped on Shunk Street in front of the store Monday afternoon, but after a moment's stare at the closed shop window, drove away slowly. Five minutes later, a man hopped out of his parked car, ready for a summer snack, before Italiano broke the news.

Not everyone knows about the closing of the store, which is usually open from early May to early September, she said.

"The whole city's waiting for you to reopen," Nick Bongiorno, who lives around the corner on 10th Street and has known Nancy Italiano for 30 years, told her Monday afternoon as her walked past her house.

"Nancy's a legend down here," he said later.

The 1,100 Italiano's customers who have liked the Facebook page "Tell Italiano's how much we love their water ice" seem to agree.

On the page, created May 21, people who have enjoyed water ice at the family shop for decades share memories about previous summers and send condolences to the Italiano family. Nancy Italiano has not seen the page, but Frankie's widow, Lisa, posted that she was touched by the outpouring of support for the community institution.

Kim Massare, the head of the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association, said the store's departure would leave a "giant hole in the neighborhood."

"It's not just about going somewhere to get your water ice," she said. "It's really about those memories and sharing a place like that with your family and neighbors."

Despite the doomsaying, Italiano said she was hopeful that the store would at some point again serve the water ice that has united a family and a community.

"Who isn't happy with water ice and ice cream?" she said. "Don't count us out."

Contact Theodore Schleifer at 215-854-5607, tschleifer@philly.com, or follow @teddyschleifer on Twitter.

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