"Chanatry" is pretty much a household name in these parts.
Since 1912, it's been the name associated with Utica's hometown grocer, an operation that began with a pushcart on Bleecker Street and grew into a multi-million-dollar supermarket that gained the popularity and admiration of an entire community.
Chanatry's Hometown Market sprouted from seeds planted by Raymond, Rocky and Michael Chanatry, who, like so many immigrants, worked hard to build a better life for themselves and generations that would follow. Michael's son, Bill, joined the operation part time in 1957, going full time in 1991 after retiring from GE where he worked as a civil engineer, and becoming sole owner and CEO in 1998. He passed the title of president on to his son, Mark, in 2004.
Now, the patriarch has passed. Bill Chanatry died Wednesday at the age of 89.
Anyone who knew Bill Chanatry — many did — knew a man who was steadfast in everything he did. Like the supermarket he ran, he clung to solid values built around family, faith and a remarkable commitment to the town he loved. That included his employees and his customers. And love them he did.
Chanatry grew up in a home at James Street and Taylor Avenue in Utica's Cornhill section, and attended Blessed Sacrament School and Proctor High. After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1951 — there was no job in Utica that he wanted — Chanatry headed to Texas. He went from there to Washington, D.C., and later joined the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and served in the Far East during the Korean War. Upon discharge, he saw an advertising position posted for a job with General Electric in Utica and he jumped at the opportunity to come home.
He never left again.
“I got news for you,” Chanatry said in a 2015 interview. “Utica and Central New York is just, I know it's my hometown, but there is something else about it. It's something very nice. It's a good place to raise a family.”
Chanatry's has a rich history. Raymond, Rocky and Michael came here from Aleppo, Syria, and together opened a store on Bleecker Street. In 1938, during the Great Depression, they grew their operation into a 6,000-square-foot supermarket, one of the first in the country and the first to gross $1 million a year. Over the years, various family members opened stores at locations around the city, and the surviving market on French Road relocated there after urban renewal forced the closure of the Bleecker Street store in 1965. The current building has undergone several expansions.
Bill Chanatry's keen business sense was his survival kit. In 1998, when larger grocery operations were planning new stores in Utica, many sounded the death knell for Chanatry's, but Bill would not hear of it. He did not whine or pout, but instead put his head down, focused on his own operation and moved ahead. His motto — "The present is shaped by the future" — became his business plan and the store continued to grow.
Through the years, Chanatry was an occasional contributor to the O-D opinion page, and his columns were woven with strong family values, community pride and unabashed patriotism. His occasional phone calls to weigh in on political developments or simply life in general will be missed.
From immigrant roots to community leader, Bill Chanatry carried on a tradition built on hometown pride and stitched together with love and respect, often praising others for their work and always giving credit where credit was due. In a 2014 guest piece, he wrote: "The self-confident do not withhold recognition from others. This is contagious, by raising self-esteem of a group, it raises their standards, their pride and their level of achievement. This is true in any business. There is nothing wrong in thanking someone for a job well done."
Thank you, Bill, for a job well done.