Colossal

A few times a month, Pic’s followers still seek out the dark green director’s chair—now almost 3 years vacant. Upon finding that native stool stationed in the center aisle of the Boulder store, they perform a memorized, requisite “sit,” their tails fanning the floor in anticipation of a green-vested friend to amble into sight from down the corridor, or to reappear from behind a shelf.

The middle aisle of McGuckin Hardware just isn’t the same without Angelo Lo Piccolo. To this very day when the good dogs of Boulder visit, they still receive something delicious from deep within pockets of other green vests who have picked up the former McGuckin ambassador’s jovial tradition, and who have collected years of stories from Lo Piccolo, or as he was known here, “Pic.”

“He was the dog whisperer,” says former co-worker, Drew Paulsen, “he had a following of 1000s.”

“He enjoyed the whole theater of the pets,” explains another longtime cohort, Bruce Ramp. “He just liked talking to people, and pets were the perfect ice breaker.”

The man in the middle dispensing mirth to canines and their people was considered a McGuckin centerpiece for fifteen years. Translated from Italian, Piccolo means “small, little, tiny, or short,” but to those he worked with, Pic was at least twice the size of life.

“It seemed like everybody knew Lo Piccolo–his positivity was contagious,” says Randy “Doc” Dilkes. Now posted near the green director’s chair, Doc will miss Pic’s trademark greeting to his hardware friends: “Pasian!” The man in the middle always declared the Italian word for “comrade” to the familiar faces shuffling past, and when asked how he was faring, the man in middle always sang the same response: “Colossal.”

Angelo Michael Lo Piccolo, “Pic,” died on March 15th, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. He was ninety.

“Pic was a sensation,” says Ray Gralewski, a McGuckin manager. “He was an event.”

“He was my old buddy,” said Dave Hight, owner of McGuckin Hardware. They first met in 1945, when Dave, then 15, worked for Leffingwell Mercantile in Brighton, and Pic, 17, filled orders for Denver Dry Goods. In a middle aisle interview from 2015, Pic recalled that fateful first phone call:

Hey,” he remembered Dave’s voice coming through the line: “You don’t know me, but I know you, and I’m going to place an order for the grocery store here and for the hardware, and I want it on the dock at four o’clock, so I can get out of here and get home.”

That’s when we got acquainted,” laughed Pic. “And that’s the first and last time I ever had to say: ‘yes I’ll get it done for you.’”

Every week, Dave drove the company truck down to Denver to pick up the supplies Pic had picked out of inventory, and the two started a friendship that spanned over 70 years.

Pic, left, and Dave, right, pose for a picture in McGuckin Hardware in 2015

“I always teased him that he ought to move to Sicily, cause that’s where the mafia was,” chuckles Dave; as he well knew, Pic had already lived in Sicily—born in Palermo in 1927, his parents immigrated to Cleveland when he was a young boy. As for the mafia bit, he told colleagues intermittent ongoing tales regarding certain Lo Piccolos residing in that distinct area holding somewhat, infamous, profiles.

In Cleveland, Pic spent his formative years with his siblings, Sam, Rose and Anna Marie, in an Italian-American upbringing. At 18, he joined the Air Force for a 3-and-a-half-year tour, stationing at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver and earning a Victory Medal for WWII service. At 19, he married the love of his life, Mabel Fernandez.

How they fell in love remains unclear, but their only son Michael thinks it had to do with his dad’s insatiable need to dance. In those days he spent a lot of time at the “Troc,” otherwise known as the Trocadero Ballroom—a once-sprawling outdoor pavilion at Elitch Gardens hosting big bands that got crowds dancing and sliding their feet on its waxed wood floors.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if that was one of the first places they met,” Michael says.

When he got out of the service, Pic began a long career as a salesman for Blish-Mize, supplying wholesale goods to family-owned hardware stores and lumber yards throughout eastern Colorado, the Denver-area, and along the highway 36 corridor to the Front Range. For many independent business owners and their families, he was the familiar face who showed up at regular intervals to help them replenish their inventories, and ultimately, build their businesses.

Well before computers, wholesalers hauled their offerings around in massive, leather-bound catalogues that often required a strap to close and a handle to carry. For years, Pic, wearing his dark brown flat cap and warm, mischievous smile, dutifully lugged the Blish bible from store to store and office to office, developing a perpetual lean to one side and punctuating each transaction with a joke and a mint.

“The thing that was so unique, was that he cheered up offices while getting work done,” explains Bruce Ramp, who first met Pic as a McGuckin buyer. “You never felt like you were interrupting him. He would just sit down and break down categories and talk as long as you wanted.”

Tom Steinbaugh, who with his dad, Glenn, owned and operated Steinbaugh’s Hardware in Louisville until its closure in 1997, knew Pic his whole life.

“He had a heart of gold,” says Tom, later reuniting with Pic at McGuckin. “He was always willing to help anybody.”

It could be said, that no matter Pic’s age—when not working, with family, or in Sunday mass, he was probably around a ball field. Split-fingered and leather-piped, his bulky pre-war baseball glove has seen its fair share of sunny Denver days, its weathered palm a testament to thousands of balls fielded around first base. A family rumor says he even tried out for the Cleveland Indians when he was nineteen. Later, while working in Denver and raising Michael, he played in softball leagues at City Park.

