Everybody likes Mike

At 95, grocery store bagger has charm to spare

Jewell Cardwell / Akron Beacon Journal /

AKRON, Ohio — Sometimes it’s OK to put all of our eggs in one basket. That is, if you turn over the chore to the nattily dressed, dapper-looking fella with the full head of hair and the exceptional physique who bags groceries at Akron’s Acme No. 1 store.

Michael “Mike” Scalera — who just celebrated his 95th birthday last week — works five days a week, five hours a day. It’s a gig he’s happily held for nearly 24 years and has no plans to give up.

Scalera truly was that jolly good fellow when family, friends and co-workers gathered for a grand party at the Houston Pub in Norton, Ohio. That celebration was followed by two days with cake and balloons at the store.

Scalera, who lives in Akron, Ohio, was widowed a second time six months ago, and still deals with the poison of deep grief. However, he’s wisely and quietly decided not to dwell too long on life’s when-bad-things-happen-to-good-people episodes.

Rather, he tries hard to keep his focus on two passions: his job and golf.

Bagging groceries, in addition to being good for the body and the mind, also helps finance his two-day-a-week golf habit.

Mylene Albanese, the store’s wine specialist, effusive with praise for the renaissance man, described him by saying “like fine wine, he keeps getting better with age.”

Others who work alongside Scalera are in full agreement, citing his work ethic, his helpful ways and his love of people.

“You don’t get any better an employee than Mike. They broke the mold after him,” said Sue McDonald, who has been a cashier with Acme for 40 years, the last 26 at No. 1. “I hope to be here as long as he has!”

Standing within earshot of the compliment, Scalera tried not to react although the twinkle in his eyes betrayed his thoughts.

Wearing a rose-colored shirt, dark pin-striped slacks, college-boy sweater and well-shined shoes, he modestly showed off his quick-handed bagging technique. The obvious, of course, packing the eggs separately and placing them in the upper portion of the cart, and always putting the bread, the marshmallows and all the soft items on top.

Scalera has also come to be known as the “combo guy” given his mastery of double-bagging groceries, typically placing glass bottles and heavier items inside a brown-paper bag with a plastic one on the outside.

His elderly clients, especially the women who were plying him with hugs and kisses this day, really appreciate that kind of thoughtfulness.

Scalera has earned yet another moniker at No. 1 over the years, that of “Mr. Fix-It.”

“He’s our handyman,” Albanese said. “You might find him lying on the floor anytime fixing the counters and painting stuff.”

He built a cart for the wine department and bag holders for the store. If something breaks, he fixes it. And without ever being asked.

“And come rain or snow he’s right outside helping customers with their carts. We try to keep an eye on him so he doesn’t do that so much, but there’s just no stopping him.”

Sandy Holderfield — who’s been with Acme for 37 years — and Gary Mollohan, perishable manager, also give Scalera high marks, calling him an inspiration to workers and customers alike.

“He’s awesome. He’s a true asset,” Mollohan said.

Longtime No. 1 customer Joanne Brown, of Akron, who has trouble believing Scalera is as old as he is, said he “is always ready to help me with my groceries.”

Fellow bagger Richard Green, 33, aspires to “live as long as Mike” and still have his speed.

Clearly, the key to aging well for Scalera, apart from genetics (he has a brother who’s 93 and a sister who’s 91) is keeping active.

“I used to play racquetball with a lot of young guys,” Scalera said. “I mean I would play for hours and I was good at it. And I used to dance quite a bit — jitterbug and ballroom. I never lost a contest! I won city and state competitions .

“I still exercise. I do a lot of stretching. I have to for my arthritis, which I have in my hands and my back.”

He also was a member of the Rubber Capital Harmonica Club and the Fred David Harmonica Rogues.

The North High School graduate, who grew up during the Depression, has an extensive work history. His first job was selling building materials for Franklin Brothers (three years); then Roma Bakery (four years); a couple of years part time as a salesman in men’s furnishings for O’Neil’s; and he worked two years for his father-in-law driving a beer truck before he was drafted.

He served five years in the army behind the lines during World War II. Following his discharge, he worked as an auto parts manager at Albert Conn Chrysler-Plymouth, DeWitt Motors and Don Joseph.

He says his two sons maintain that work ethic. Rounding out the family are four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and another on the way.

Asked about his wrinkle-free complexion, Scalera credits that with the abundance of olive oil he’s used on his food — potatoes, salads, omelettes and more — over the years.

Something, by the way, they have in abundance on the store’s shelves. Just in case anyone’s interested.