The Last Pastrami

Hundreds of current Westporters, former Westprters and work-in-or-pass-through Westporters streamed downtown today.

They joined employees, former employees and family members of Lee Papageorge at Oscar’s, the Main Street deli/gathering place/home away from home he’s owned since 1971.

Lee is hospitalized, battling lung cancer. Today is Oscar’s last day; it closes tomorrow.

One longtime customer said, “It was a place where millionaires sat next to homeless people. And no one knew the difference. Lee treated them all the same.”

As the large crowd honored the history and heritage of Oscar’s — and the man who, for more than 4 decades has made it a warm welcoming and wonderful place — it was clear that, in a town not known for agreeing on much, one thing is certain:

Main Street will never be the same.

A typical scene, seen for the last time.

A typical scene, seen for the last time.

For decades, this mural has depicted a group of 1970s-era regulars. Lee Papageorge is on the left.

For decades, this mural has depicted a group of 1970s-era regulars. Lee Papageorge is on the left.

Westport's movers and shakers have long gathered at Oscar's. This morning, former 1st selectman and WestportNow publisher Gordon Joseloff chatted with town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz.

Westport’s movers and shakers have long gathered at Oscar’s. This morning, former 1st selectman and WestportNow publisher Gordon Joseloff chatted with town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz.

Oscar's was a regular gathering place for many other Westporters too.

Oscar’s was a regular gathering place for many other Westporters too.

Ali Papageorge -- Lee's daughter -- sported an Oscar's t-shirt.

Ali Papageorge — Lee’s daughter — sported an Oscar’s t-shirt.

A paper plate on the back of the barber chair where Lee regularly sits read, "Reserved for the king."

A paper plate on the back of the barber chair where Lee regularly sits read, “Reserved for our king.”

Oscars - 7

 

 

14 responses to “The Last Pastrami

  1. Robin Scarella

    It is really really really so sad to read about Lee first and pray he can heal. And to see Oscars closing. I cannot tell you how many times we ate there, grabbed food to go, how many times Lee donated food to everything and anything I asked for. From the time i was pregnant 40 years ago till 2015 we always loved having a local store still on Main Street. Hope maybe another family owned will open there.

  2. I’m so sad about this. Love to Lee and his wonderful family. 😢

  3. Eileen McManus

    Where can we send a card to Lee?

  4. I stopped by Oscar’s late this morning and was happy to see the place was packed. You could feel all the love for Lee in the room. So many familiar faces! I was glad to see an artist’s tablet on a table next to Lee’s chair and photo for people to write messages to him. It’s the end of an era for downtown Westport, and makes me terribly sad. So many memories. I was near tears ordering a bagel and a schmear. But most of all I wish Lee a complete recovery and wanted him to know he’s in my thoughts and prayers. One of the best people ever!

  5. Vivianne Pommier

    I grew up at Oscars.. so sad.. but always great memories.

  6. Seth Goltzer

    Very sad day. I knew everyone in the Mural, most of whom are gone. My prayers are for Lees’ recovery.

  7. This is the end of downtown Westport that I grew up in. I have watched from afar all the tear downs of perfectly fine homes for McMansions, seen one by one the places I loved as a kid disappear…I always thought if I ever got back to Westport, Oscars would be the first place I went for a Roast Beef on Rye with a big pickle…
    My Dad Gerry Turner wanted to go to Oscars as long as he could walk right up until the end of his life…It was his favorite place, it reminded him of growing up in NYC 🙂 Everybody who worked there knew him and always made sure he felt at home. I still have cartoons he drew on the napkins:-)
    I wish only the best for Lee and his family and send healing energy his way from the Mojave desert!
    My one big hope is that somebody opens a truly special business in that spot, one that is deserving of all the great energy that has been generated over all those years.
    Thanks Lee! I am there in line ordering my sandwich ( In spirit…)

  8. Robert Mitchell

    It was tough going down the back stairs with my last Oscar’s corned beef on rye.

  9. Dick Denholtz

    Lee — For 56 years I’ve treasured going to Oscar’s with Oscar, Joe, and you behind the counter or kibbutzing with the gang. We will miss our favorite breakfast and lunch eatery very much. Your presence made Oscar’s a most welcome destination. We wish you a quick and comfortable recovery.
    With many thanks,
    Jean and Dick Denholtz

  10. Catherine Hurwitz

    I know, it’s so sad to see it go and even more so because the owner has lung Cancer. I hope he pulls through.

    Sent from my iPad

  11. Decades of memories from this fabulous, unpretentious place. A real loss. Thinking about Lee and the Papageorge family during this tough time.

  12. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker Staples 1958

    It is really sad to see this establishment close. I will be thinking about Lee and sending my wishes for his recovery. I am posting a second time to ask if anyone knows the history of the Barber Chair. It looks just like the chairs in Jimmy De Maria’s Barber shop which was just a store front or two up from Cogan’s Drug Store, now Tiffany’s. Those were the good old days. Walking from Staples to the corner to get a bus home and sharing a .05 cent cherry coke. God speed Lee. Your many fans are cheering for you.

  13. Julie Sternberg

    Newbies to Westport, but Oscar’s was the first place we ate at when we arrived. First and most important – wishing Lee all the strength during this time & thoughts and prayers to his family. So sad to hear that the doors are closing – an institution in town. Wish there was something the community could do to keep it going (maybe a co-op:) ?

  14. In 1976, our real estate broker took us to Oscar’s for a pastrami on rye and that was the beginning of my love affair with Oscar’s. We moved to Florida 12 years ago and I’m happy that I am not in Westport to see the demise of Oscar’s…the end of an era and the last of the Mohegans. Sending all my healing energy to Lee.