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Rocky's Deli Marks 50 Years in Business, 20 Without Closing

A hub for New Castle and surrounding towns, Rocky's has turned 50, and marks 20 years of staying open non stop.

This week, has marked a series of major milestones in its history, with both its 50th anniversary and its 20th continous year of staying open.

Since making the decision on Dec. 7, 1991 to never have the place close up, owner Greg Santone is not sure if the locks work any more.

“I don’t know if the alarm works, if the light switches work," he added.

Santone first tried the 24/7 experience in 1988, when he realized that the deli was operating as early as 3 a.m. to prepare for its morning opening, and with customers asking for favors just after closure. With the decision never to close - it has withstood blackouts, Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm - business has taken off.

“It grew and grew and grew and grew, particularly the weekend, overnights Friday and Saturday nights," Santone said.

Rocky's hours have helped it become a popular destination for high school and college students, not only from New Castle, but from neighborhing communities like Ossining, Briarcliff, even as far as Croton and Somers. The busiest night times for Rocky's are whenever students are on vacation, particularly Thanksgiving break, when the deli has eight people working at night.

“Being open that shift really expanded that niche of my business,” he said of his young following.

This doesn't mean that there haven't been close calls in the open streak. One year, when Rocky's lost power for several days due to a blackout, Santone had considered closing, with the inside temperature rising to over 100 degrees and with diminishing perishable inventory.

“I even had the key in the lock," he said, but added that he couldn't do it.

Rocky's enjoyed decades of prominence since it was founded in 1961 by Rocco Cambariere, with its original location at the current Country Deli site, next to the firehouse. In 1966, Rocky's moved to its current location at 235 Saw Mill River Rd. Santone, who started working at the deli as a 10-year-old boy in 1970, bought out the place in 1980, with Rocco's son Thomas as his business partner.

In a tragic coincidence, this week also of the younger Cambariere, who retired about eight years ago. Cambariere was also a former Ossining village mayor.

Santone called the passing of Cambariere "a sad event."

"I feel he always had the best interest of the community at heart," he said.

While Thomas Cambariere was co-owner, his interest was in the kitchen and catering, while Santone specialized on the business and counter sides.

Tom Dickinson, the store's general manager and employee for more than 30 years, called him a "generous person" who had an interest in helping people and serving people.

Through the deli's history, both up and down, being unique.

“With very few exceptions, we’ll make just about anything you want," Santone said. "I mean, if we have the ingredients, we’ll put it together, any kind of sandwich, any which way, cooked any which way.”

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More Coverage: "Rocky's 24/7 Forever!" by New Castle NOW, which includes a 6-year-old college video project of its history.

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