Vincent “Vinnie” John Costello, who took a struggling Long Island hardware store and built it into a 25-store chain that now employs hundreds of people, died Saturday in Melville. He was 76.
The founder of Costello’s Ace Hardware was surrounded by his family and close friends when he died after battling cancer for 3 1⁄2 years, his son Joseph said.
Costello was born in Brooklyn, the eldest of 12 children. His father, Vincent P., was a New York City firefighter, and his mother, Etta, cooked for restaurants and catering halls. His family moved to Plainedge when he was a child. Costello’s father died when he was a young adult, his son Michael said.
The elder Vincent’s death “left my father as the head of the household,” Joseph said. “The younger siblings were very young, and he was in many ways a big part of raising them.”
Costello served in the Navy from 1957 to 1960, working in the boiler room on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt aircraft carrier.
He had left school after eighth grade to help support his family, but he later enrolled in technical classes and never let the early end to his education slow him down, Joseph said.
After his honorable discharge from the Navy, he worked several jobs, including maintaining boilers at Grumman and cleaning floors, his sons said. He ran a heating and air-conditioning business, which closed during the 1970s recession, and then came upon a new business opportunity — a small, understocked retail hardware store in Deer Park. With no previous retail experience, Costello “worked tirelessly for many years to make it a success,” Joseph said.
At the same time, Joseph said, “he definitely lived for his family. Everything he did in life was to make his family successful and more comfortable.”
This year, Costello’s Ace Hardware is one of Ace Hardware Corp.’s top five chains by volume, serving millions of customers annually at 25 stores on Long Island and in Brooklyn and New Jersey, Joseph said. The chain, which employs about 600 full- and part-time workers, is set to open a new store in Baldwin this year, Joseph said.
Six of Costello’s children and several grandchildren work at the chain, including Michael, who is chief executive, and Joseph, who is director of marketing.
Costello, Michael said, “had very, very simple but clear values, and it was all based on helping customers, solving customers’ problems, and he never strayed from that.”
He stepped down as chief executive only a few weeks ago and became board chairman, Michael said.
“We’d still talk every day,” Michael said. “He had as much influence on the company the day he died as the day he started it.”
Costello, who lived in Oakdale, was a longtime member of the Smithtown Rotary club. He also belonged to the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, where he served a stint as chamber president and was honored as Man of the Year for his years of community service.
Wakes were held Monday and Tuesday at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in East Islip, and the funeral Mass was celebrated Wednesday at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in East Islip, followed by burial at St. Charles / Resurrection Cemeteries in East Farmingdale.
Costello was preceded in death by his sisters Gloria and Joan, his brother Richard, and his parents.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret; his siblings, Josephine, Dolores, James, Kenneth, Dennis, Bobby, Michael and Maureen; his 10 children, Vincent, Debbie, Patricia, Michael, Laura, Tim, Daniel, Jaime, Joseph and Robert; and 25 grandchildren.