After 73 Years, Torno Hardware To Close

In 1946, Staples High School woodworking teacher Bill Torno looked around. A year after World War II ended, he predicted there would be a housing boom in Westport.

He opened a lumber yard and hardware store on the Post Road. He was right. Both thrived.

Bill Torno (left), supervising a Staples High School woodworking class in 1947. He continued to teach after opening his businesses. In the center rear is Staples principal Douglas Young.

In 1970, Torno sold the businesses to Bob Kelly. He had a tough time. Three years later, he too sold — to another, completely different Bob Kelly.

This Bob Kelly had quite a resume. After being seriously wounded in Vietnam, he earned a Ph.D. in economics.

An internship with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers turned into a 2 1/2-year stint in the Nixon White House. Kelly moved on to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, working for Secretary George Romney.

“Then came this Watergate thing,” Kelly says. “The government just sort of stopped.”

One day, he saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal. A bankrupt lumberyard was for sale, in a “seacoast town.”

“I had a vision of horse-drawn carriages and 3-masted ships,” Kelly laughs.

That wasn’t Westport. But Torno Lumber and Hardware was a great fit.

Bob Kelly

A few years after buying the businesses, Kelly was asked to join the Fairfield University faculty. He taught economics for 30 years — while running his stores.

The college scheduled all his classes in the morning. Kelly spent afternoons at Torno. “They did fine without me here,” he says.

He retired from teaching 10 years ago. It was the depths of the financial crisis. Torno was hit hard.

“I never wanted to run a big company,” Kelly says. “But we got whacked. There were big chances in our industry.”

Small stores like his always had a price disadvantage. But if Torno was within 10% of bigger places, he’d always done fine.

Almost overnight, that model no longer worked.

“To be an independent now, you have to be very big,” Kelly says. “Big companies buy better. Now, companies we’ve dealt with for 50 years don’t want to deal with us.”

Torno Lumber

So — 46 years after he bought Torno Lumber and Hardware, and 73 years after Bill Torno set up shop — the businesses will have their 4th owner.

The buyer is Interstate Lumber. Shelly Kahn — president of the Greenwich-based firm — was raised in Westport.

“He’s a very good guy,” Kelly notes. “They’ve got several lumberyards, and a distribution center. They were one of the guys eating our lunch. This will be very good for Westport. I have no doubt Shelly will do a better job than I did.”

But only on the lumber front. Kahn plans to replace the hardware store with a showroom.

Torno Hardware. Bob Kelly moved the hardware store from the lumberyard to a standalone location several doors down around 1990.

Of course, the Torno name will go. Interstate Lumber is the new name.

Kelly has 120 days to sell his inventory “and get my butt out.”

“I’m 78 years old,” he says. “I’m a reader. I like to exercise. I like being in the woods. My favorite tools are a chainsaw and lopping shears. I’ll confront and attack nature.”

He made the move with no regrets. He has many great memories.

“I made the right choice to here,” he says. “It’s been a wonderful time. I’m very, very happy I did what I did.”

For nearly 3/4 of a century, Westport has been very, very happy with what Bill Torno — and Bob Kelly — did too.

25 responses to “After 73 Years, Torno Hardware To Close

  1. Charles Taylor

    I went to Staples with Lynn Torno she led the marching band as a majorette , any connection

  2. John Backiel

    I remember Diane Torno from Long Lots. I think she would have been in the Staples graduating class of 1965.

  3. Gerald Romano

    Bob Kelley is one of finest, decent,
    Honorable, honest man I have ever
    Met. I know Bob over 40 years, he will be missed. We have many talks about politics, our country, and CT economy.
    Bob it is a pleasure to have met.
    Your Friend,
    Gerald Romano

  4. Robert Mitchell

    The only place around where you can buy a single screw. But I guess you can’t make a living selling single screws these days.

  5. Michael Calise

    A Great Story! No doubt a moving meaningful part of Westport.

  6. Well Torno has always been red line construction number one customer service lumber yard and some of the best people to have known for the last 30 years i Hope interstate will have some room for the faces that were behind the counter I have come to know and look forward to seeing in the am

  7. Tony Giunta

    Back in 1975 we build our home. Torno Lumber was our supplier and that’s when I met Bob. He’s such a great guy. I’m sorry to see him go.

  8. Bob Stalling

    Mrs. Torno was my second grade teacher at Burr Farms…she had to be very patient to put up with the class we had.

  9. I knew absolutely nothing about the backstory here. Thanks.
    PS—they even sold Spaldeens at the store.

    • Very sad to see Torno go. That leaves only Westport Hardware left in Westport. Really a dwindling number of local hardware stores, after Crossroads hardware, DeLuca hardware on rt7 in Wilton, Weston hardware in the Weston center, and Stepney hardware on rt25 In Monroe all closed within a year or so. I guess the sad truth is if we can’t get it online, we’re all going to Home Depot.

  10. Peter Barlow

    In the photo of the woodworking class I believe the man in the center, background, is the Staples principal Douglas Young.

  11. Hate to see local business’s close, but it is being left in very capable hands with Shelly…good luck to all, past,present and future owners!!

  12. Elisabeth Keane

    A showroom for what?

  13. Nancie Rinaldi

    This makes me very sad….

  14. Jane Schaefer Johngren

    I’m assuming that the Lynn Torno mentioned in the first comment is the same as the Lynelle Torno who is one of the friends I remember best from Greens Farms Elementary. We went our separate ways later in our journeys through Long Lots and Staples – a very long time ago! The Torno name is one of the last surviving from my childhood, and it is sad to see it go. Thanks to Mr. Kelly for keeping the faith for so long. He has certainly earned his retirement!

  15. Mary Ruggiero

    What’s wrong with naming it Westport Lumber? Interstate sounds so dustant…

    • John Backiel

      Hmmmm.. I remember a Kathy Ruggiero from Burr Farms School, in my 5th grade class. We are the same age , and I’ll be 72 in June.

      • Mary Ruggiero

        Sorry, John. No relation. I grew up in “The Bronx”, but the time reference is correct in any case.

  16. I always loved Torno and will be sorry to see it go – another troubling sign of the times in physical retail around here. Years ago my oldest son was having trouble finding a summer job and they took him on. He had to work hard, but they were good to him and he learned how to be a good employee. Amazon doesn’t have that kind of heart.

    • John Backiel

      The worst thing to happen were these “mega businesses.” like Home Depot, CVS, etc., which drove hundreds of thousands of mom and pop businesses out of business! Torno Lumber probably only survived because they owned the land. If they had to pay rent, it would have been an office building 30 years ago.

  17. Sam Febbraio

    Bob Kelly was my introduction to economics at Fairfield U – straight-up guy and a great professor. Shelly and his wife Joanne built their Westport home across from our aging parents on Manitiou and could not possibly have been better neighbors to them. So as to the Bob and Shelly – and the long-time Westport business – it’s a won-win.

  18. My very first job was at Torno. I was a high school kid, building grills and lawnmowers, and hauling 40 lb bags of mulch to people’s cars/trucks. Great environment, great people, a place that was a town institution. It will be sorely missed.