By Ed Morrone
Anywhere John “Chic” D’Angelo Jr. goes in Bristol is a constant reminder of his father.
Considering his father has been dead 40 years this November, that’s speaking volumes about the elder D’Angelo’s legacy.
If you walk down Mill Street with the younger D’Angelo, allow some extra time to get to your destination, because odds are folks will stop to chat, even if he doesn’t know them. On a recent Sunday afternoon, a passenger in a passing truck leaned out his open window and shouted “Bum!” in D’Angelo Jr.’s direction. It was surprising to everyone but him.
“Oh, that guy?” D’Angelo asked. “His dad painted the sign for my dad’s old sporting goods store.”
This is how it works when your father was a legend, as Chic Sr. was in Bristol. He died in 1977, but the borough keeps his spirit alive through memories, as well as through his son. The elder D’Angelo made his mark mostly as the basketball coach at Bristol High from 1958–72, where he was also a track coach, athletic director and teacher. Some say he was the Vince Lombardi of Bristol, and the Anthony “Chic” D’Angelo Gymnasium at Bristol High is named in his memory.
“They say Yankee Stadium was the House that Ruth built,” D’Angelo Jr. says. “Well, this is the house that Chic built. It’s amazing to me that he’s been dead 40 years in November, and people still come up to me when I’m at the bank or walking down the street to tell me how my dad influenced their lives for the positive. He was a man ahead of his time as both a coach and a person.”
Because sports meant so much to the elder D’Angelo, he decided to open a sporting goods store in the mid-1970s. First, he occupied a space at 111 Water St. (now Samuel Cliff Drive, right along the banks of the Delaware River) before eventually moving into a bigger space at 134 Mill St. Chic Sr. ran the shop until he had a heart attack and died at the age of 54 in 1977. His son ran it until 1989, when he took a corporate job with a chemical company.
All of the remaining inventory was moved into the basement when new tenants took over the space upstairs, where much of it remains. However, with the recent passing of Chic Jr.’s mother, the family is looking to sell its stake in the building, so the gear has got to do.
Stepping in the basement is like traveling back in time, especially now where technology is ubiquitous in all areas of life. There’s everything from old football shoulder pads and Converse sneakers, manual air pumps to inflate basketballs, vintage jackets and sports-related board games. Some of it will be donated to local schools, some will be sold and the rest will be thrown away. But all of it reminds Chic Jr. of his dad in some way.
“It’s stuff from a whole other era,” he said. “He wanted to make it like a locker room before franchises like Foot Locker existed and did the same thing. Some of it is trash, just because technology has changed it, like the games or football pads. Air pumps are all electric now, like a lot of things. That’s what kind of store it was, but most of this stuff has just been sitting here since the late 1980s.”
Things are different now in Bristol compared to several decades ago when D’Angelo Sr. was alive. High school athletics have grown exponentially across the board, and Bristol doesn’t dominate quite like it used to back then. The borough isn’t as bustling as it once was, though a recent victory in the Small Business Revolution has returned some of the old vibrancy to its streets and storefronts.
D’Angelo Jr. was feeling reflective about his father, but not necessarily in a sad way; rather, he was more whimsical, smiling and laughing at every memory of his dad that came to mind.
“I’ve missed him a long time,” Chic Jr. said. “But what’s so amazing is how I’ve traveled through my life and hardly a day goes by where someone doesn’t bring him up to me or say something that reminds me of him, and we’re coming up on 40 years of him being gone. What he did here in the late ’50s to the early ’70s is still something people remember. That’s a legacy.”
For most of us, establishing our own legacies is something that becomes more and more relevant over time. We hope we can positively impact those we come into contact with, and ultimately pass that along to our children. Sometimes we’re successful, others not as much. Legacies are certainly subjective, although there is little doubt to the legacy of Chic D’Angelo Sr.
“Here’s what I’ll say,” his son said. “A day or two after I’m gone, my family will remember me and what I did. But I don’t know how many other people will, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’ve lived a fulfilling life. That said, what my dad did here and how people remember him helped me losing him at a young age.
“No matter where I go to this day, he’s still right there with me.”