Along with the wave of immigrants who came to Syracuse in the early 1900s sprouted a sampling of specialty, family owned businesses. Many of these shops found a home on the Northside, which boasted some of the best bakeries, import stores, breweries and restaurants in town. Fortunately, some of these shops are still in the neighborhood today.
With three generations of owners, Thanos Import Market has remained a staple of the neighborhood for over 90 years. Thanos is the epitome of a neighborhood business. It’s a place that makes you feel like part of the community, where you make a quick stop for groceries but leave an hour later after catching up with the owner and friendly staff. According to Soula Carni, the current owner of the store, this is the way it has always been.
Soula was born in Greece and moved to Syracuse with her parents and 3 siblings in 1968. Reflecting on her days of growing up in Syracuse, Soula recalls the family outing every Sunday starting with mass at St. Sophia’s Church, where many of the area’s Greek population settled. Afterward, they would stop into Thanos Market to stock up on Greek food items and chat with Mr. Thanos, the original owner of the store. The store changed hands when Mr. Thanos’ daughter, Sophia, married into the Copanis Family. They kept the business running until Soula purchased the business in 2008, when Mr. Copanis decided to retire at the age of 91.
Before becoming the owner of Thanos, Soula received an Accounting degree with a minor in Business Administration from Lemoyne College. She pursued this career for several years working at Testone, Marshall and Discenzo, a local accounting firm. Although Soula didn’t always imagine herself running a business, it isn’t surprising that she came to purchase Thanos. She was raised in a business environment with her parents owning Athens Pizza in Dewitt. The whole family helped out, and Soula started working there in high school. Years later, she bought a deli from her brother called A Taste of Philadelphia. After running the deli for a couple years, Soula decided to sell the business to spend more time with her family, a luxury she feels grateful they could afford. The value and immense care that Soula has for her family is evident from the moment you meet her, and is also something she easily extends into her profession. Customers who stop into Thanos are always greeted with open arms, and the three gentlemen who work there – Jerry, Joe, and Jack will always leave you with a smile.
If the welcoming atmosphere doesn’t amaze you, the quality products available for sale will. The store has an old world charm and offers specialty items from Greece, Italy, Spain and the Middle East. Soula has also made a strong effort to source more of her products locally, which is evident in the “Pride of NY” signs posted throughout the store. A quick look around and I found a handful of local goods, including handmade pasta from Utica NY, flavored roasted nuts, and specialty dipping oils. Yet when it comes to the most popular item in the store, the Wisconsin sharp provolone cheese fits the bill. The secret to its success is having the already aged cheese go through a longer aging process, another 3-6 more months on site. Pair that with the popular cured meats like capocolla and sopressata, add some of the house seasoned olives to the side, and you have the best party platter you can find in Syracuse! Another item that is gaining popularity is a new domestic cheese called Bellavitano. Although it comes plain, the variety of flavors – soaked in merlot, balsamic vinegar, and raspberry ale or encrusted with black pepper or espresso bean, makes this a fun party cheese to add into the mix.
This past February marked Soula’s fifth year Anniversary of owning Thanos Import Market. Looking ahead, she hopes that Thanos and other Northside businesses remain successful and continue to benefit from the neighborhood’s revitalization. We are beginning to see a resurgence of the unique shops that were once plentiful on the Northside, with new businesses being opened by New Americans from Asia to Africa and everywhere in between. Soula imagines their experience is similar to her family’s, who came to America in search of a better life and more opportunities. Thanos Import Market is a testament to what can happen in this search, and is proof that with time and investment into the community, a business can thrive. I have confidence that Thanos will remain a neighborhood icon, new shops will continue to emerge, and together they will create a vibrant Northside.