Gas station attendant and Korean War veteran Mario Coletta saved his pennies and eventually opened his own gas station on the Brown University campus in 1962.
The full service station had a cigarette vending machine in one corner.
Sixty years later, Coletta’s first venture has grown from a modest single location to around 50 corner markets and Shell gas stations across Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
His daughter, Sandra “Sandy” Delli Carpini, now serves as owner and chief marketing officer (CMO) of Seasons Corner Markets and parent company Colbea Enterprises.
“Dad passed away about five years ago,” Delli Carpini said. “His parents came over from Italy first, after he was born. They sent for him when he was about 10. He was living there with his aunt. He traveled to the United States by boat, and went through Ellis Island. He didn’t go to middle school or high school, and didn’t speak the language.”
Coletta worked in a jewelry factory as a child, then worked as a gas attendant and eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army and shipped off to fight in Korea.
“At the very beginning, all we had was my father’s sweat equity,” Delli Carpini said.
He didn’t see combat, but was injured in an explosive mine ordinance removal, though the details are unclear.
“You never think it’s so important until you can’t ask anymore, and there’s no one left to answer the question,” Delli Carpini said, while seated at a table in the Seasons Corner Market on Hartford Avenue, just past the Scituate/Johnston border. “He worked until he got enough money for his own station.”
The first location offered automotive service bays and full service gas pumps, and eventually expanded with the addition of AAA road service.
On June 25, 1981, he opened the Hope Street Station in Providence, which expanded the store’s customer base from the East Side to the Pawtucket line.
By Dec. 15, 1999, the company started to swell.
“At the end of the 1990’s, growth began rapidly with the addition of stations occurring by the dozen,” according to the company history on the Seasons website. “In 1999 our joint venture was formed, resulting in the birth of Colbea Enterprises, LLC.”
The small family business partnered with oil titan Shell. Coletta had made an impression on the oil company’s top brass by picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot by hand, on the way to an early site tour. From then on, Shell gave Coletta first opportunity when stations were available for sale.
“Our services also expanded with the beginning of our wholesale division in 2007,” according to the company history. “By 2010 our total acquisitions exceeded 100 locations with a growing presence in the Massachusetts market.”
Family members credited themselves to the limit. They considered refinancing their houses to help fund the business.
“It was a family affair and we were all entrenched,” Delli Carpini recalled. “In my life, this business was part of my daily existence. Mom did the bookkeeping on our kitchen table.”
Sandy and her mother, Valia, helped keep their patriarch fueled, by brining him dinner at the station. Some night’s he’d sleep at the shop after working night and day.
“It was all consuming,” Delli Carpini said.
Eventually, the gas station business started to change. Pumps and vehicle maintenance became secondary, and convenience stores offered the real profit potential.
“We started to grow when the convenience store came into play,” Delli Carpini said. “Back in the day, the store made its money selling candy, cigarettes and soda. We didn’t even have a cashier area, just a cigarette vending machine in the corner.”
Wawa and Sheetz set the gold standard further south, and Cumberland Farms evolved in New England. The company that would eventually be known as “Seasons” started to compete with the big boys of the industry.
In May 22, 2012, the company’s “Seasons” brand was born. The first Seasons was opened in Narragansett.
“First we had to select a name that expressed the feeling of New England,” according to the Seasons website. “Seasons Corner Market said it all. It spoke to our colorful falls, blustery winters, wet springs, and hot summers. We’re a corner market because we carry fresh and premium local products. We’re always fast, fresh, and friendly!”
By March 11, 2019, the company rapidly expanded to more than 30 locations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, with more opening each year.
Now, Seasons Corner Market now has more than 40 locations throughout the region, and continues to expand its reach.
“We will continue to grow every season and even opened our very first Corner Market Cafe in our Smithfield location,” according to the company website. “We remain family owned and operated, committed to exceeding our customer’s expectations. We continue to partner with local vendors, and well known brands, to provide our customers with a variety of products across all our locations.”
Delli Carpini is proud of the small empire her father founded.
She walks around the Scituate store pointing out the details that make Seasons Corner Markets unique.
“People wanted more options, and the service bays were slowly dying,” she said. “The change gave us the opportunity to take over other gas stations and convert them. We turned the service bays into stores.”
Seasons offers more varieties of bottled water than just about any store on earth; the Scituate location has three cooler sections filled with practically every imaginable brand. The store even boasts a Kombucha section.
The sandwich section, in an open-air cooler near the front of the store, is also a particular point of pride.
The sandwiches are handcrafted by Cranston-based Pranzi Catering, and delivered to the store fresh daily.
“The quality cold cuts in our sandwiches are Boar’s Head,” Delli Carpini explained.
After college, but before she returned to her family’s business, Delli Carpini spent a lot of time on the road. While traveling, she developed a keen sense for which roadside stations were safe and clean enough for a stop.
“On the road, I was looking for something to eat and a clean bathroom,” she said. “Our bathrooms are always spotless. I’m very proud of that. The gas stations of yesteryear created a stigma around gas station food and cleanliness. The dust was very thick and once you see dusty candy you ask yourself, ‘How long has this been here?’ We wanted to change that.”
The company has prioritized local philanthropy.
During August and September, gas pumps were specially designated as “Giving Pumps” to raise money for Hasbro Childrens Hospital in Rhode Island and Tufts Medical Center in Massachusetts.
For each gallon customers pumped, Seasons donated a penny toward critical medical treatments and groundbreaking research.
Seasons’ next charitable drive will target raising money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and collection boxes will be available for offerings at all locations throughout October and November.
The company now employs around 600, but would like to employ around 760, though a nationwide labor shortage has made staffing stores difficult, despite a competitive wage and benefits package for all workers.
“We’ve been all hands on deck since the beginning,” Delli Carpini said. “One thing my father constantly told us, was to reinvest. So that’s what we’ve always done. We reinvest everything we earn, into the people, the facilities and into the community.”