Chicopee was started as S&P Market in 1920 by Stanley Sitarz, his brother Jacob, and their partner Bartlomiej Partyka. Their current plant was built in 1927 on what is now Sitarz Avenue, named for Stanley and his business. The men marketed their products directly by hiring a horse and wagon to sell door-to-door and store-to-store in nearby cities and towns. Their strategy worked, and the demand for their specialty meats and kielbasa surpassed expectation. Three additional partners, Antoni Budarz, John Szczepanski and Wladyslaw Kaminski, came on board to help with the expanding operation.
The Chicopee Provision Company, Inc. has survived 3 floods, a stock market crash, a World War that forced enormous restrictions on and rationing of meat, and now, in its 3rd generation, it is meeting the challenges of the 21st century head on.
Tom Bardon, Stanleyīs grandson, is currently the president and treasurer of Chicopee. Other members of the 3rd generation are also actively involved in the management of the company, including vice-president Alfred Mamuszka and secretary Annette Schlatka. 82-year-old Jerome Partyka, son of founder Bartlomiej Partyka, has logged 62 years in the company. Although he stepped down as president 2 yrs ago, he continues to consult and share his wisdom.
Office manager Carolyn Donnelly, daughter of Annette Schlatka, is the first member of the 4th generation to take part in the family business. Tom hopes she will not be the last.
"Unfortunately, the children and grandchildren of 5 out of the 6 original partners have decided that they donīt want to work in the business. But in the Sitarz family, I have children who I think will be interested in stepping in."
Tom had worked for the family as a teenager. At that time, his wage was a dollar an hour. Eventually, he went off to school, studied electronics, and then ran his own electronics store for 40 years. During this time, he had served on Chicopee board, but wasnīt involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. When Jerome decided to step down, the company decided that it was important for leadership to remain in the hands of someone from one of the founding families. Tom knew it was up to him to keep the family business growing successfully.
Like many others who have returned to family businesses after many years managing their own companies or working for outside companies, Tom was in an interesting—and often beneficial—position: he was an "insider" who was able to bring in and utilize an "outsider" perspective. In a sense, he was bringing fresh blood to the company, even though he was old blood in terms of his relationship to the company.
One of his first decisions when he returned to the company was to take advantage of new technology and available internal resources and get Chicopee online.
"When I came on board 2 1/2 years ago, the web site was the first thing I started working on. We had a gentleman working here in our office who was quite computer-literate, so we upgraded his position to include handling the website and processing the orders."
Blue Seal kielbasa is undoubtedly Chicopeeīs best-selling product. It is sold regionally to groceries, hotdog stands, restaurants and individual customers. Ultimately, Blue Sealīs popularity became the impetus for putting Chicopeeīs products on line. When we talked to Tom recently, he told us that building the site was their response to customer demand for their products outside their traditional marketing area.