That was a good league,” Pic said, remembering one pitcher who threw the ball so fast it blurred, and crazy umpires who always had players and spectators up on their feet screaming.  “They’d always call you ‘out!’” he recalled. “We always jumped all over them, I’ll tell ya, both teams. But he was good. He’d get the crowd. It was fun.”

From playing to coaching to spectating, Pic’s love of sports was a thread that ran through his entire life. He passed it to his son Michael (who played football in high school and at the University of Wyoming before a successful coaching career with the Rock Springs Tigers); his grandsons, Tony and Joseph, as well as his great-grandkids. Whether home or away, it was a rarity for he and Mabel to miss a game.

Tony Lo Piccolo came to the same Denver house to see his grandparents for 37 years. He and grandpa went to baseball games when the Rockies were the Zephyrs and the Zephyrs were the Bears. And when Tony was growing up, Pic and Mabel jumped in the car and drove to Rock Springs, Wyoming in time for all Friday night lights and later for his football games at the Air Force Academy.

When Mabel fell ill in 1992, Pic retired from Blish and became her caretaker until her passing in 2001. Soon, he found himself itching to get back to work.

I had retired,” Pic said. “And I knew Dave then and I thought I’d talk to him, and he said, ‘when can you come in?’ And this is where I ended up, right here.”

He started at McGuckin Hardware that June. While already acquainted for years with much of the staff, he wasted no time in winning a steady stream of new friends—often aided by his affinity for sharing home-cooked meals.

There was pizza, and lasagna, and bright-red, lively marinara. There was spiced sausage, and pork, and hand-pressed meatball—almost always over some form of pasta. Raised in a barely-middle class Italian family, Pic mastered making delicious savory meals from scratch.

“It was never the finest ingredients by any stretch, but he could improvise very well,” says Tony, remembering his grandpa’s homemade cannoli shells.

When he was no longer cooking for Mabel, he prepared big batches and cordoned them into meal-size containers with the intent of weekly distribution to McGuckin co-workers: students, bachelors, or just friends he thought needed some meat on their bones. Then there was his soup: a rich, proprietary broth proudly dubbed, “Mrs. Goldberg’s Chicken Soup,” and sure to conquer any bug, ache or ailment.

Around the hardware store, Pic was known to enlist an old-fashioned charm hailing from another era, including acts of chivalry all but forgotten. He was a flirt. A ladies man. A smooth and respectful wooer of women. A couple times a month, he made sure that every unpaired lady in the store got a single red rose. And on Valentine’s Day, all his female friends got a rose—whether they had a sweet somebody or not.

“Everyone knew they were from Pic,” says McGuckin office worker, Julie Bussert. “He made sure that everyone was thought of.”

Another longtime office worker, Vicki Van Heeswyk, accompanied him to lunch at least once a month.

“He always had a bouquet waiting, and he opened the car door for me, always following up with a hug and a kiss,” Vicki says. “A true gentleman.”

When Bill Gendreau’s father passed away in 2008, Pic filled the role. He began bringing Bill steady tupperware deliveries of home-cooked goodness, and the pair started a tradition of going out to lunch once a week. They also attended many baseball games together, making opening day for the Rockies six times.

“Every day we worked, I’d go see him or he’d come see me,” says Bill. “The days I didn’t show up to work, he call me and ask, ‘What’s going on, do I need to bring you some chicken soup?’”

In those later years, Pic never lost his warm, colossal handshake. On his right hand gleamed the gold ring given to him by Blish-Mize for selling one million dollars of merchandise. On his left, the wedding band never departed. And the pockets of the green vest the man in the middle donned five days a week were always replete with mints and dog treats and pictures of those he loved.

“I like it here, see?” Pic said in the 2015 interview, reflecting on his working life. He pointed to a row of steaming humidifiers. “And I never sold one of those contraptions in my life … [Blish] was a lot of fun,” and then he laughed: “This is better.”

As a purveyor of conversation, an avuncular advisor, an entertainer, and a perpetual brightener of spirits, Pic galvanized the McGuckin middle until his final retirement at the age of 87.

“He really enjoyed being at McGuckin’s,” says Michael. “The opportunity to be there, around people, and kids and dogs. That was really important to him. It was always a day’s pay for a day’s work, that was his life.”

“I hope that they know how thankful we are for letting him come back and go to work and do something meaningful where his focus had been on my grandma for so many years,” says Tony. “He was very proud of that, and he considered it a blessing to get to do that. I was fortunate to have known him, and I’ll do the best I can in emulating the qualities that he had.”

At the funeral mass in All Saints Catholic Church in Denver on March 19th, Lo Piccolos of many ages gathered to say goodbye, and through many photographs shown over the years, Pic’s McGuckin family found few of them strangers. When Michael returned home after the service, he did so with the old split-fingered baseball glove his dad always kept close even through his final days, propping it up safely on the bookshelf.

Pic is survived by his son, Michael; daughter-in-law, Kim; grandsons, Tony and Joseph; and great-grandkids, Julia, Kiara, Owen, Gianna and Rebecca.