Quick: Name Westport’s oldest family-owned business.
It’s Gault, by a long shot. Established in 1863 — midway through the Civil War! — the company has evolved from coal hauling to bioheat and other, more modern energy solutions. But after nearly 160 years, Gaults still run the show.
What’s second? Many Westporters would say Mitchells. Founded in 1958, the mom-and-pop men’s clothing shop has morphed into a bicoastal group of high-end men’s and women’s stores. With the 4th generation poised to take over, it’s a proud, still Westport-based institution.
But Mitchells is not our town’s 2nd-oldest family business.
When the calendar turns to 2022 in a few days, there will be a celebration on Sylvan Road. This coming year, Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center turns 100 years old.
Like Gault and Mitchells, Gilbertie’s changed with the times. Antonio Gilbertie’s original cut flower company now has a tagline: “nurturing the organic gardener.”
But he would be proud to see what his son, grandson and their families have done with the business.
Antonio and his wife arrived from Italy around 1919 “with just the clothes on their back” says Carrie Gilbertie, who married his great-grandson Tom.
In 1922 Antonio sold his first flowers from a greenhouse on Sylvan, near Riverside Avenue. The Saugatuck neighborhood was nearby, and there was plenty of demand for carnations and lilies.
When Antonio died, his son Salvatore took over. He died young — just 52 — and left the business to his wife “Nana” and children.
Sal Jr. had gone to school for accounting, but came home to run Gilbertie’s.
He was fascinated by herbs, and bought a 36-acre farm in Easton. He earned certification as an organic farmer, and started a microgreens business.
Today, the company supplies customers as far away as Virginia.
“People love Gilbertie’s,” Carrie says. “We’ve stayed true to who we are. We’re all about organic and natural.
“We practice what we preach. We nurture people, and the earth. We’re very involved in the community, and we help them find so many ways to take care of the planet.
“We’re not trying to be something we’re not. People appreciate us.”
The pandemic was, surprisingly, a boon to Gilbertie’s. An “essential business,” they never closed. With Westporters stuck home — and a huge influx of newcomers eager to find backyard projects — the family and their loyal, longtime staff offered tips on what vegetables, flowers and herbs to grow, and how to grow them.
They’ve kept coming back.
New customers come all the time too. Some discover Gilbertie’s by word of mouth. Others are attracted by the Winter Westport Farmers’ Market, held every Thursday from November through March, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in and around their 3 greenhouses.
A full year of celebration is planned, including gardening and chef demonstrations, giveaways, prizes, a town-wide scavenger hunt, and a party with live music.
“06880” will keep you updated on the all the goings-on.
But first: We’re proud to be the first to wish Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center a happy 100th birthday!