Eleanor Pesce built a mini real estate empire from Hialeah to Hollywood. She owned and operated office buildings and shopping centers, and founded a popular Miami neighborhood drug store and ran it for decades.
Self-taught, she conducted her business dealings from a dining room table at her Skylake home.
Pesce, who died at 88 on Sept. 15 after battling Alzheimer’s, kept it simple, but loomed large.
“The fancy doctors and lawyers” who had space in her office buildings, which included property on East 41st Street in Hialeah that housed the original Sedano’s supermarket, “had no idea it was my mom running this multimillion dollar business,” said daughter Victoria Pesce Elliott.
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In 1952, after honeymooning in Miami Beach, the Jersey City-born Pesce and her husband Paul decided to stay.
Soon, Pesce, who never finished high school, traded on business skills she learned in her 20s while working in New York City at Singer Sewing Co.
Pesce built Paul’s Drugs on Miami’s Northwest Seventh Avenue. By the mid-1960s, the store included a Western Union, a post office, a beauty salon and a soda/ice cream fountain.
Paul’s Drugs, until its sale in the mid-’80s, became a neighborhood hot spot to swap gossip and learn from Pesce. She was easy to find. She worked the counter. She also quietly supported a 5-year-old Indian girl.
What a wonderful woman. … She was a mom to all of us.
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“She came from an abusive background,” said Elliott, a freelance restaurant critic whose work appears in the Miami Herald. “Dad was raised in an orphanage. When they met, they had this fantasy to create this life that was so totally different than they had. She had nothing to base it on but she loved the movies, drama and theater, the opera.”
The Pesces were founding members of the Miami Film Festival.
Pesce, “could negotiate with the toughest lawyers and cook a feast for dozens without a moment’s notice,” Elliott said. “She was a strong woman. I’m who I am because of her.”
In addition to her daughter and husband, Pesce is survived by her sons Paul Jr. and Christopher, stepsister Sister Maria Salerno and four grandchildren.
Services include a viewing at 6 p.m. Friday at Landmark Funeral Home, 4200 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; a funeral Mass at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church, 2200 NE 191 St., North Miami Beach. Donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or Vitas/Hospice.