Dee Nerlino has been buying filet mignons from Panico’s Community Market in Smithtown for decades.
“When you cook it, you can cut it with a fork,” she said Saturday morning at the market, where she came to buy six of the tender steaks.
They would be her last from the small Italian grocery, which is closing Sunday after more than three decades in business.
“I felt like I got kicked in the stomach when I found out,” said Nerlino, who lives in Nesconset. “I’m really gonna miss it.”
Nerlino and other longtime customers will have to go elsewhere for the steaks, sandwiches, sausages, store-made pastas and sauces that have been staples of the family-owned market since it opened on Terry Road in 1984.
“You don’t find those types of shops around anymore,” said Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, a regular customer. “Panico’s will be sorely missed.”
Donato Panico Jr. said the family is closing the market to devote itself to raising money for veterans.
“It’s been a great run, but it’s time to move on,” said Panico, 50, whose father founded the store and who has worked there since he was young.
Panico first became involved in charity work after Sept. 11, 2001. The Smithtown resident spent 10 straight days at Ground Zero, serving first responders breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sleeping in his catering truck, he said.
Since then, staff at the one-story shop with drop ceilings and tile floors have made food for local police and firefighters on every anniversary of the attack, including 3,300 three-foot heroes distributed among every police and firefighter precinct in New York City in 2016.
Panico said he will now work full-time at his nonprofit, Heros 4 Our Heroes, to raise money for the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Employee Nicky Morreale will join that effort, continuing his longtime work for the family.
“This is the only thing I’ve ever known,” said Morreale, 27, who grew up across the street from the shop.
Morreale said his father died when he was young — a void that the Panico family helped to fill.
“My childhood was here,” Morreale said. “We didn’t shop anywhere else. We came here. A lot of people in this town are like that.”
Donato Panico Sr., who founded the store, said he plans to relax starting Monday.
“I want to play a little golf. I want to hang around Miami Beach. You know what I mean?” said Panico, 76.
Panico has been working in butcheries since he was a teenager in Park Slope, Brooklyn, he said. He is proud of the work he has done at his family’s market.
“We’re going out like Marciano,” he said, referring to ex-heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, who retired undefeated. “We’re going out on top.”