Some Westporters live on the water. Others live in the woods, or close to town.
But only residents of Woods Grove Road enjoy the Saugatuck River on two sides — with Coffee An’ just beyond.
Plus, of course, an easy stroll downtown.
Woods Grove is off Canal Street, on the right just past the parking lot for the old 323 restaurant, heading west toward Kings Highway.
Woods Grove Road is close to downtown. I’s bordered by 2 branches of the Saugatuck River.
AJ Izzo — owner of the old Crossroads Ace Hardware, another great close-by attraction (now replaced by an excellent liquor store) — says that when he grew up on nearby Richmondville Avenue, the area was woods, and a dirt road. Most houses were built in the 1940s and ’50s.
Ken Bernhard — who moved there from around the corner — calls Woods Grove “a charming respite.”
It’s a dead-end, so there’s little traffic. But it’s a long, winding road, so there are plenty of families. Kids play in the street. Neighbors chat.
Woods Grove Road is well named.
A “watering hole” features a dock and rope swing. “There’s nothing more pleasant than the sound of kids laughing and splashing,” he says.
The main branch of the river is great for canoeing and kayaking. Every morning, Ken says, a neighbor on the Wilton Road side paddles — with his German shepherd — to the dam and back. Everyone waves.
The neighborliness extends to Aquarion. The water utility owns land across the river. A while back, the pumping station made a distracting, growling sound. Ken offered to buy equipment to deaden the noise.
Nope, Aquarion said. They did it themselves.
A Woods Grove back yard.
Ken calls Woods Grove “delightful. The houses are not big, and the lots are not too large. Everything is the perfect size — just as much as we need.”
Besides Coffee An’ and the Merritt Country Store, residents can walk or bike to the library and Levitt. The Y — and Merritt Parkways exits 41 and 42 — are around the corner.
Yet one of the most interesting features of Woods Grove Road is one that neighbors barely mention.
A non-profit enterprise — the Westport School of Music — is located in a house halfway down the road. Established in 1938, it’s got a great reputation.
The Westport School of Music looks like any other home.
Students come and go quietly. There’s a little more traffic because of it than normal, but Woods Grove residents hardly notice. They’re happy to be near such a well-regarded, artistic enterprise.
Life on Woods Grove Road is good. Between the beautiful river and delicious donuts, who can complain?
For 27 years, Crossroads Hardware has served Westport.
Jimmy Izzo, his dad AJ, and a superb, knowledgeable staff have helped us weather snowstorms, hurricanes and floods. They’ve been the go-to place for gardening supplies in spring, rakes in the fall, paint and keys and pest control and light bulbs and a lot more whenever we need it.
But all good — no, great — things come to an end. The North Main Street shop with the country-store vibe will close at the end of the month.
Crossroads Ace Hardware on Main Street. Its neighbors include Coffee An’, Merritt Country Store and 323 restaurant.
Jimmy is one of the most positive people I know. A native Westporter (Staples High School Class of 1983 — his dad was Staples ’58), he loves this town and the folks who live here. He will never speak negatively about them.
But they — we — have changed.
Too many of us now buy too much on the internet to keep Crossroads Hardware in business. We buy it from the comfort of our homes, and it’s delivered the next day. We’re even reminded by email or text when we’re about to run out of something, so we can order more right then and there.
We don’t head down to the hardware store as regularly as we used to — particularly on Saturdays. That used to be Crossroads’ big day. Now, families are on the go all day, with kids’ sports and other activities. Saturday at the hardware store is a thing of the past.
Crossroads Ace Hardware has always been community-minded. When former employee Todd Austin (standing, 2nd from right) served in Iraq, the store sent shirts and plenty of other goods to his Marine company.
The Izzos crammed a ton of stuff into 2,300 square feet. When they opened in 1991, there weren’t a lot of places to buy, say, fire logs.
Today those are just one of the squintillion things Amazon sells. (You can get them at Stew’s and Stop & Shop now too.)
People even order ice melt online. We know when a storm is coming. We order with a few clicks, and it’s delivered to our doorstep just hours before the snow falls.
Jimmy Izzo with Monday special assistant Annissa DiNoto.
Amazon — and the big boys like Home Depot — enjoy economies of scale. But the costs of a brick-and-mortar store — rent, insurance, salaries — never go down.
Jimmy is not bitter. He wants his closing to be a celebration of his 27 years in business. He salutes his longtime employees — Janet Horelick, Mike Stiskel, Chris Gendren, the Coulson brothers, the many Staples students who have worked there (usually in their first jobs), and manager Joe Italiano who retired last year after a quarter century with the Izzos.
Jimmy mentions too his girlfriend Jeannine Molle and her daughter Lilly, for their great support.
For years, Crossroads Ace Hardware has hosted special needs students from Staples High School. They always followed up with personal thank-yous, Jimmy says.
For nearly 3 decades, he says, he has been privileged to see Westport through his customers’ eyes. “The talk, the politics, the civil discourse — I’ve enjoyed it all.” (And he hears it all: In his spare time, Jimmy is an RTM member from District 3.)
“This is a great town. Our customers are gems. They’re awesome, great people.”
But their needs and wants — and shopping habits — have changed.
Now Jimmy will explore other options. He’ll continue to be involved in Westport — a community he loves.
It just won’t be at the store that once served Westport, in the days when “personal touch” meant a lot more than hitting “submit” on your online order.
Here’s his statement:
I can’t believe it’s been 27 years since we opened the doors of Crossroads Hardware. 27 years of serving this wonderful community, and making lifelong friends along the way. 27 years of watching great kids who have worked for us grow into amazing adults, with multiple success stories. Each one becomes a part of our family for life.
I can’t thank all of our employees, past and present, enough for caring so much about Crossroads and our customers, as if the store were your own. You truly contributed to making Crossroads the neighborhood gathering place we always wanted it to be.
