What’s the secret to making it in business more than a century? “Be nice, be fair, be productive,” said Mike Pronio, third-generation family owner of Pronio’s Market in downtown Hershey. “It’s simple.”
Beneath towering coaster tracks and behind the latest strip of chain stores, just two block from Chocolate Avenue, is a neighborhood staple. The current store, built by Mike’s father, Vince, in 1962, sits at the corner of Caracus Avenue and Valley Road. This family-owned and operated market has served generations of Derry Township natives with one-of-a-kind-products and unmatched service.
Pronio’s customers are looking for something special. The store carries freshly cut and ground meats, locally made products, fresh produce and high-quality Italian items. Pronio’s is well known for its homemade meatballs, strombolis and famous sausage. They’ve even started a line of coffees named after their dogs.
The market is for “people who are looking for a quality product, a fair price, and a clean store with family service,” Mike said.
Beyond what’s in the shopping cart, customers know that at Pronio’s, they will be treated like family. Shoppers and employees know each other. Bags always have been taken out to the car at no extra charge. James Pronio, Mike’s oldest son, grew up helping in the store and continues to do so as time allows. “Customers are looking for a personal experience,” he said. “They know the baggers, they know the Meat Department. In essence, you’re being served by family and friends, and your needs feel like they are met.”
Maintaining those relationships through the years has contributed greatly to Pronio’s success, and dedicated customers continue to show their support. As the store prepared to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019, one longtime customer in his 70s used his own time and money to create a 30-foot anniversary banner—which he promptly climbed up on the roof to install. “I don’t think his wife knew that,” Mike said.
“There is a kinship, a family-friendly mentality here. People know it comes back to that mentality,” James added.
Pronio’s has about 35 employees who measure their time at the store not by years, Mike said, but by decades. They have served generations of families. When the world flipped upside down in 2020, their loyalty enabled the local market to meet demand and provide a safe shopping experience.
“Business was up 30 to 40%, and people were lined up at the door every morning,” Mike said. “A lot of people wanted to come into a smaller store because it felt safer. And we managed because our employees stuck with us.”
As the area continues to grow and larger businesses pop up along the main roads, Mike knows that in reality, Pronio’s shouldn’t exist. Decades ago, the town was known for farm fields, orchards and small businesses. Today, he is one of few small businesses remaining near the main road. But, James said, their size allows Pronio’s to remain small and agile. Their dedicated staff is productive and efficient. And they work hard to meet customer requests.
“We don’t stray from our values,” James said. “We’re not trying to be the trendiest. We offer solid products. It’s about slow, steady, consistent growth and making sure the customers’ and employees’ needs are met.”
Their success, in large part, comes back to these relationships.
“I like the idea of knowing who’s coming through these doors. We talk, we tease. People support this store and want to see it strive and survive,” Mike said.
He cherishes the chance to continue his family’s legacy and hopes to do so for years to come. “The opportunity was there, and this was the chance of a lifetime,” Mike said of taking on the family business. “I’ve been given a gift, an opportunity no one gets.”