In 27 years at Crossroads Ace Hardware, Jimmy Izzo has seen a lot.
New homeowners move in. Jimmy and his staff help with everything they need: paint, mailboxes, garden supplies. He watches their kids grow up. When they get ready to downsize, Crossroads is there too.
It’s got a Main Street address. But — next to Coffee An’ — it’s not exactly downtown. It is, however, the perfect place to observe local retail trends.
Some of what’s happened to Crossroads Hardware is unique to Westport. Much of it is part of a national movement.
No one knows how it all will play out. Not even Jimmy Izzo. And it’s hard to find a more astute observer of everything Westport than the 1983 Staples High School graduate. (Though his father AJ — himself a Staples grad — might give Jimmy a run for his money.)
“Today we’re an information society,” Jimmy says. “You can pull out your phone, order anything online, and have it delivered to your home within 24 hours.”
That’s true of nearly everything Crossroads sells. Whether it’s a mop — which you can also buy at Stop & Shop or CVS — or a gas grill, customers have exponentially more options than before.
They often buy the most convenient way. Many times, that’s online.
Then they’ll give Crossroads a call. They need help assembling that grill, or they’ve got questions about how to use it.
Jimmy answers them all. He’ll even tell customers to order online, and ship to Crossroads; he’ll put it together, then deliver it (for a price). Customer service is something a local store does far better than the web.
“If you come in for a can of paint, you leave with a bucket, brush and knowledge,” Jimmy adds. “We make sure you have everything you need, even if you haven’t thought of it.”
Crossroads Hardware is the closest thing Westport has to an old-fashioned general store — a place where folks not only shop, but sit around a pot-bellied stove, tell stories, argue, complain, and solve all the problems of the world.
(There’s no stove, but you get the idea.)
Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of place customers look for today.
“Younger people are searching for ‘experiences,'” Jimmy says. “They want to live where the action is. Look at the Avalon in Norwalk.”
Modern families with kids, meanwhile, run everywhere on weekends. Time once allotted to household chores and maintenance is often filled with travel sports.
“Parents are taking their kids everywhere, every weekend,” Jimmy explains. “We used to see them in here on Saturdays. Now they don’t even have time for that.”
Getting the word out about Crossroads — everything from services like tool sharpening, to products like shovels and ice melt before a snowstorm — has changed too.
The local papers are virtually non-existent. Jimmy relies much more on Facebook advertising and posts, and other social media.
The future — for stores like his, and all of downtown — is “unknown,” Jimmy says. He sees empty stores downtown, and less foot traffic. Part of the reason is that old-time relationships — between landlord, tenant and community — have frayed. Many Main Street properties are owned by out-of-town conglomerates.
“Downtown is looking for ‘wow!'” Jimmy says. “The Gap is not ‘wow!'”
He gives Bedford Square — David Waldman’s new retail/residential complex that replaced the former YMCA — an “11 out of 10.” But the rest of downtown needs a spark, Jimmy says.
“Main Street isn’t dead. It’s just trying to figure out what it is.”
One answer may lie in business-to-business networking — stores handing out coupons or flyers for other stores, say, or Crossroads combining with a lamp shop for an event that teaches how to wire a lamp.
“You have to give the customer a reason to make your place a destination,” he insists. “Customer loyalty changes instantly these days.”
The retail sweet spot, Jimmy says, is the customer between 30 and 55 years old, with kids in schools.
But they’re not wedded to Main Street — or even a once-essential destination like Crossroads Ace Hardware.
“With technology today, their options are limitless. No one has to shop in a store.”
But if you do buy that gas grill online, be sure to call Jimmy Izzo.
He’ll assemble it for you.
And then make sure you don’t light your entire yard on fire.
Jimmy is an awesome part of Westport! He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He genuinely likes helping people and leading with positivity! He is always helping anyone and everyone!!!
All politics and most solutions are local. If you and your neighbors would think of all Jimmy and his dad do for locals then trip over to Crossroads when you need hardware, tools, bug spray, fertilizer, paint or a grille then there is hope for Crossroads and the Izzos. Will it cost a few bucks more, probably, will it involve a human interaction rather than a key stroke, yes and yes.
BUT IT WILL help a local business survive, it most likely will guarantee a positive result and not a return to the UPS store, and it will be a much more positive reaction when you realize you got the wrong item and do not have to trip all way back to Home Depot or Lowes in Norwalk or Fairfield.
