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Theresa Bombardieri, helped run popular Dorchester bakery

THERESA BOMBARDIERI

In the early years of her marriage, Theresa Bombardieri worked in a North End bakery her father-in-law opened in the early 1900s.

When the bakery’s property was taken by eminent domain in the late 1950s for construction of the Callahan Tunnel, Mrs. Bombardieri and her husband, Rocco, looked for a new location to start a business and found a place almost across the street from their home in Dorchester.

“We bought the land from the Boston School Committee 27 years ago,’’ she told the Globe in 1986. “The two-room Dorchester High School that was built in 1850 was on the site, all boarded up and an eyesore. The city didn’t want it, so Rocco asked the court to either make the city buy the site and fix it up or sell it to us.’’

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On March 17, 1963, they opened a bakery and superette that became a fixture of the Dorchester neighborhood. And the Bombardieris almost always could be found behind the cash register and deli counter of a business that they kept open every day of the year.

Mrs. Bombardieri, matriarch of a family of six children who each took a turn working at the superette while growing up, died of an aneurysm Dec. 5 in her daughter’s Kingston home, where she lived. She was 93.

“Nunna was always frugal,’’ said her son Rocco of Acton. “When the North End store was taken, it was my mother’s secret savings which helped the family through the three years it took to buy the land and build the store in Dorchester.’’

Until the Bombardieris sold their business and retired in 1986, the superette was a destination for everyone in the neighborhood.

Police officers and firefighters from the local precinct and firehouses were regular patrons. Nurses stopped by after the night shift. Workers at a nearby courthouse grabbed sandwiches for prisoners in custody.

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The commute was convenient because the Bombardieris lived on Melville Avenue, across the street from their Dorchester Avenue business. The walk to work, however, was the only brief part of the day.

Mrs. Bombardieri worked hard and long hours. The superette was open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day except Christmas, when the hours were shortened to 5 a.m. to 2 p.m.

During the years many businesses were closed on Sundays under the state’s old Blue Laws, the superette was an oasis.

“My mother basically ran the business with energy, vitality, and determination while raising six children,’’ her son said. “She was a dynamo.’’

Although Mrs. Bombardieri mainly supervised the employees, her son said, she didn’t avoid tasks that involved heavy lifting, such as cleaning a walk-in refrigerator.

“That meant moving 3,000 pounds of fresh food and washing a refrigerator the size of a small room from floor to ceiling,’’ he said.

With too many names to remember among the part-time help and streams of regular customers, Mrs. Bombardieri tended to call everyone “lovey,’’ but she was the disciplinarian with the staff.

“My father was more of a jokester,’’ her son said. “My mother was the real boss with them.’’

Mrs. Bombardieri also once foiled a theft of some steaks a woman had hidden in her slacks. Alerted by her staff, Mrs. Bombardieri, who was much more petite than the would-be thief, stopped the woman and retrieved the steaks.

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Apart from such occasional disruptions, Mrs. Bombardieri kept things under control in the popular shop.

Regular customers of the superette were saddened when the Bombardieris decided to sell their store in 1986.

They retired to Dennis, where Mrs. Bombardieri swam regularly in the cold waters of Corporation Beach well into her 80s.

After her husband died in 1992, Mrs. Bombardieri remained in Dennis until 2004, when she moved to the Kingston home of her daughter Gina Girouard.

Born in Boston, Theresa DiMartino grew up in East Boston and graduated from Girls High School, where a classmate, Teresa Bombardieri, introduced her to her brother, Rocco.

The Bombardieris married in 1939 and moved into an apartment in the Dorchester Victorian owned by Mr. Bombardieri’s parents.

When the Bombardieris opened their superette on Dorchester Avenue, it had eight aisles of groceries, a meat and deli area, and a bakery. The bread baked there “was to die for,’’ their son said.

The big ovens daily produced dozens of bulkie rolls, finger rolls, and submarine sandwich rolls every day, and the Bombardieris also made cannoli and ricotta pies, Jewish cheesecakes and Greek treats, French napoleons and eclairs.

“My father would get there about 2 a.m. and start the bread baking and leave at 10 a.m.,’’ Gina said. “He would take a nap and come back and my mother would get there at 8 a.m.’’

At times, the changing nature of the neighborhood created challenges.

“There were many robberies in the area. My father was mugged several times on the way to the bank,’’ Gina said. “My mother saved the business by tucking away money for the vendors.’’

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Another daughter, Louise of Pembroke, said Mrs. Bombardieri gave free food to many homeless people in the neighborhood.

“She was always making sure everyone was taken care of,’’ Louise said.

Mrs. Bombardieri also found innovative ways to sell the superette’s wares, said another daughter, Rosemarie Dykeman of Dennis.

“The family believes my mother was the first in this area to come up with the idea of party platters,’’ she said. “A friend was having a party and asked her for suggestions and she came up with a platter of cold cuts and other delicacies.’’

A service has been held for Mrs. Bombardieri, who in addition to her son and three daughters leaves two other daughters, Marietta of Kihei, Hawaii, and Teresa Murphy of Marshfield; 13 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Bombardieri made friends easily and stayed in touch through the decades.

Angela Lyons of Woburn, whose mother, Connie Croce, was longtime best friends with Mrs. Bombardieri, said that “Theresa always made you feel you were the only person in the room.’’

“On the Cape, we would sometimes take her to yard sales and you’d think we took her to the Taj Mahal,’’ Lyons said. “She was always so appreciative of any small thing you did for her. Theresa always had a smile on her face and in her voice. She was the kind of person you just loved being around.’’

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Gloria Negri can be reached at g_negri@globe.com.