Tag Archives: Bill Mitchell

[OPINION] Fred Cantor’s 24 Hours In “Our Town”

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime Westporter — Fred Cantor hears frequent laments about the changes in town since “whatever decade people grew up here in.” Of course, he admits, things are different.

But, Fred notes, the small-town feel that existed when his family moved here in 1963 is still alive and well. As proof, he offers a series of events that occurred recently, in just one 24-hour period.

Bruce Davidson, from his Staples High School yearbook.

It started with a visit to a local periodontist which, believe it or not, proved enjoyable overall. That’s because he’s Dr. Bruce Davidson, Staples High School Class of 1965, a family friend from back in the day and a former soccer teammate of my brother Marc. Bruce has practiced for decades at the same location on the Post Road, near Sylvan Avenue.

After a thorough exam and patient clarification of potential issues raised by X-rays taken in California, there was time to catch up and hear, among other things, about the status of a documentary film by Bruce’s brother, Doc (Staples ‘70).

After my appointment I drove to Cohen’s Fashion Opticals to pick up new glasses, which were almost ready. No problem: It was close to lunchtime, so I headed a few doors down to Gold’s. Owner Jim greeted me warmly.

I had a delicious turkey salad sandwich. The food at Gold’s is every bit as good today as when my parents first took me there in the 1960s — and the setting seems exactly as it did back then.

Jim Eckl and his wife Nancy have owned Gold’s since 2003.

Later in the day, I enjoyed a timeless outdoor Westport scene: a large crowd gathered on the hill to watch a Staples soccer game, on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

I had not arranged to meet anyone there. That didn’t matter. I sat with Bill Mitchell (Staples ’61) and former soccer coach Jeff Lea. We shared a few laughs and some entertaining stories. Dave Wilson (a Staples captain in 1974) was there too.

The ageless Laddie Lawrence (Staples ’64) also joined us for a while; so did former Westport Late Knights soccer teammate, Alex Anvari. Somehow Alex’s little boy Emerson has grown up — he’s 6-1 now!—to be a Staples senior who, to my delight, is on the varsity team.

Enjoying Staples soccer on the Loeffler Field hill (from left):L Fred Cantor, Jeff Lea, Bill Mitchell, Laddie Lawrence.

It was the last weekend of summer, with near-perfect temperatures, so after the game my wife Debbie and I headed to Compo to enjoy the sunset. As often happens, we ran into a couple of longtime Westporters.

I also had a nice chat with Joey Romeo, the owner of Joey’s By the Shore. He is every bit as friendly as any Main Street storeowner was in the 1960s.

Compo Beach sunset. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The next morning I was walking on Bridge Street toward the train station. A car pulled over. The driver was Staples alum Mike Elliot; he offered me a ride. I explained that walking is my regular exercise these days.

As I neared the station, another car stopped. Staples classmate Bob Uly wanted to know how I was doing health-wise.

It was just 24 hours. Nothing truly out of the ordinary happened.

But those little slice-of-life occurrences demonstrate, at least for me, that certain “Our Town”-like qualities still very much exist here.

Bill Mitchell, Gerry Kuroghlian Earn Kudos From Kolbe

Westport is filled with men and women who give and give, then give some more. When there’s a job to be done or an organization to help, they’re the first to volunteer.

But it’s hard to imagine any 2 people who do more, in more ways, than Bill Mitchell and Gerry Kuroghlian.

Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell

Bill — a 1961 graduate of Staples High School — remains connected to his alma mater through Staples Tuition Grants, Players and sports. He’s been president of Rotary, deacon at Saugatuck Congregational Church, honorary chair of Homes With Hope, and a board member of the Levitt Pavilion, YMCA, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Sacred Heart University and the Jewish Home for the Elderly. He’s offered his store — Mitchells — to help raise millions of dollars for groups like Near and Far, and the Inner City Foundation.

