Friendly face in aisle 5: Palmer’s employee has 51 years and counting

Palmer’s Market Grocery Manager Gene Daddona has worked for the family-owned market since 1967.
Palmer’s Market Grocery Manager Gene Daddona has worked for the family-owned market since 1967.

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For more than half a century, one familiar face has been a constant among the neatly appointed aisles at Palmer’s Market.

Gene Daddona started in 1967 as a part-time stock boy after school at the Palmer’s Market in the Springdale section of Stamford. Fifty-one years later, he is the Grocery Manager at the Darien store.

“Palmer’s is very much like a family,” Gene said. “And we treat our customers like family.”

Taking care of that “family” of customers means Gene, now 69, arrives at 5 a.m. and usually doesn’t leave until around 4:30  or 5 p.m.

“It would take two people to replace Gene,” Market co-owner Cindy Palmer Dean said. “He is everywhere, answering customer questions and walking them all over the store. It’s really not something you see a lot anymore, especially in this age we live in. You don’t see that personal connection elsewhere.”

Gene is one of several employees who have built a long-term career at Palmer’s. Cindy explains that Palmer’s takes pride in the fact that so many employees choose to stay long-term, building strong relationships and working their way up.

“I think that’s one of the charms of Palmer’s — that we have these employees with us for so long,” Cindy said. “We have customers who move away, come back and get so excited when they see those same familiar faces at the store.”

Gene’s responsibilities go beyond answering questions for shoppers. He monitors how products are selling, keeps shelves neat, reorganizes to accommodate new products or a change in season, places daily new orders and organizes deliveries. Gene was also instrumental in starting the Palmer’s shelf stocking night crew.

“It’s really convenient for our customers that we restock at night,” Cindy said.

Twice a week, Gene checks the prices at nearby grocery stores to ensure Palmer’s stays competitive.

“We add new specialty products every day,” Gene said. “But we are always competitive with our basic grocery items.”

With a six-day-a-week, detail-oriented job, Gene, surprisingly, takes a decidedly adventurous approach to his time off.

Gene’s winter weekends are spent skiing in Vermont — a sport he first tried many years ago at the urging of a Palmer’s co-worker in Springdale. In warm weather, he sets sail on The Mystic Whaler — a reproduction of a 19th century coastal cargo schooner. His upcoming trip on the Whaler is even more adventurous than usual.

“We’re going on an eight day trip with no set destination,” he said. “We’re just going to get on the boat, leave the dock and see what happens.”

While he makes the most of his day off, Gene has no plans to retire from Palmer’s.

“As long as my health is good, and they let me continue, I’ll be here,” he said.

Cindy is looking forward to celebrating a 60-year employee anniversary with Gene in the future.

“We hope to have Gene here for at least another 10 years,” she said.

Palmer’s Market is located at 264 Heights Road, Darien, right across from the Noroton Heights Railroad Station.