Gilbertie’s: 100 Years Of Nurturing Westport, And The Earth

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.

Antonio Gilbertie, and his family.

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.

Sal Gilbertie, in the field.

“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.

Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

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.

Everybody loves the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo/Lisa Lewin)

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!

9 responses to “Gilbertie’s: 100 Years Of Nurturing Westport, And The Earth

  1. Jacque O'Brien

    CONGRATULATIONS to Gilbertie’s on their upcoming 100th anniversary. Shortly after we moved here over 43 years ago, I met Sal Gilbertie and bought his first book, “Home Gardening at Its Best.” I called it my gardening “Bible” and used it when I began my first vegetable garden. We have a new garden this year, and once again, my gardening “Bible” was a guide, as was the knowledgeable staff who are always eager to help in whatever way possible. I am thrilled that Gilbertie’s has grown and been a valuable and trusted part of our community for 100 years,..Bravo!

  2. gloria smithson

    Thanks Dan for this post ~ and Happy 100th to Gilbertie’s. a Westport gem!

  3. Mary Palmieri Gai

    The Gilbertie family has always been shining stars in Westport.

  4. The one and only Gilbertie’s! The best.
    And….it is good to see photos again by Lynn Untermeyer Miller.
    She has such a great photographic eye.

  5. Lots of Gilberties around here. Great family. Mike started Weston Gardens.

  6. Wendy Crowther

    Happy Anniversary! The Gilberties and their Center were so ahead of their time with their organic gardening practices. In the 1980’s, I created an organic garden in my parents’ backyard and bought all of my supplies from Gilbertie’s. Their composted rabbit and chicken poop helped create the biggest vegetables I’d ever seen. I’d been a meat and potatoes kid but after pulling those veggies out of that organic ground and eating them on the spot, I was a convert. Thanks for teaching me to love vegetables and the joy of gardening.

  7. mary schmerker

    Congratulations to the Gilberties! I am an old Westporter who has been transplanted but I can tell you that Gilberties and the Gilbertie family have been mainstays in Westport my entire life. They have and continue to make positive contributions to the fabric of life in Westport. Thank you for recognizing not only the business but the family also.

  8. Gilbertie’s is a great local institution. My wife and I often go there just for the fun of looking around, although we usually end up buying stuff anyway.

    Congratulations, and much thanks, to the Gilbertie family. Please keep your tradition alive!