What Did Oscar’s And Lee Mean To You?

Lee Papageorge’s death yesterday at 65 from lung cancer came just a week after he closed his Oscar’s delicatessen. The events mark the end of a long era on Main Street

As a final tribute, please click “Comments” below to share what the man and the store meant to you. As always, please use your full, real name.

Oscar's owner Lee Papageorge.

Oscar’s owner Lee Papageorge.

47 responses to “What Did Oscar’s And Lee Mean To You?

  1. Kempton Coady

    Wonderful engaging man, who always engaged my wife Rosita and I in conversation. He and his longtime employees will be missed by both of us.
    Was, is there no way to save this “WESTPORT Institution?”

  2. Shortly after moving to Westport and in search of a good breakfast muffin, I walked in to Oscars. Well I was greeted by a smiling Lee Papageorge. He was absolutely delightful and his blueberry muffin was generous and delicious. His muffins remained the best I ever had.
    Now this is a huge understatement, but Lee and Oscar’s deli will be sorely missed by me and his many grateful customers.

  3. Sally Kellogg

    Memories as a little girl back in the 50’s going to Oscars with my dad on a Sunday — brought my mom in the back way about 5 years ago and asked her to take a sniff–“pickles!” She exclaimed! We sat out on Main Street, eating corned beef sandwiches reminiscing about the old days. She moved from Wspt 40 years ago.

  4. Susan Schmidt

    We didn’t visit the deli that often, but we’re so sad to see another true icon of Westport disappear from Main Street. Here’s to hoping that Oscar’s is replaced with a new locally-owned, family-friendly establishment and not a nationally owned chain store!

  5. Marie DePalma

    Words can’t express how badly we feel. Lee was a good man and a special friend to us. Our hearts go out to Mary Jo,Missy, Ali and the very loved grandchildren. We will truly miss Lee and Oscar’s. He and his staff were the reason we went to main st. Marie and Bill DePalma

  6. Jean Whitehead

    For his family: there was a time many years ago, when my family had a huge and unexpected loss. At some point I had to go into town for something to eat and feed everyone and so went there. Although it was extremely unlikely that anyone there knew we’d had a loss, it felt as though they did, and everyone was especially kind and gentle including of course Mr. Papageorge. For his family, condolences and the thought that sometimes there are inexplicable moments in the midst of heartache when strangers can be of great comfort. That was your father.
    May you find peace.

  7. Such a warm place in my heart…where I would have lunch with my dad, like the deli where I grew up in the Bronx. An era that is fading away …..so sad.

  8. It was in 1988, on a house hunting trip to Westport, that my husband and I walked into Oscar’s for lunch and met Lee and his crew for the first time. We thought, “Now this is a great deli!” Lee was so welcoming and gracious, funny and always smiling – and we loved watching and listening to all the locals hanging out there. We knew then that Westport was home.
    A lot has changed on Main Street in 28 years, but Lee and Oscar’s were always the flagship. Lee was one of a kind and the maker of great memories. I miss him already. Thank you, Lee, for everything!

  9. The joy of working within your community.

  10. I can’t help but feel a real sense that “Papa Lee,” as my husband referred to him, waited for Oscars’ doors to shut so that he could close his own. Now, in this next journey, I also believe he’s entered through the Doors of Eternal Life. Rest in Peace; you’ve done well. We all love you for your goodness, shown to so many.

