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Cortez grocer a touchstone for his village

The “Mayor of Cortez,” Lou Nassar, was choked up.

So was his wife, Nancy.

For 32 years, they made Lou’s Cortez Market a neighborhood grocery in the truest sense.

Patrons got more than cold cuts and cereal, detergent and diapers.

“You got friendship, sympathy,” said Joe Kane, a Cortez resident.

Good grades earned children a treat. Bad ones, a lecture.

New mothers brought their babies by.

Hard-up families picked out what they needed and paid later.

“Lou cared about everybody,” Kane said. “We appreciated him for that.”

Cortez will show its appreciation today for the recently retired couple with a 4 p.m. celebration at the Cortez Fire House.

Talking about it in their Whitfield home Friday moved Lou, 67, and Nancy, 65, to tears.

“It makes me think they really love me and I love them very much,” he said. “We became involved in their lives.”

“They were more than customers to us,” she said. “They were family.”

A family that reminded Lou of his people, poor farmers and merchants in a Palestinian village called Yalu, which pre-dated the time of Christ. He left in 1961 and Israel bulldozed it in 1967 after the Six-Day War.

“You come to Cortez, it hit me, it makes me feel like I’m back home,” Lou said. “Everybody knew everybody and we helped each other when somebody’s down because of tough luck, or loses his job.

“I thought I could do that for this community.”

Lou did that and more.

He and Nancy were there for village fundraisers as well as funerals.

“They were part of Cortez,” said Plum Taylor, a lifelong resident. “If you needed something from the store and you couldn’t get it, he would bring it to you. He was more than just a grocer. We loved them. Good people. Good people.”

“He fit right in here,” said her husband, Alcee, a patriarch of the village’s fishing heritage.

Lou and Nancy plan to travel — and after years of seven-day, 80-hour work weeks, not to mention his 30 years of soccer officiating, they deserve it.

“Our roots are still in Cortez,” she said. “If we get lonely, we’ll call somebody and ask if we can come for a cup of coffee.”

Lou’s younger brother, Ed, now owns the grocery.

Will he look out for his Cortez customers like big brother did?

“I hope so,” Lou said.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification purposes.

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