The shop was packed with goods — produce displays piled high, prosciutto hanging from above and Italian specialties prepared by Mr. Balducci’s mother and sister cramming a table.
Nina Balducci’s need for order and her artful sense of what a pleasurable shopping experience should be combined to elevate the store into something sophisticated at a time when New York was just discovering that Southern Italian cuisine could be more than what red sauce restaurants served with straw-covered bottles of Chianti.
Craig Claiborne and James Beard, who lived nearby, were frequent customers. So was Anna Wintour, who shopped for pecorino. Lidia Bastianich, then a new restaurateur in Queens, was grateful for the risotto, grana padano and other traditional products she couldn’t find elsewhere.
“They were a translator of culture through taste,” Mrs. Bastianich said.
Mrs. Balducci helped design the store’s shopping bags and created a mail-order business with a splashy catalog that became a national hit.
As the store’s popularity grew, so did a rift over control among her husband and his two siblings; it spilled into court and led to more than one physical confrontation. Through it all, Mrs. Balducci — who did not get along with her husband’s sister, Grace Doria — tried to rise above it and steer both the family and the business.
“She kept it all in balance,” Mrs. Bastianich said. “She stuck by her man, I would say. She was a great woman of strength, of elegance and family understanding, but you could sense the sadness that the family split.”
Andy and Nina Balducci eventually bought out his sister and her husband, Joe Doria, who left the business with his wife to open Grace’s Marketplace on the Upper East Side in 1985, prompting another round of legal battles. In 1999, the Balduccis sold their store to Sutton Place Gourmet, a Maryland-based company, for $26.5 million.
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