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Updated: March 15, 2021

Business Leader of the Year: DeOliveira expanded a Worcester institution to better serve the community

Photo/MATT WRIGHT Rodrigo DeOliveira

Rodrigo DeOliveira was 24 when he used a U.S. Small Business Administration loan to buy D’Errico’s Market on East Central Street from his now-late father in 2017.

Going into his fifth year running the market, which he’s worked at in various capacities since he was 14, the 74-year-old business has seen tremendous growth. Under his leadership, D’Errico’s expanded to a second location on Cambridge Street last summer, and plans are underway to open a third location in Leominster, as soon as June. 

“We’ve already also started scouting location four,” DeOliveira said.

At a time when small businesses have been under tremendous pressure to make ends meet, fielding a double-whammy of a coronavirus pandemic and the ever-ongoing expansion of large national retailers, D’Errico’s expansion is a feat that can’t be understated.

But it’s also been a long time in the making.

In the interest of longevity and efficiency, DeOliveira said one of the first things he did as the new owner in 2017 was take stock of the market’s physical setup and merchandising, ultimately halving the store’s product count in the first year he took over. Before, he said, the store was like a maze, with towering shelves making the 5,000 square-foot shop look much smaller than it really is.

“We focused in on trying to be the best at supplying proteins – you know, the beef, chicken, pork, veal, all that stuff. And the groceries are more like, ‘Thank you for coming,’” DeOliveira said, noting under his direction, D’Errico’s does not view the general grocery market as its competitor.

In his view, he said, he had to make a call: either be the cheapest market or be the market with the best quality proteins at a higher price. DeOliveira said he chose the latter.

“And I’m glad I did,” he said. “It was the right choice.”

There’s a tension, though, between being small and mighty but wanting to expand reach. When Italian markets first began to catch on in the United States, DeOliveira said the American dream centered around opening one shop and being happy with that. Times have changed.

“In our time, now, you have to be more aggressive than just one location, which is why we're expanding,” DeOliveira said.

These competing intentions bring value to Worcester neighborhoods, said Alex Guardiola, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce director of government affairs and public policy, who praised D’Errico’s commitments to serving the city’s neighborhood business districts.

“One of the things that we always applaud are when small business become creative and maneuver into uncharted waters and continue to be successful; and in this case, expand into other communities that will benefit from benefiting from them,” Guardiola said of D’Errico’s expansions both inside and outside of Worcester.

Not only do bustling local shops serve to support their individual micro-business communities, but they provide a different level of service to area residents, who may benefit from having quality, nearby shops they can travel to without needing a car, including D’Errico’s second location in the lower-income Main South neighborhood.

D’Errico’s, Guardiola said, is a good example of what can happen when you keep small business dollars in the community.

“These are the kinds of stories we like to hear,” Guardiola said. “We like to continue to promote buying local and shopping local and supporting our small businesses.”

DeOliveira’s family is happy to see the company grow, said DeOliveira. His mother runs the Cambridge street location, he said, and he works with several aunts, uncles and cousins across the business.

“They’re all happy to see we’re doing well, and in a time of struggle,” DeOliveira said.

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