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Tops Markets Co-Founder and Former CEO Dies

Savino “Nino” Nanula helped build retailer into a major regional grocery chain
Tops Chittenango Store Main Image
With his business partners, Savino "Nino" Nanula built Tops Markets into a a major regional grocery store chain.

Tops Markets co-founder Savino P. “Nino” Nanula, who as an executive at the company helped it become a major regional grocery store chain, died April 9 following a brief illness in Clearwater, Fla., where he had a winter home. He was 93 years old, according to published reports.

A resident of Grand Island, N.Y., since the early 1990s, Nanula was born in 1930 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., to an Italian family. At the age of 11, he took his first job, as a stock boy, and had become a meat cutter by the age of 17. Nanula and a business partner, Armand Castellani, later operated the Great Bear Market in the 1950s. By the early 1960s, joined by a third partner, Thomas Buscaglia, they had established Tops. The trio went on to expand the grocery store chain throughout New York state, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 1969, Tops started convenience store chain Wilson Farms Neighborhood Food Stores, according to The Buffalo News.

Nanula’s initial role at Tops was director of meat purchasing and merchandising; then he became VP in charge of meat operations and transportation before being elected EVP of the company in 1973, The Buffalo News reported, adding that he became president and COO in 1974 and CEO in 1985, succeeding Castellani as chairman of the board four years later. Nanula stepped back from the helm following Tops’ 1991 sale to Ahold, but continued to stay active as vice chair of its board until he officially retired in 1996. 

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In 2005, Nanula joined WFI Acquisitions Inc. (Wilson Farms) in partnership with his son Paul Nanula, president and CEO of Wilson Farms. As chairman of the board, the elder Nanula oversaw the purchase of the 198-store chain back from Ahold. 7-Eleven acquired the Wilson Farms stores in 2011, according to The Buffalo News.

Beyond his career, Nanula was heavily involved in the community, serving on various boards and committees in the Buffalo, N.Y., area.

In addition to his wife of 32 years, Virginia, Nanula’s survivors include his children, grandchildren, step-grandchildren, great-grandchildren, two siblings, and many nieces, nephews and cousins. A funeral mass was scheduled for Thursday, April 18 at 11:00 a.m. in St. Stephen’s Church in Grand Island, with entombment to follow in St. Stephen’s Cemetery. Memorial offerings may be made to Oishei Children’s Hospital of Buffalo

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