  11. Claudia (Britt) Galvez

    Lee Papageorge was my neighbor. I grew up with he & his wonderful, warm family. Lee was 8 years older than I and even then, was full of antics and his “always smile.” Lee once told my brother, Adam, that there were cockroaches, under his bed! Adam slept with my parents, for quite awhile, after that and of course, Lee smiled all the way thru. Later, when I was in college, I went to work at Oscar’s Delicatessen. At that same time, the movie, “I Claudius,” was released. As my name is Claudia, as soon as I walked into work, Lee would smile, from his “King’s Chair,” and say ” I Claudius!” The food was so fantastic, that I ate my way thru my shift. Lee once said to me, “Save something for the customers!” But he was wonderful to all of his employees. And when it got really busy, Lee would get behind the counter and work right along side us. I made it a point, to drive Lee crazy and he told my mother that I did so. My mother smiled and said to Lee, “Payback is a b….!” Mom had finally gotten Lee back, for the cockroach story that he had told my brother. We all laughed and Lee laughed the hardest. No matter what, Lee was light hearted, funny and warm. Lastly, my deepest condolences to his beautiful & wonderful wife, Mary Jo, his two lovely daughters, Ali & Missy and his grandchildren, his Mother, Bess and his brother, Luke, and his two sisters, Fanny & Sandy. Lee’s passing has left a hole, in the hearts of everyone whose life he touched.

  12. Samuel Mayer Goodman

    Lee was a genuine gentleman and Oscar’s was our town’s dining room. When I was down of my luck Lee offered me a job. I had no experience as a counterman, but that didn’t matter. I needed work and Lee wanted to help. Everyone he greeted was a friend and when you arrived at Oscar’s you knew you were among friends. We not only mourn for Lee’s departure, but I believe we mourn for Oscar’s as well. Thank you Lee for being that gentleman and to the Papageorge family, I thank you as well.

  13. I was walking past Oscar’s after the Memorial Day Parade and I saw Lee riding an old vintage bicycle. The bike had a basket up front with a very large flower in it. I smiled and said , “man I wish I had my camera right now”! Lee laughed and kept riding in a circle and said, “I love it when they close main street, because now I can do this!” What a great man with such an infectious smile!

  14. Oscar’s was the first deli I knew, I cut my 1st teeth on their bagels. I remember my Dad’s stories of his Dad taking him to Oscar’s and feeling a part of something special and I’m glad I could share it with my kids. Oscar’s wasn’t just a deli. It was a glimpse into Westport of yesterday, a scene of Rockwell-ian Americana, steeped in nostalgia. Rest well Lee, you will be missed.

  15. Vanessa Bradford

    Will miss Oscar’s… but most of all Lee, Main Street’s main stay. Authentic, funny and ALWAYS welcoming. He treated his customers as friends. He is and will always be to me a Westport icon.

  16. Marc katzenberg

    A good friend and mentor when I opened Katzenbergs…he was always around when I needed advise…he will be missed!!

  17. Galen Blumenthal

    What I’ll never forget is when at 15 I needed a job and asked Lee if he would hire me. He wasn’t hiring or in need of extra help, but still offered that I could come in on Sundays to help out with various tasks around the store. Lee’s favor to me was one of hundreds he did for the Westport community over the years.

  18. I have to agree with Susan Feliciano, I was thinking the same thing…Lee held on until Oscars was closed and then let go.
    We moved to Westport in 1966 and my Dad would take us to Oscars when it was down the street in the little skinny spot next to the camera store. I loved getting a pickle from the big barrel to go with my sandwich. Once I was old enough to work downtown, I got my sandwich from Oscar’s most days for lunch…nobody made sandwiches as big and good as them!
    Towards the end of my Dad’s life he would go to Oscars every day and sit at the same table and draw cartoons and just hang out. Even though he had ALS and could not eat, nobody asked him to leave…He was a an old time customer and Lee always treated him with respect.
    I moved away after my Dad passed away , but when visiting Wspt, always came to Oscars for lunch, it was looked forward to. I have lived all over the country and have never found anywhere with a Roast Beef sandwich as good! Maybe it was the ambience that made it taste so good!
    I left Wspt in 1989 and the downtown was already turning into a outdoor Mall with all the Mom and Pop owned shops closing and being replaced with those generic businesses. I have watched with dismay all the Teardowns of the Day of lovely old houses and seen the Westport of my childhood disappear. The colorful character of artists, and fun little shops has turned into a street that could be just about anywhere …:-(
    Oscars was one of the last holdouts..Now that my Mom has passed away there really is no reason to come back. It will never be the same again, so why bother? I will always have my memories, and thanks to another favorite Westporter Chou Chou Raum Merritt, we have “You know you are from Westport If” on Facebook for our memories 🙂
    My condolences to Lee’s family and friends. He was one in a million! R.I.P.

