Mark Mongillo recently stood in his place of business at 85 Main St. in Salamanca and looked around as if for the first time.
“This is a wonderful building,” Mongillo said. Not soon after, a small woman shuffled in from the cold and inquired about her watch, which was having some issues.
Slipping into the back room, where he has been both learning and improving his skills since age 13 after his mother and father purchased the building, Mark Mongillo re-emerged and gave his diagnosis. The watch needed new “movements.”
Mongillo and his family, stretching back as far as his grandfather, Edward DePascale, has been in the watchmaking and selling business for 102 years. Arriving from Italy, DePascale became a courier to a watchmaker while living in Manhattan. Learning as much as he could, he eventually moved to Meadville, Pa., where he owned and operated a jeweler store. That was in 1912.
“He was a watchmaker, a jeweler, a travel agent, and he lent money to servicemen,” Mark said. “He did a lot.”
Raising a family in Pennsylvania, specifically six daughters and one son, the DePascale sent one of their daughters, Gloria, to watchmaking school, the Bowman Technical Institute. She was the only girl in a class of 60 boys.
Little did she know that her workbench would be situated by John Mongillo, the son of a Salamanca grocer who, after graduating from Salamanca High School in 1933, decided he wanted to be a watchmaker. Graduating from the trade school in 1945 after World War II, the couple would be employed at other jewelers, but they finally began working side by side at her father’s jewelry store.
In 1953, Mongillo came back to Salamanca at the request of Robert Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Jewelers. He remained there until 1958, at which point he and Gloria opened their first business at the Old Seneca Theater, currently the Ray Evens Theater. They would eventually take over another building, at 99 Main St., before purchasing its present building, formerly Norton’s Jewelers at 85 Main St., which they opened on May 14, 1970.
The significance of the two families interested in watchmaking before they even met isn’t lost on Mark, who, in the late ‘70s, followed in his father’s footsteps and attended the Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking and learned the trade.
“It is a very unique history, very special,” he said.
Mark’s youngest brother, John, would eventually join the business as a goldsmith and the two worked hard, surviving difficult economic climates and, ultimately, a city whose downtown corridor isn’t what it used to be.
“There are no stores here now, and the majority of our business comes from surrounding towns,” Mark said. “But we press on. We do great work here. Our product is known.”
At one point, Mark said, there were five jewelry stores in Salamanca, a testament to just how thriving the area once was. Even the watchmaking trade and those who embody it are rare. Mark is the only watchmaker in a large radius.
“The only other I know is in Buffalo,” he said. “It’s a dying art. The large corporations make it nearly impossible to get supplies.”
In the meantime, Mark has no plans to retire. In addition to sales and repair, Mongillo Jewelers also does trophy work and other engraving, another lost trade. Both his children, Nettie, a daughter, and Jason, are involved in the business, but whether or not they plan to assume control after their father retires is unknown at this point.
“I guess when I die, it won’t matter,” he said, chuckling. “But I do love the town and the people here. I’m proud of what we’ve done here.”
For more information about the business, visit www.mongillojewelers.com or call (716) 945-3622.