Enough words lets all do our best to remember to shop local.
Jimmy and Ace are a great but let’s make Main Street like the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica, CA. No cars. Only foot traffic. Small business can set up outdoor kiosks. In the nice weather — live music, kids activities – face painting, balloons. Etc etc. Once we eliminate cars on Main Street, the possibilities are endless.
Let’s move Jimmy and AJ down to the center of Main Street (certainly plenty of empty space there.) And put Stacey and Elias next door. Help them; help Main Street; help all of us.
Dan’s right that closing Main St. to traffic from the Post Rd. to Avery Place would be a fine first step – but only a first step. The larger issue is whether traditional retail, under siege by Amazon and the Norwalk Mall, will continue to be the best use of Downtown in the long run, or whether there are practical alternatives. What we need is a public conversation that goes beyond the unimaginative and retro 2017 POCD into uncharted territory. Change has only just begun and Westport needs to get ahead of it or be left behind.
Izzo’s is a treasure! Tell everyone to support it and them!
Izzo’s is a treasure indeed. What we’re seeing in Westport is true across the country. Even in Manhattan, vacancies abound for retail space. Landlords are reducing rents and accepting uses they would not have contemplated in the past (eg, food). Some are converting ground floor retail into residential use. The Amazon “effect” is the lastest attack on traditional retailers. Before Amazon, it was the large brick and mortar competitors. Home Depot and Lowes shut down many local hardware stores. Barnes and Noble shut down the corner book stores. CVS and Walgreens shut down the neighborhood pharmacists. Now Amazon threatens these giants and others as well. Giants such as Walmart and Target are therefore investing in and acquiring technology companies to compete against Amazon. Walmart, which had been trading at $60-70 a share for a few years is now trading well over $100. Small retailers are unable to do that. Jimmy is doing all of the right things and will weather this storm. Others across the nation will not fare as well.
The Izzo’s epitiomize what Westport was and struggles to continue to be…neighborly and genuine! Shop local…and don’t be afraid to bring the Weber barbecue you bought online…or the lamp you bought at Pottery Barn that only worked for 10 minutes and now it needs repair…or that old can of Benjamin Moore you bought at Rings End 5 years ago that just needs some shaking up for that touch up job you have been procrastinating for ever. Just stop on down, at Crossroads ACE for some great conversation with Jimmy, AJ, Janet, Mike or Chris…or just to get a handle on what is happening in our town as a whole…hell, AJ(Red) might buy you a cup of coffee if you catch him right. Most importantly, BUY something at CrossRoads when you need it and support a great group of locals that have and continue to contribute so much to Westport! After all…they are true neighbors!
I always enjoy going to Crossroads Hardware, especially with my 13-year-old son. Everyone there is knowledgeable and friendly. When I have a question about how to fix or build something, they always offer good suggestions. I also like that my son learns that things can be fixed instead of thrown away or someone needing to be hired to fix it. AJ and Jimmy are very welcoming to my son, who likes to go there for the bubble gum machine. It’s good that they don’t have a pot-bellied stove or I’d never leave.
Once a month, Jimmie sits in front of me at the RTM (Representative Town Meeting). He is active and when he speaks–it is worth hearing.
An important story line in “Miracle of 34th Street” was how Kris Kringle would tell a Macys customer to go to Gimbel’s Department Store when Macys didn’t have what the customers was looking for. Jimmy goes a step beyond – he’ll send a customer to his competition if Crossroads doesn’t have exactly what the customer needs. Jimmy will make that assessment and will choose to lose a sale to make sure the customer is satisfied. He’s a great guy, a great Westporter and a really smart businessman. Shop at Crossroads.
Well said Dan Woog & well deserved Crossroads Hardware!!!
Ace is the place and Jimmy is the man!!
Question Why would these landlords rather go months or even years with an empty building rather then take a less rent and have a tenant ?? Is there a tax write off that is so advantageous that goes with that strategy??!
Thanks for all the times you helped me.
I think jimmy and his dad and family and all the guys that work are like family if they don’t have it they will get it or send to a place that has it I will say jimmy is like family no ques
Always a pleasure to walk into Crossroads Hardware. If you have a question, they have an answer. If you have a problem, they will help with the solution. If you want to talk, they love to listen. Not hard to figure out why they have been successful, customer service is paramount!!! Keep it up!!
The successful future of ALL America is more Main Street stores with more Jimmy Izzos – nice story Dan