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Amsterdam's Elvy Sapia

By: Bob Cudmore

Date: 2017-01-14

Amsterdam entrepreneur Elvy Sapia
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 01-14-17

Movie star Kirk Douglas, whose milestone birthday was last December 9, may be the best known 100-year old native of Amsterdam. However, another well-respected Amsterdam native celebrated her 100th birthday six days later on December 16, 2016.

Elvira Romeo Marocco Sapia lived on Vrooman Avenue in the city’s East End as a child. Her parents were Demetrio and Angelina Romeo. Kirk Douglas, then known as Isadore Demsky, grew up a couple blocks away on Eagle Street.

While Demsky/Douglas graduated from Amsterdam High and St. Lawrence University, Elvy Romeo, as she was known, left school in the eighth grade to help support her family. She worked for furriers Nicholas and Concetta Skaperdas as a fur finisher, sewing linings, labels and initials on coats and other garments.

She married Roger “Rocky” Marocco on May 1, 1940. Marocco was from St. Johnsville and well-known as a boxer in the Mohawk Valley. He served twice in the U.S. military, first in the 1930s and then during World War II. Now deceased, he stayed in the U.S. Air Force and retired as a lieutenant colonel handling aviation ordnance.

The Maroccos divorced nine years after their wedding according to Elvy’s only child, Anthony Marocco. Some years later Elvy married Carl Sapia who was in the home remodeling business.

Elvy worked in the carpet mills and at General Electric but in 1954 took advantage of a business opportunity when the Skaperdases retired from their fur shop. A newspaper account reported that with the help of business partner Benny Mushkat, she purchased Skaperdas Furs.

The Skaperdases knew Elvy and appreciated the work she had done for them when she was a young woman. When Mushkat died in the 1960s, Elvy bought his share of the business.

Elvy bought out two other Amsterdam fur shops when they closed: Furs by Gus, owned by Gus Gousis, and Wagenheim’s Furs, which was located in Wagenheim’s women’s clothing store on Market Street but was an independent company owned by a man named Brenner.

The Skaperdas location at 109 East Main Street contained a large, profitable fur storage vault, capable of holding five hundred garments through the summer months. Elvy’s nephew Michael Romeo, who suggested this column, and other family members worked with her at the fur shop.

Elvy was highly regarded as a “lovely lady” in the community. One local customer said that Elvy let her borrow a fur cape to wear on her November wedding day.

In 1972 Elvy purchased Segel’s Jewelry at 81 East Main Street, a longtime Amsterdam firm, from Irving Segel. Elvy told the Recorder that she believed in downtown Amsterdam, which was beginning to see drastic changes from urban renewal and highway construction.

Creation of the enclosed downtown mall, today’s Riverfront Center, began in 1973. Many store buildings were torn down. The first section of the mall was opened in 1977 although work continued on the facility into the 1980s.

Elvy’s husband Carl Sapia managed Segel’s Jewelers for awhile after the business was purchased by the family. Soon Elvy’s son, Anthony Marocco, became the store manager.

Today Marocco owns Segel’s Jewelers which has relocated to the outskirts of Amsterdam on Route 30 north.

Elvy also purchased Martin’s Specialty Shop in downtown Amsterdam which sold women’s lingerie. That store was managed by Elvy’s sister, Dorothy Viscusi.

Carl and Elvy Sapia retired to Florida during the late 1970s. Skaperdas Furs and Martin’s Specialty Shop closed. Carl Sapia died in 1981.

Elvy resides in an assisted living facility in Lakeland, Florida. Her son said that Kirk Douglas noted her ninety fifth and her recent one hundredth birthdays with congratulatory letters.