Wakefern Food Corp. and ShopRite are mourning the loss of James Nicholas Sumas, longtime patriarch of Village Super Market Inc., which owns and operates 30 ShopRite supermarkets in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. “Jimmy,” as he was affectionately called, was an influential member, mentor and guiding force at Wakefern Food Corp., a retailer-owned cooperative. He died peacefully in his hometown of Morristown, New Jersey, on Saturday, July 7. He was 84.
“An icon in the supermarket industry, Jimmy led by example and helped define the landscape of the grocery business by dedicating his heart and soul to his work. His tireless work ethic, understanding of the marketplace, and intuitive grasp of customer needs helped him turn his family’s neighborhood grocery store into a company powerhouse with 30 ShopRite supermarkets in four states,” says Wakefern.
Mr. Sumas also played a key role at Wakefern by helping guide the cooperative during its early, formative years. At Wakefern, he was a trusted advisor who served on numerous committees and was generous with his time in mentoring and nurturing other members of the cooperative. He became Wakefern’s grocery committee chairman in 1957 and commanded that post for nearly 60 years.
Mr. Sumas also served as vice chairman of Wakefern and was a member of its board of directors for more than 30 years. In addition, he served as chairman of Wakefern’s advertising committee and vice chairman of its sales and merchandising committee and of ShopRite Supermarkets Inc. He also was a member of Wakefern’s trade name and trademark, strategic planning and customer satisfaction committees.
He loved teaching others about the industry and combined his vast knowledge and quick wit to provide valuable lessons to those willing to listen.
“Jimmy really represented the entrepreneurial family business spirit that defines Wakefern. He loved his family and associates and was passionate about the values and the importance of our cooperative. But most importantly, Jimmy loved to teach and mentor others, and he helped all of us to grow. He wanted everyone to succeed not only because he cared about the business, but also because he cared about people. Jimmy will be greatly missed here at Wakefern,” said the company’s Chairman and CEO Joseph S. Colalillo.
Mr. Sumas was born in Newark, New Jersey, on Oct. 24, 1933. He was the first son to Greek immigrants Nicholas and Athena Sumas.
As a young man, he got his first taste of the supermarket industry while working in his father Nick and Uncle Perry’s market in South Orange and attending Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey. He continued his education at Seton Hall University, earning his business degree in 1955. Jimmy served his country in the U.S. Army for the next two years. In 1957, he came home to dedicate himself to his family and to his work in the family business, which a decade earlier had joined the new supermarket cooperative Wakefern.
Mr. Sumas quickly began to lead the Sumas family into its growth phase by opening ShopRite supermarket locations for more four decades. Late last month, the Sumas family opened its 30th ShopRite store and the first ShopRite in the Bronx, New York.
He was elected Village’s chairman of the board in 1989 and named CEO in 2002. He served as VP, treasurer and a director of the company since its incorporation in 1955.
Mr. Sumas is survived by his wife Helen Sumas (nee Dillon), his daughter Dr. Maria Elaina (Mia) Sumas (Patrick Baker), his daughter Stephanie Sumas, his son John James Sumas (Dr. Alexandra Liggatt), and his grandsons Theodore-James Sumas and James Beau Sumas. He is also survived by his brother Robert Sumas (Deana) and his sister-in-law Harriet Pallantios (Pete), along with a very large extended Greek family. He is predeceased by his brother Sturgis Sumas.
A funeral ceremony was held on Friday, July 13, at Ss. Nicholas, Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church at 80 Laurel Avenue in Roseland, New Jersey, followed by entombment at Somerset Hills Memorial Park in Basking Ridge. Condolences and memories may be shared at farmerfuneral.com.