MUSE – Bertha Diesel was just 21 years old when her mother asked for her help opening a grocery store and deli in Muse in 1945.
Owning a business was the American dream for Sophia Sharek, who emigrated from Poland as a teen, and Diesel kept the dream alive for another 25 years after her mother died.
Diesel, 89, will be retiring at the end of the month and closing Sharek’s Grocery and Deli after nearly seven decades of business.
“I have made friends, and they had children. I saw those children grow up, they got married and they’re having kids,” Diesel said of her fond memories working at the Cecil Township store. “People who moved away, they would come purposely just to say hello to me.”
Diesel has five children, 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren of her own. Most of her family memories were made at the store or her home, both in the same two-story building, which was recently sold to a new owner.
Its hardwood floors and wooden shelves spark a feeling of nostalgia for the mom-and-pop stores that are now a rarity because of competition from chain grocery stores.
The store sells basic necessities like condiments, milk, bread and, these days, two cartons of eggs at the deli. Odds and ends also line the shelves: plastic children’s masks, summer hats, fly swatters and 50-cent books, including a gently worn copy of “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Diesel, who has no employees, mans the register, restocks the shelves and slices meat at the deli. When business was good, she employed a butcher who sold an assortment of meats, pork chops and half-a-cow’s share of beef.
She also sold food, including hot sausage sandwiches made by her husband, Robert, who died in 2002.
“It was a big seller on weekends,” she said. “Our business was very profitable years ago.”
Diesel keeps the store open six days a week, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Despite competition from the local supermarkets, she maintained a strict work ethic.
“You have to be committed 12 hours a day,” she said. “You can’t take off, and you can’t close any days, because if you want your customers to come in, you have to be here when they need you.”
Kim Anglin, Diesel’s daughter, said she admires her mother’s dedication.
“My mom’s commitment has been evident throughout her entire lifetime. All five of the kids were raised with the store,” said Anglin, 54, of Mercer County. “It’s something that we, all the kids, want to replicate – her work ethic and commitment to a business, or any work that you invest yourself in.”
Anglin said she is also grateful for her mother’s hard work, which gave her and her siblings the opportunity to attend college.
Now that her home and business have been sold, Diesel will be moving into a two-bedroom patio home in Cecil, and she looks forward to purchasing her first computer so she can “learn what’s going on in the world.”
“I think it’s well-deserved and well overdue,” Anglin said of her mother’s retirement. “We’re looking forward to it, and it is bittersweet.”