As the eldest of nine children of poor Italian immigrants, John Deferrari was forced to quit school to help support his family. In Boston, whose North End slums were all that he knew, young John took up father Giovanni's career. A fruit basket on his arm, he started peddling apples and oranges in the State Street financial district.

The sight of State Street's prospering bankers and brokers filled him with determined envy. In rapid order, John acquired a pushcart, a store, then the building of which the store was a part. At 26, he was operating a wholesale fruit business...

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