Gerry — a Fairfield native with a Ph.D., who spent nearly 40 years as a Staples English teacher, where he influenced thousands of students and colleagues — now serves as an ESL instructor at Mercy Learning Center, and a master’s degree student teacher at Sacred Heart.

But both men have found some of their most meaningful volunteer opportunities at Kolbe Cathedral High School.

The Bridgeport private school — 80% of whose students need financial assistance — has a proud record. Last year, every graduating senior was accepted to college. Together, they earned $15.2 million in scholarships and aid.

Bill and Gerry’s contributions to their successes are profound.

Kolbe Cathedral logo

In 1999, Bill joined Kolbe’s Shepherds program. He sponsored and mentored freshman named Marques Brown, providing one-on-one support (and cheering at his basketball games). They became lifelong friends. In 2010, Marques — now a successful adult — established the William E. Mitchell Humanitarian Award, for a Kolbe graduate with “concern for others, compassion, a positive attitude and a big heart.”

Bill continues to aid Kolbe by securing speakers for fundraisers, sharing networking contacts with students and staff, and providing leadership opportunities for all.

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian

Gerry’s volunteer work includes national education organizations, cancer and diabetes groups, Westport Library and United Church of Christ.

But Gerry spends nearly every afternoon at Kolbe. He’s a tutor, SAT and ACT advisor, and college application essay guide. He has arranged for 1,000 books to be donated to the library.

Gerry also organizes cultural field trips to Fairfield University and New York City. He attends sports events, chaperones the prom, and continually shares his philosophy that it is the responsibility of each individual to make a difference.

Now Kolbe Cathedral is giving something back to these 2 very giving men. On Sunday, May 1, the school’s annual “Making a Difference Celebration” celebrates Bill Mitchell and Gerry Kuroghlian.

It’s a fundraiser, enabling Kolbe to continue making a difference in the lives of teenagers.

They — and their school — are just a few miles from Westport. It’s a journey Bill Mitchell and Gerry Kuroghlian take often.

What a difference it makes.

(Kolbe Cathedral’s Making a Difference Celebration begins at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, May 1 with a mass at St. Mary’s Parish in Greenwich. Dinner at Gabriele’s Steakhouse in Greenwich follows at 6:30 p.m. For more information, or to make a donation in honor of Bill Mitchell or Gerry Kuroghlian, call J0-Anne Jakab at 203-368-2648 or email jjakab@kolbecaths.org.)

Bill Mitchell with Marques Brown (Kolbe Cathedral '03).

Bill Mitchell with Marques Brown (Kolbe Cathedral ’03).

Gerry Kuroghlian and Bryan Tacuri. The Kolbe Cathedral senior has been accepted at 7 colleges, including Fairfield, Sacred Heart and the University of Connecticut.

Gerry Kuroghlian and Bryan Tacuri. The Kolbe Cathedral senior has been accepted at 7 colleges, including Fairfield, Sacred Heart and the University of Connecticut.


50 Years Of Bill

In 1958 — when Ed and Norma Mitchell took a leap of faith and opened a tiny men’s clothing store — their younger son Bill was still in school.

He helped his parents when he could, and joined the store officially in 1965. Since then he’s served in nearly every capacity, from back room to public face. He’s a greeter, back-slapper, problem-solver, contribution-giver, let-me-introduce-you-er, and much more.

Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell

Several years ago he and his brother Jack handed the reins of Mitchells — and its “family” stores in Greenwich, Long Island and California — to the 3rd generation.

Bill and Jack still play important roles, of course. (Though Bill jokes, “I’m on a day-to-day contract.”)

This Saturday (May 16, all day) Mitchells of Westport celebrates Bill’s half-century with the store. Everyone is invited to stop by, say hi, shake his hand and share a story.

If all of Bill’s friends come, the line will stretch out the door, down the Post Road, and waaay past the original location downtown.

Bill (left) and Jack Mitchell on the sales floor, a few holiday seasons back.

