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ShopRite owner, Wakefern leader dies at 84

Wakefern Food Corp. and ShopRite announced the death 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. He died peacefully Saturday in his hometown of Morristown, NJ. He was 84.gran

Mr. Sumas was an influential member, mentor and guiding force at Wakefern Food Corp. An icon in the supermarket industry, he 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.

He also played a key role at Wakefern by helping guide the cooperative during its early, formative years and shape the cooperative into a regional leader. At Wakefern, Mr. Sumas 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 over 30 years. In addition, he served as chairman of Wakefern’s advertising committee and vice chairman of Wakefern’s sales and merchandising committee and of ShopRite Supermarkets Inc. Mr. Sumas was also a member of Wakefern’s trade name and trademark, strategic planning and customer satisfaction committees.

According to the company, Mr. Sumas 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 Joseph S. Colalillo, Wakefern chairman and chief executive officer.

Mr. Sumas was born in Newark, NJ, on Oct. 24, 1933. He was the first son to Greek immigrants Nicholas and Athena Sumas.

As a youngster, 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, NJ. He continued his education at Seton Hall University, earning his business degree in 1955. Mr. Sumas 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, NY.

He was elected Village’s chairman of the board in 1989 and named CEO in 2002. He served as vice president, 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 MariaElaina (Mia) Sumas (Patrick Baker), his daughter Stephanie Sumas, his son John James Sumas (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 and loving family. He is predeceased by his brother Sturgis Sumas.