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‘The best cannolis anywhere’: Vaccaro’s in Bel Air closes on New Year’s Eve

Kyle Browne, of Frederick County, leaves the Vaccaro's pastry shop in Harford Mall Tuesday, the same day the Baltimore-based Vaccaro's closed its store in the Bel Air mall.
Kyle Browne, of Frederick County, leaves the Vaccaro's pastry shop in Harford Mall Tuesday, the same day the Baltimore-based Vaccaro's closed its store in the Bel Air mall. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Opera music played softly in the background Tuesday afternoon as employees of the Vaccaro’s pastry shop in Harford Mall served customers.

The employees worked under a sign with white letters on a red background, which stated: "Life is short, eat dessert first.”

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The shop, which closed Tuesday — New Year’s Eve — after about 10 years in the Bel Air mall, had been a source of Italian desserts such as cookies, pastries, multiple flavors of brightly-colored gelato, and the treat several customers raved about, cannolis.

“I come for their cannolis,” said customer Cheryl Zaun, of Bel Air. “They have the best cannolis anywhere, in my opinion, and I’ve tried many.”

Hot and cold drinks also were available at Vaccaro’s, such as soft drinks, milkshakes, smoothies and cappuccino.

Zaun, who said she is “very sad” to see Baltimore-based Vaccaro’s close its Bel Air store, reiterated that the pastry shop had "the best-tasting cannolis anywhere — the filling part is delicious.”

The Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop company, established in 1956, is still in business, and its three remaining locations in the Hunt Valley Towne Centre and the Baltimore neighborhoods of Canton and Little Italy are still open.

A notice posted at the front entrance of the Bel Air shop indicated that Vaccaro’s “cannot afford to keep the location running,” and Harford Mall has signed a new lease for the space.

“We are leaving on good terms with Harford Mall,” the notice continued. “As a small business, we count on customers like you to keep our family tradition alive.”

Eva Heier, left, of Kingsville, and her sister, Olivia, hold a box of cannolis purchased at the Vaccaro's pastry shop in Harford Mall. The Baltimore-based Vaccaro's closed its store in the Bel Air mall Tuesday.
Eva Heier, left, of Kingsville, and her sister, Olivia, hold a box of cannolis purchased at the Vaccaro's pastry shop in Harford Mall. The Baltimore-based Vaccaro's closed its store in the Bel Air mall Tuesday. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

People are encouraged to visit other Vaccaro’s shops, “as our 90 employees count on you. Thank you for the years in Bel Air.”

The family-owned company does not plan to open any new stores “to date,” although company officials are “always looking for new places — we haven’t found one,” Nicolette Vaccaro, who works as an office assistant in the corporate office in Baltimore, said Tuesday.

The closing of the Bel Air store affects about 10 employees, who have been offered jobs at other locations, she said. Her brother Dominic Vaccaro, who ran the Bel Air shop, will continue to work with the company in the wholesale area, according to Nicolette.

Customer Viola Benton said her first exposure to Vaccaro’s treats came when she was working in Little Italy. Benton, who lives in Bel Air and now works in Harford County, frequented the Harford Mall store because it is much closer to where she lives and works. She said Tuesday that she likes the gelato and “those Italian cookies.”

Benton, who grew up in the Boston area, said she would bring Vaccaro’s cookies with her when she traveled to Massachusetts in the summer to visit her relatives, as members of her family requested them. She noted her mother likes Vaccaro’s chocolate eclairs, too.

“I wish it would stay open,” Benton said of the Bel Air store. “It was nice to have them here.”

Kyle Browne, of Frederick County, got his first taste of “chocolate chocolate chip” gelato when he visited Vaccaro’s with his girlfriend, Olivia Heier, and Heier’s sister, Eva, on Tuesday.

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“I love it, it’s fantastic,” said Browne, who said he would “definitely” patronize other Vaccaro’s shops after eating the gelato.

Olivia Heier, who lives in Kingsville, said she visits Vaccaro’s a couple times a year when shopping in Bel Air. She, her sister and boyfriend stopped by after learning from a friend in Harford Mall that the store was closing.

“We didn’t know today was the last day until we saw the sign on the door,” Heier said.

She said she is “kind of sad” to see Vaccaro’s closing, as she knows of few bakeries in Harford County that focus on Italian desserts.

“I feel like what we do is pretty one-of-a-kind,” Nicolette Vaccaro said when asked about Italian pastry shops in the area.

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