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Nina Balducci, whose family pioneered specialty market, dies at 91

Nina Balducci, shown in red with her family,

Nina Balducci, shown in red with her family, and her late husband Andy Balducci transformed Balducci's into a gourmet grocery. Credit: The Balducci Family

Nina Balducci, a key figure in her family’s Italian specialty market, Balducci’s, died April 12 of colon cancer at home in East Williston.

She grew up in Port Washington and died at age 91 in the house she had lived in since 1952. That year she married Andy Balducci, whose family owned a fruit and vegetable shop in Greenwich Village.

Born Nina Marie D’Amelio, she attended Simmons College in Boston and, as a young graduate, worked in high-end clothing retail shops. Her mother, Marta, had been a couture designer. Her father, Michael, was a stonemason from Italy who founded North Shore Mason Supply in Great Neck.

Initially the newlyweds both worked at the D’Amelio family business, said Nina’s niece, Emily Balducci, but, in 1968, Andy rejoined his father, Louis and brother-in-law, Joe Doria, at the produce store. Four years later, Andy was instrumental in moving the business into a 5,000 square-foot space across the street, where Balducci’s established itself, along with Dean & DeLuca, as a premier Italian-accented gourmet emporium.

“Andy got all the wives involved,” Emily said. “If you had kids, you got a nanny and you came to work.”

Nina’s contributions, she continued, “were all the marketing and branding. We didn’t call it marketing back then, there was no department. But she had such great taste and she saw a need. She designed the logo, the bags. She took the catalog and, by 1992, had made it into a full-color book."

The oldest of Nina and Andy’s daughters, Ria, married Kevin Murphy. He built the wholesale side of the business, and in 1991 spun it off into Baldor, now one of the Northeast’s largest wholesale importers and distributors of fresh produce and specialty foods. Joe Doria and his wife, Grace, left Balducci’s to open Grace’s Marketplace on the Upper East Side in 1985. A Long Island location opened in 2008 in Greenvale.

In 1999, Andy and Nina sold their business to Sutton Place Gourmet, a Maryland-based specialty market chain that, in 2004, changed its name to Balducci’s. Now owned by KB Holding, it operates eight stores in the Northeast. The only remaining New York City location, on West 56th Street, is temporarily closed due to coronavirus.

She was predeceased by daughters Dena, Ria and husband Andy Balducci, who died in 2018. Nina is survived by daughters Marta and Andrea Balducci, of East Williston; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Interment was private.

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