    • This is every word true… and I’m sorry about your parents Jill…

      Including the horrific onslaught of ruthless teardowns – which made a place like Oscar’s even more precious.

      I left a comment about Lee himself & his always in evidence warmth & kindness after the earlier Lee post: as for Oscar’s it was the beating heart of downtown (even after Main Street was made one-way & stop signs appeared… then traffic lights & finally when some people stopped calling downtown ‘downtown’ & some needed a sign pointing to the town “centre”… ) after other places that personified the town left one by one. Lee also provided so much support to local artists & photographers by hanging their art. He was one of the first people I recall doing that at a delicatessen or cafe or restaurant – though it seems more commonplace now. He was also the first person locally to put tables & chairs out on the sidewalk (also uncommon then here) – creating a meeting place for people (which was true of the tables inside as well). It’s true people weren’t chased away from the tables to make way for others.

      x Jill … I left my email after your other post asking for it… 🙂

  19. Totally impossible to imagine Westport’s Main Street without him.

  20. Lee was always a pleasure to deal with went O went there. I grew up on Gorham Avenue and we used to walk down there on the weekends and get our bagels and cream cheese and now I have kids and go there and buy them food and drink and the staff would always make cute comments about them. So it will really be missed and the memories will always be there for us native Westporters!!! We will remember you and your chair Lee!!! We love and miss you. Prayers to you right whole family and friends. You are a big loss to our
    Community!

  21. Lee was like a long time neighbor, he’d ask about the family when you came in, and would wave and smile when you walked by. The neighborhood won’t be the same without Lee and Oscars.

  22. Susan Hopkins

    As Jill Turner Odice alluded to, the death of Lee Papageorge and the closing of Oscar’s Delicatessen represents the death of “Old Westport”. Certainly the Westport of my day. The accolades Lee so richly deserves will continue to pour in here. Lee will be remembered and talked about in shared conversations throughout Westport, Fairfield, and points well beyond Fairfield County. The wonderful thing for everyone who came in contact with Lee is that you instinctively knew you were in the presence of a one-off rare gem. Condolences to the Papageorge family, the extended Oscar’s family (past and present), and all who mourn the passing of the Unofficial Mayor of Westport, a truly great man, Lee Papageorge. Lee, I will never forget you. Rest in perfect peace. I carry you in my heart.

    (Susan Crego Hopkins)

  23. Jean Denholtz

    OSCAR’S became very important to me, my husband, and our beautiful brown standard poodle, Micah. On Sunday’s the three of us would sit outside under the canopy and have a buttered bagel(Micah’s favorite.). Bernadette and Javier always made sure that each was toasted to our liking, and plenty of water for Micah, and of course our coffee, etc. Being in that setting was so comfortable, as I chatted with others around us. It reminded me of the friendly feeling I know from having grown up in a small town in KY. Oscars was the place to meet, eat and share our daily life stories. I will miss this “homey” place more than I could have imagined. Lee, you, and all who worked there made a huge empact on our beloved Main Street and our town!

  24. I loved going to Oscar’s and chatting with Lee and MaryJo and watching their two daughters grow up, comparing grandchild stories and sharing the pleasures and pains of parenthood. I always appreciated the warm and supportive environment Lee provided for several employees with developmental disabilities.

  25. Tom Feeley Sr

    TAPS Lee TAPS
    😦

  26. Oscars was the all ages CHEERS!!! Westport was lucky to have such a place!!!! Each day, each month, each year we lose another part of what made Westport a unique place generationally!!! RIP Lee you helped keep the Westport a place to call home

  27. Karen Solicito

    Lee Papageorge was one of the few that could deservedly be called a stand up guy. He was a rarity, adored by everyone that knew him. It’s heartbreaking to have lost someone with so much kindness and goodwill. He never varied in his benevolence, and Westport is all the better for it. I was one of the fortunate ones on the receiving end of Lee’s gentle compassion early in my life, and I am the better for it. My heart goes out to Mary Jo, Ali, and Melissa.