I would like to thank our manager of 26 years, Joe Italiano, who retired last year, for his loyalty, depth of knowledge and care for our customers and their needs. And a special thank you to my father, AJ Izzo, for his dedication to Crossroads and the community as a whole.
Joe Italiano retired last year, after 26 years with Crossroads. Janet Horelick has worked there for many years too.
I can’t thank the wonderful Westport-Weston community, and those who traveled from other towns to support Crossroads over the years. You too will always be a part of our family. Without you, we would have never had the 27 years to be your local helpful hardware place.
As we close our doors at the end of May, I want everyone to know it’s been a great ride. We feel incredibly blessed to have served this community, and made forever friendships throughout our 27 years in business.
We hope to see you in the coming weeks as we celebrate 27 years of friendship.
AJ Izzo (right) with Matthew Mandell. He serves on the RTM with Jimmy Izzo, and as executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, is a strong supporter of small local businesses.
Ace is the place for all that — plus the old-fashioned, all-that’s-missing-is-the-pot-bellied-stove atmosphere, courtesy of owner Jimmy Izzo and his dad, AJ.
For nearly 30 years, Joe Italiano has made Crossroads Hardware special too. But January 28 is his last day in the small-but-crammed-to-the-gills store that’s as beloved as its strip mall neighbor, Coffee An’.
Crossroads is Joe’s last stop, in a long career in the business. The Westchester native worked in Ridgefield and Danbury before Paul Taylor — owner of Weston Hardware, where he worked in the 1960s — told AJ to call Joe for his new store, on the site of the old North Main Garage.
Crossroads Ace Hardware opened in October 1989. Joe’s been there all that time.
In fact, very quietly — but with insights gained from decades of experience — he’s helped make it what it is.
Joe prefers to talk about what he’s gotten out of the place.
“Over the years I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with a lot of nice people,” he says. “The customers are great, and AJ and Jimmy treated me better than well.”
He’s done everything from make keys — you can’t do that on the internet — to repair a completely shattered antique glass lamp.
Customer service is important to the Izzos — and to Joe. “We try our best to give them what they ask for,” he says. “We won’t do a job if we can’t do it right, and reasonably.”
Some customers, of course, think that “reasonably” means “almost free.”
“It costs us to keep merchandise on the shelves,” Joe notes. “On the internet, they have a big warehouse and they shove it in boxes, then out the door.”
But if customers keep going to the internet, he adds, “we won’t be here to serve the public.”
Crossroads Ace Hardware is a favorite Westport place.
Retirement will give Joe time to catch up on projects he’s got at home; spend time with his wife, who retired 2 years ago, and travel. He looks forward to attending his grandkids’ functions on Saturdays — something he’s never been able to do.
He’ll miss the “interaction with all the people.” He will not miss driving between work and home — Danbury, on the New Fairfield line – in snow.
Meanwhile, thousands of loyal customers will miss Joe Italiano. Ace will still be the place.
Everyone in Westport loves Jimmy Izzo. He’s a 1983 Staples grad, the owner of Crossroads Hardware, an RTM member, and an all-around great guy.
In honor of his 50th birthday — today! — alert “06880” reader/proud sister Sue Izzo offers this tribute:
Many of us have siblings we love. But I believe I have one of the most selfless, giving and amazing brothers in the world.
Jimmy Izzo, at one of his favorite spots: the Longshore golf course.
Jimmy is 10 years older than me. When I was obsessed with Cabbage Patch dolls, he was into Van Halen and was the bookie at Staples High School driving around in his Scirocco. Yet every night, it was my brother who put me to bed and read me a story.
As a junior in college I decided to study abroad. My brother handed me a credit card. He specifically said it was for emergencies.
Anyone who has traveled through Europe at the age of 19 knows how easy it is to find $2,000 worth of emergencies over 6 months. He just laughed it off.
But what makes my heart swell the most is the unconditional love and support Jimmy has given me through the years, as I dealt with my long journey with depression, building a business, and riding this roller coaster we call life. Having him by my side has made it all possible.
My sister and I abandoned my mom and dad. I left for the West Coast, my sister for Cape Cod. We completely broke the Italian daughter code.
My brother remained in Westport, and has been a pillar in my family’s life. How many sons do you know who not only bring lasagna or eggplant parm to their parents, but cook it from scratch?
The Izzo family — decked out in Italy’s colors. Jimmy is 2nd from right.
And have you met my father, A.J.? Not only is Jimmy his first and only son, but he works and puts up with him every day. My brother is definitely an amazing son!
I am confident in saying there is not one person who does not like my brother. He is the ultimate friend. His heart is so big, so giving, and unconditional. His door is always open. He is there to listen to a friend in need, lend a hand, and give advice when needed.
People are very lucky to have him their lives. It is rare to have such a loyal friend as Jimmy. When I come home to visit it is like walking into a bar with the mayor, though I doubt a mayor would be so well liked.
Jimmy Izzo (3rd from right), and a few of his many close friends.
Two words: Ice melt. Go on Jimmy’s Facebook page to see when the latest shipment came in. Crossroads is more than a hardware store; it is the local community center. I love seeing my brother, dad and the longtime employees interacting with old and new residents.
So many times I hear my brother say, “just come down the store. We’ll take care of you.” And that is exactly what he does. That store has been in business for over 20 years. I love what it represents for our town. It is the epitome of community. And I love that my brother cares so much about Westport, its origins, and maintaining what we can of the Westport we grew up with.
So on his 50th birthday, I wish my brother Jimmy many more beautiful Compo Beach sunrises, as much laughter as possible, and a heart full of love and happiness.
I am so proud to call you my brother. I love you more than words could ever describe.
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