A story in stone: North Hill Marble & Granite serves Akron families for more than a century

Writing, reporting and photos by H.L. Comeriato

For more than a century, North Hill Marble & Granite has had the same address. 

At the corner of North Howard Street and Frederick Avenue, the company’s showroom overlooks the city’s skyline.

When Fred Giacomini and Gaetano Buzzi founded the company in 1918, Akron was in the midst of the Spanish Flu epidemic, which killed more than 600 Akronites by the end of 1919. 

From their shop in North Hill, the business churned out custom, hand-carved memorials and monuments designed to help Akronites honor and commemorate loved ones who had succumbed to the disease.

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Today, owner Larry Conti and his team of artists and designers hold tight to that history as they help clients navigate the process of designing and creating memorials and monuments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I grew up here on North Hill,” Conti says. “My grandparents had a house on North Hill. My parents had a house on North Hill. I’m actually the first one in my family to move off the hill.”

In 1998, the descendants of the Buzzi brothers sold the company to Rock of Ages Corp., a national quarrying and supply company looking to try their hand at retail. Based in Vermont, Rock of Ages sells granite and marble exclusively to franchised companies like North Hill Marble & Granite.

“It’s not a franchise you can buy,” Conti says, but rather a status awarded to monument and memorial dealers based on their workmanship and reputation. Every stone Conti helps create is reviewed by a Rock of Ages inspector.

Conti worked for Rock of Ages for the next decade. When they decided to abandon the retail side of the memorial and monument business. In 2008, they sold Conti the three locations he already managed.

When Conti started working at Portage Marble & Granite in 1971, he never imagined he’d own the business himself but says he’s happy to have played a part in reverting North Hill Marble & Granite to a smaller, family-owned business.

“We went from a family business to a large corporation, back to a family business,” he says. Conti’s adult children, Scott Conti and Kelly Adams, both work for the business, along with his nephew and son-in-law. Kristin Buzzi-Feora, a fourth-generation descendant of company founder Gaetano Buzzi, manages the company’s North Hill location.  

“I’ve got five children and 14 grandchildren,” Conti says. “So it’s a family business — somehow, someway, they’re all [involved].”

For Conti, those generational ties are paramount when it comes to helping families honor their loved ones in personalized and innovative ways.

At a conference table in North Hill Marble & Granite’s showroom, Conti drags floral designs over a computer-generated headstone on a flatscreen TV. Nearly a decade ago, Conti invested in design software that allows families to design memorials in real time — changing shape, color and lettering until the design feels perfect.

Over the years, Conti says custom, personalized designs have become the company’s specialty.

“A lot of times people will design it themselves,” he says. “We’ll start doing different things with them and they’ll say, ‘Well, let’s move the flowers over here, or can we add a ‘57 Chevy or a bag of golf clubs?’ We can do anything like that. We can personalize it any way imaginable.”

“We sit down with people, [and] we talk to them a lot to figure out what’s important to them — what their interests are, what their hobbies are, if they’re a religious family. Whatever’s important to them, we try to design the memorial,” Conti says. 

Whether the design is a small, flat marker or a large family mausoleum, Conti says he and his team of artists and designers strive to treat every client with the same respect — regardless of the price tag.

“When a person comes in, we explain to them the cost so they understand everything,” he says. “If I need a TV, I want somebody to explain everything about it. It’s the same with memorials. We do take the time to explain it so they make the best decision for them.”

That quality craftsmanship is part of the company’s history, says Conti, and certainly part of its future: “That’s the highlight of our [work] — when a family walks off feeling good about what they’re doing. We help people at the most trying time in their life, and we try to do it in an easy, peaceful way for the family,” Conti says. “When you’re telling that story in stone, it’s really for the living, and for generations to come.”

H.L. Comeriato covers public health at The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach them at HL@thedevilstrip.com.

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