  28. Linda (Pomerantz) Novis

    I agree with the comments of Oscar’s closing & then Lee’s letting go.
    Even though my life now in another chapter,having grown up in Westport, all these beautiful ‘Oscar on Main Street’ memories brings
    it all back.

  29. Shannon Nordlinger

    It’s hard to put in to words the emotion behind the memories that Lee and Oscar’s evokes. It’s Sunday mornings of my childhood picking up bagels after church with my dad, and if dad was willing, getting some candy too! It’s my sister quickly chomping a pack of certs in Oscar’s one Sunday after dad said no candy that week. It’s Lee’s amusement at hearing the story from my sister many years later. It’s going in for the best soda selection in junior high school after taking the mini bus downtown. It’s moving back to the area and buying the matzah ball soup for my boys when they weren’t feeling well. Lee and Oscar’s is a quiet ribbon that runs through my life and they will be sorely missed.

  30. Sharon Paulsen

    So many old memories stirred up as I read everyone’s heartfelt and interesting thoughts here!

    Born and raised a Westporter, mine are of childhood and teen and post college years here.

    Those include the days of: The Selective Eye, Harvey’s, Sweezey’s, Old Town diner, Gristede’s, Dorain Drugs, Achorn’s, Max’s, Schaeffer’s sporting goods, Fine Arts Theaters (saw original release Star Wars there, midnight showing, with my mom, and that was a tremendous experience because I was young and at 12:00 a.m., a very late movie night for a pre-teen. Line around the block into Jesup Green. Doesn’t get better than that!), Pancho Villa’s (forgot spelling?), Soup’s On, Remarkable Book Shop (was always the “pink book store” in my seventies childhood brain), Westport Bank and Trust (Westport’s architectural nod to the Flatiron Building in the city, IMO), Baskin Robbin’s (back then, it didn’t feel like a corporate implant, lol), The Ships, Chez Pierre, Taylor Florist, Country Gal, Shoe Inn, Klein’s and the offshoot success of Sally’s Place, Grass Roots at Fairfield Furniture building, Pearl’s Cafe (across street from now the WAC and other biz on Riverside), The old Y (swimming lessons, dance classes), Saugatuck Congregational (still there I know, but I performed clarinet there once during high school, for a service, so this was a feel good memory), and … and … and … so much more.

    Sorry folks to digress a bit – did I mention a flood of memories pouring in?

    So, of course, Oscar’s was one of those staples of Westport life.

    Just a quick walk from Quick Copy (when it was next to Max’s, and the smoke shop/candy store, and Village hair dresser), for an amazing turkey sandwich and root beer for lunch, and for Lee’s reliable presence.

    Back in grade school – yup, it was the mini bus to downtown for all things amazing. Or a bike ride later on, before age 16 came and … license/car!! Regardless of method, it was always about the destination. And Oscar’s was always there.

    One could easily take for granted that it would always be there. And now, it’s not.

    Rest in peace. Lee. Oscar’s. Westport as we once knew it.

    My sincere condolences to the family and those very close to them. It’s never going to be easy to accept, but to know that so many Westport folks are feeling it too, and are sending so much love and appreciation your way, can hopefully ease mournful minds and hearts, if just a little.

    And, thank you Dan, for keeping all of us informed of all things Oscar’s these past few weeks. A difficult thing to write about, and you’ve done it with grace and class.

  31. Inglis Hale Sellick

    We are very sad to learn the death of Lee Papageorge , especially so soon after just learning the news of his illness. We loved Oscar’s and have been customers since 1986, that’s 30 years ! His presence was comforting and his manner was wise and warm to all. He knew how to enjoy being around all kinds of people , his staff was loyal and provided a lovely familiar , and very efficient , experience. We will miss that spot on Main Street, Westport and the presence of Lee Papageorge, our sympathy to his family.

  32. Catherine Sloane

    I grew up in Westport. I now live abroad, but every time I visited Westport to see family and friends, I’d meet up with Alice or my sister and eat at Oscars, the one original place left on Main Street.

    I’ll miss you Oscars and you Lee!

