Frank P. Corso, a hard working Italian immigrant who arrived in Biloxi at age 8, likely would have approved of how his family and their employees marked the wholesale distribution and vending company’s 90th anniversary. Everybody worked as normal, filling customer orders, stocking vending machines and generally taking care of the business he started in 1924.
Corso and his family arrived in Mobile aboard a boat his father captained from Trapani, Sicily. They made their way to New Orleans and then to Biloxi where they settled.
“He had a third-grade education,” said his daughter Liz Corso Joachim, president of Frank P. Corso Inc. “His father died when he was a young man and daddy lived with his mother and brother and sister.”
Joachim said the family did “odds and ends” to get along. Her father worked in a barber shop and shined shoes on the street. “He did anything he could but never furthered his education. They were very poor.”
At one point, the young Corso took the ferry to New Orleans and came back with a box of prized Hershey bars. But rather than enjoy the chocolate himself, he rode his bike around North Biloxi selling them to high school students and grocery stores in the area that is now D’Iberville.
The young entrepreneur quickly saw the potential of his rolling retail venture and added other items he brought back from New Orleans. “As he got a route, he would hire a person,” said Joachim.
With the highway system expanding, Corso branched out and had operations in Jackson, Hattiesburg and Pascagoula, selling a variety of products, from cigars to castor oil, pencils and paper bags.
Eventually he consolidated the business in a warehouse in Biloxi where the company operates today. It was also home to Corso, his wife and their four children.
“We lived above the warehouse, so we grew up in this business,” Joachim said of her and her siblings. She recalls walking home from school, finishing her homework and then going to work in the warehouse. “We grew up working,” she said. “You just worked. We were very, very blessed we were brought up that way.”
Joachim said there was a building out back where her father made potato chips to sell. “We kids bagged the chips he sold along with the candy bars. Then he branched out to cigarettes and added on to this building.”
In 1930, six years after starting his company, Corso branched out into the vending machine business. Today, the company sells everything sold in convenience stores except beer. “We are the largest coastal vending supplier and the largest coastal wholesale company,” Joachim said. “We were fortunate when daddy started this and I have been very fortunate to keep it going. We’re very blessed.”
Working alongside Joachim are her husband, Jack, who handles the fleet of vehicles and their three children.
Daughter Elisa Radich, a retired special education teacher, runs the vending side of the business. Middle son Todd Joachim, a newly retired lieutenant colonel, handles the finances and older son John manages the warehouse and orders the products.
Joachim said her father, a devote Catholic, was well respected and civic minded but not interested in political office, though he was encouraged to run. “He wanted to give back to the community but he said he was dedicated to his business,” Joachim said.
Corso, who died in 1986 at age 87, received many honors for his contributions to the community and his church. Most notably, he founded the local United Way and USO and donated to the local Catholic schools.
Joachim herself is active in civic and professional organizations and her church, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Biloxi. She has served on the boards of civic and professional organizations, banks and colleges. She started two scholarships for women in honor of her father, who she said had a gift that helped make him successful in spite of a lack of formal education.
“My daddy was a math genius. He sat on bank boards and other boards and loved working with numbers.
“He saw the profit you could make buying and selling candy and cigarettes when nobody else was in that business.”
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