Family Values Help Mitchells Weather Storm

Over 90% of family-owned businesses do not make it to the 3rd generation.

After COVID-19, that figure may be much worse.

But when our economy finally recovers, one of those businesses still standing will be Mitchells.

It won’t be an accident.

The clothing retailer that began with a small shop next to Compo Shopping Center has evolved into high-end stores on both coasts.

But as they’ve grown, the family — now nearing its 4th generation of owners — has not forgotten the values of founders Ed and Norma Mitchell. They’ve served Mitchells well for 62 years, and they are the reason it’s weathering this crisis as well as any company can.

Consider this: While nearly every other clothing store in the country has laid off or furloughed staff, Mitchells continues to pay salaries — and benefits — for its employees.

All 430 of them.

A Mitchell family photo: the 2nd and 3rd generations.

“That’s the path my grandparents forged,” explains co-CEO Bob Mitchell. “Our business is all about relationships. We have great, strong relationships with our clients and our associates. We felt an obligation to focus on our people.”

In mid-March, the stores — which in addition to the flagship and headquarters in Westport includes Mitchells in Huntington, Long Island; Richards in Greenwich; Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and Marios in Seattle and Portland — pivoted.

With doors closed, they turned to e-commerce. It had been a small part of the business before, and sales are still nowhere close to what they were pre-pandemic.

But Mitchells has always been about the personal touch. Associates reach out to customers by email, phone and text — not to sell, just to say hi and check in.

Many customers, in turn, are concerned about the personnel they’ve developed close relationships with. When they hear what the store is doing, they are grateful.

They’re even more gratified when they hear that Mitchells donated 20% of all sales for 2 weeks to Meals on Wheels programs in each community they serve.

“This is a different path than any retailer we know is taking,” Bob Mitchell says. “But we’ve always been conservative in our spending. Our secret sauce is our people. We want to do the right thing by them, so we all can get through this. This is the ultimate test, and we’re trying to do the right thing now.”

The response from associates has been “phenomenal,” he notes. “They are deeply appreciative, and very proud of us.”

One employee said, “I have always known I work for a unique, special family business. I feel blessed and proud to be part of the Mitchells’ extended work family.”

A new associate emailed simply, “I picked the right place.”

“First class act. A role model in these tough times,” a longtime customer told the Mitchells.

The original Ed Mitchell’s, at the corner of the Post Road and North Compo Road. They’ve expanded enormously in 62 years, but have never lost their family values.

Bob Mitchell sees June 1 as the “most hopeful” date to reopen. Whenever it is, he believes “people will want to go out, see other people and interact — even with masks. People crave connections” with other shoppers and with staff members they’ve grown close to. Many Mitchells style advisors, tailors and others have been with them for over a decade; some for half a century.

Since 1958 Mitchells has supported every fundraiser, charity and organization that asks for help. Behind the scenes the family has performed countless acts of kindness, for untold numbers of folks in Westport, and far beyond.

Jack and Bill Mitchell followed their parents’ lead. Now their children have continued that tradition of care, concern, and treating everyone right.

Ed and Norma would be very, very proud.

15 responses to “Family Values Help Mitchells Weather Storm

  1. Really nice to know that Mitchells doesn’t just SAY it’s a family oriented outfit, it DEMONSTRATES its family orientation, it’s concern for it’s employees and its loyalty to those who keep the joint running…if only more retailers had such back bone and wherewithal.

  2. Jack Backiel

    Dan, Wasn’t the original store at Imperial Ave and the Post Road, across from the church?

    • No. It’s where the photo shows. They moved to Colonial Green (across from Saugatuck Church), which was their second location.

  3. Bill Boyd... Staples 66

    A first class operation I had the pleasure of shopping with since arriving in town in 1959. I’ve cut way back on my wardrobe since my retirement but will always hold the family operation in the very highest regard! Their great respect and care for customers and staff are legendary…Best wishes into the future!

  4. Sandy Lefkowitz

    The Mitchell’s are role models for how caring and involvement in a community makes for a stronger community and with hard work makes for success because everyone has an interest in that success.

  5. Fred Cantor

    What a great story—not that I am surprised knowing about the family’s legacy of generosity in so many ways.

  6. A perfect example of practice what you preach – Mitchells has been the gold standard of our community for years and reading these testimonials does not surprise me.

  7. CARYL BEATUS

    I BOUGHT MY FIRST BLACK DRESS FROM ED AND NORMA IN THEIR ORIGINAL STORE CORNER OF POST ROAD AND NORTH COMPO . ..

    • Jack ( Never forgets an address) Backiel

      Why is it that I remember the store on the corner of Imperial Ave & the Post Rd. It was on the left as you were heading slightly downhill just before Westport center. Wasn’t the store there at one time?

      • Jack, scroll up. I answered you earlier. That was their 2nd location, in Colonial Green (that’s what that small shopping area is called).

  8. Mary Schmerker

    Mitchells was and thankfully still is an example of kindness, caring and ethics. I remember the first location well and also the move to a larger facility. It is so nice to see that they have expanded even further but not lost their original customer care. Didn’t they offer free coffee to anyone who dropped in in the original store?

  9. Charles Bodenheimer

    A class act!

  10. I worked at Mitchell’s for a couple of years in the early 90’s. Not only did they reach out to their customers, but also to their employees. The Mitchells were warm and caring. As Bob Mitchell said, ” We want to do the right thing by them, so we all can get through this. This is the ultimate test, and we’re trying to do the right thing now.”

    I’m sure they are doing the right thing.

  11. I hope the Mitchells will be consulted as a successful business model as things open back up. How we treat each other is going to be a vital component of our lives after this situation.

    I love that old photo that includes McClennan’s. We spent many hours in there over the years. We know further down is the Compo barbershop where they chopped off our hair every summer until we revolted! 😪, and further down were my favorites….Sears Catalog Shop where we ordered many a things for life over the years, and… on the end corner…the green stamp trading shop. We loved to go in there with our full books and trade for merchandise!