    XXXXX

  33. Robin Delafield

    Oscar’s has been a staple in my life for the last 3 yrs. Lee’s generousity to the community is well known. He donated food vouchers to the Gillespie Center to help feed the needy for years. When Oscar’s closed down, the family generously gave 2 of the tables to the Westport Shelter.

    As many have written, Main Street will not be the same with Oscar’s closing. Oscar’s, if it had survived, would not have been the same without Lee’s smiling face and dry wit . I don’t think I will ever be able to walk past a barbershop chair without thinking of himn. He was not merely a business owner, but created a place to go where you felt a part of the Oscar’s family.

    My thoughts and prayers are with his lovely family and with those who worked with Lee for so long. Lee is apart of Westport history, and more importantly, personally touched the lives of so many in the community .

  34. Jeffrey Wieser

    Soon after I began as President of Homes with Hope, Lee pulled me aside at Oscar’s indicating he had “a beef” with our clients. My first reaction was – Uh-oh . Maybe the community maybe is NOT as supportive as I had always thought.
    Lee started saying he was annoyed because he was not seeing enough (!) of the folks from the shelter. He said not as many were coming by the store, and he knew that was a bad thing. “They need fresh food, good produce to go along with the food at the Community Kitchen and the canned goods they get at the Food Pantry; and besides they need to sit down and be waited on occasionally just like everyone.”
    I realized right then that this was going to be a gratifying job, and Lee has been a partner in the endeavor whom I miss terribly. After that conversation and for the next four years, Lee quietly did his thing and every bag that left the Gillespie Center Food Pantry provided our needy neighbors with a voucher from Oscar’s allowing them a choice of a gallon of milk; a dozen eggs; or a sandwich and soda served at the tables.
    Lee was into serving the community. All of it. We miss him.

  35. Lee was always good for a great big bear hug and a gracious, caring smile. He was a friend and someone who exuded confidence and compassion. I will miss Lee and know in my heart that he didn’t leave this world fighting and his spirit will live on. A Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says is so eloquently, “The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another. Lee touched me with his kindness.

  36. Oscar’s, Lee, and his staff offered a sanctuary among the chaos that occasions Westport. I will miss my refuge at 159 Main and the companionship and camaraderie Lee and his staff offered as well as the great food! My thanks for all the years of service Oscar’s generously offered its’ patrons especially to Town Hall employees like me who greatly appreciated finding good value within walking distance of work offered with a smile 🙂

  37. Mary Gail (Horelick) Gristina

    I met Lee after he bought “Oscar’s”. The original Oscar rented a tiny narrow space just down the sidewalk, now occupied by “Vince”. My grandfather, Thomas Horelick, who lived behind the stores, rented the space to Oscar Sisken and his wife Sally, (I think in about 1950), who manned the very traditional pickle-barreled NYC Deli. BTW, “The Photo Shop”, “Clementine” and “Soup’s On” were among the businesses also rented by my family – always small and now would be viewed as “start-ups”. My parents gave many young folks a chance to make a go of it below market value – some succeeded, others not so much, but the variety of enterprises added to the charm of Main Street. I always looked forward to catching up with Lee and he would fill me in on the events happening on Main Street. As we walked down Memory Lane, Lee would offer me a cuppa or something to nosh on. He was a fine citizen of the town and a warm and generous proprietor, in the best sense. He was the last of the “old” Main Street stalwarts, and I will miss our chats and reminiscing. My deepest condolences to Lee’s family,

  38. I have resisted writing something since Monday because doing so means admitting to myself Lee has passed on. Lee was kind to me during the last 4.5 years that I’ve known him. Acknowledging the reality he has passed away brings tears to my eyes. He did so much for me and for the local community and his family, and I would have wanted him to have so many more years to continue to shower the world with his kindness. At the same time, I am grateful to have known him and learned from him. I know he was an important part of the surrounding community and (most importantly) a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. I remember him telling me how “it changes you” when you have grandkids. What he meant was the meaning of his life took on a profound beauty because of his grandkids. Lee’s time on Earth was not as long as we would have hoped, but he enriched many people’s lives.

    Lee was my landlord for my business above Oscars. As a result, I had the chance to get to know him well. We navigated smooth times and challenging times. Throughout it all, he treated me with respect almost like how a father would treat a son. I remember he came up to see when my father died two years ago and his compassion for my loss was poignant. On a separate occasion a year and a half ago there was an emergency in my business. While I was emotionally stressed trying to resolve the situation, he stood by me like a rock, which helped me get through it. Then five months ago when I told him I wanted to sell my business he made a point of emphatically encouraging me to pursue happiness. I remember him telling me life is too short to be doing something that does not bring one joy.

    Over and over again, he was a stabilizing presence in my life. I am grateful to have known him. May he rest in peace.

  39. Christine Ruiz

    Lee meant so much to our family. My mother worked for Lee for more than 20 years. He gave her an opportunity to take care of her family. As a single mom, that was a true life saver. Over the years he was good to her and our family. When I was 11, he asked me if I wanted to “play deli” and my career began. He taught me a good honest work ethic and put trust in me. I firmly believe my life’s accomplishments began there. He gave people 2nd, 3rd & 4th chances. Thank you Lee. It’s that simple. Thank you.

  40. I didn’t know him personally but i am friends with his daughter Ali and she always spoke great things about him so with that being said i felt like i knew him and he will be missed greatly ♡♡

  41. Lee had the vision to allow me the opportunity to install a digital advertsing screen (the first of hundreds nationwide) in Oscars. dozens of local businesses and charities benefited from the exposure.

    Over the last 10 years, we became close friends, sharing business ideas, thoughts about the town and life in general. he became a mentor and some I could rely on for insights and straight talk at all times.

    He was a role model as a husband, a father, a grandfather, an entrepreneur and his generosity was limitless.

    Oscars was a place where everyone was welcome, where millionaires and homeless people sat next to each other for lunch, and lee would interact with both as equals.

    The Papageopge family as lost their patriarch, while Westport has lost it’s moral and directional compass with his passing and sadly I have lost a dear friend.

    From knowing him, I will never trust a skinny deli person to make my sandwiches! And I am eternally grateful for his friendship!

  42. Bill Moseley

    I don’t even know where to start, but I’ll try. Lee hired me just 2 weeks after I got out of the Army in 1984. On and off for 10+ years after that, I worked at Oscar’s. Like many, I left and came back a few times. Lee was patient and committed to giving people chances to redeem themselves. I can’t thank him and my Oscar’s family enough for putting up with me and seeing through the rough edges to who I was inside and giving me a safe & structured place to work it out. I know I am not alone there. Lee sat me down one day and told me point blank: you can work here as long as you want, but you should do so much more with your life Bill. Go to college, have a career. So I did. Because Lee didn’t say stuff like that all of the time so when he did, you listened.

    When my kids were born, I just HAD to take them to Oscar’s and meet Lee and everyone. I met their mother, a writer for the Westport News while working there and proposed to her just behind Oscar’s on the Saugatuck River. My Oscar’s family heard the news and saw the ring before our families did. Because all of us were indeed Family. Tom Fallon, Jackie Palmieri, Sarah Ellis, Sully, Missy B Papageorge, Ali Papageorge, Pam Sweet, Angelo Retamar, Harry, Arty, Mike, and the list goes on. Sean Wert called us one big dysfunctional family, but were were probably more functional than a lot of true families. 🙂

    When I moved to Texas, just about every time I came home to visit, a trip to Oscar’s was in order. It was like touching home base for me.

    I can’t believe it won’t be there anymore. And I wish I could be there with everyone to say goodbye. Please know that my heart is heavy and is in Westport with you all.

    “Hoser”

  43. Jackie Palmieri

    For me it meant security and comfort knowing what a great caring friend Lee was and if I ever needed a job he would make room for me at Oscar’s. It was family and the best sandwiches hands down at any deli I’ve ever eaten at. To say he will be missed is an huge understatement. God Bless his family in the days ahead. May their memories bring them comfort and peace knowing that his legacy will live on forever in their hearts and the hearts of so many others.