Bill (left) and Jack Mitchell on the sales floor, a few holiday seasons back.

Westport: A Town Filled With Showoffs

“The Show-Off” is running now at the Westport Country Playhouse.

And, between now and the final curtain on June 29, the Playhouse is running a social media campaign.

A straw hat — similar to the one worn by the show’s title character — is being photographed on prominent people all around town.

If you’re Facebook friends with the Playhouse, or follow it on Twitter, you’ll see Westport’s favorite clothier, Bill Mitchell:

Bill Mitchell

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg:

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg

Playhouse managing director Michael Ross:

Westport Country Playhouse managing director Michael Ross

And even Milky White:

Milky White

Who is Milky White, you ask?

One of the most important characters in “Into the Woods.”

And here’s the “prominent Westport” connection: In the summer of 1950, future composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim was one of a dozen Playhouse apprentices.

(Click for the social media links: Facebook; Twitter). 

Bill Mitchell’s Birthday Surprise

Every Saturday is “showtime” at Mitchells.

A steady stream of customers – from Brian Williams, Jack Welch and Jim Calhoun to your basic, everyday Joe Hedge Fund Manager and CEO — drops in. They grab a bagel, schmooze, and buy a suit or three.

Today was extra special. Bill Mitchell — son of founders Ed and Norma, father and uncle of the 3rd generation to run the store — turns 70 tomorrow.

The store was packed with well-wishers (and stocked with champagne and cake).

In the midst of all the A-Listers and heavy hitters, it was easy to overlook one older man.

But Walt Melillo was there too. He’s 90 now, but in 1958 he was the 1st non-family member hired by Ed and Norma.

Bill Mitchell (left) and Walt Melillo.

Bill Mitchell (left) and Walt Melillo.

Walt worked Friday nights and all day Saturdays . His real job was as an elementary school teacher (Saugatuck, then Burr Farms). In fact, both Bill and I were Walt’s students.

Today was a great day for Bill Mitchell. He was especially happy to share it with one of Westport’s most important — but seldom recognized — big, big names: Walt Melillo.

A Long-Overdue Thank You

Bill Mitchell grew up in Westport. All his life, he’s seen Westport’s first responders do what they do best: respond.

Whatever the emergency — at the store his parents Ed and Norma founded; at the schools his 3 children attended; anywhere in town — he watched with appreciation as these men and women served our town.

For years, Bill has wanted to say “thank you.” Tonight, he did.

Bill Mitchell (left) greeted many first responders tonight, including police officer Ned Batlin.

Bill Mitchell (left) greeted many first responders tonight, including police officer Ned Batlin.

His store — Mitchells of Westport — hosted a small reception, honoring everyone who helped out during Hurricane Sandy. And Irene. And the windstorm. And every other emergency, large and small, that hits our town.

First selectman Gordon Joseloff noted that first responders include not only police officers, firefighters and EMTs. During the hurricane, we were served by Public Works, the Health District, Human Services, the library, and  CERT.

“This was not our first rodeo,” Joseloff said. “And there will be another.”

In the middle of the speeches, an emergency radio cackled.

Those guys are always on the job.

Three Y’s Men

Normally, the announcement of the Westport Y’s annual meeting wouldn’t rate a mention in “06880” — or anywhere else, outside the Y’s own bulletin board.

But tomorrow’s 87th annual meeting (Monday, June 20, 5:30 p.m., the Edward T. Bedford Room) rises above the level of ho-hummery.

In addition to the usual stuff — recognizing annual award recipients, voting on a new slate, saluting the 2-term accomplishments of Iain Bruce (president, board of directors) and Pete Wolgast (chairman, board of trustees) — the Y will recognize 3 longtime volunteers as trustee emeriti.

Bill Gault

Their names are Bill Gault, Bill Mitchell and Allen Raymond.

Their faces and accomplishments are known to all.

The Gaults have been in town since the mid-18th century.

The Raymonds first summered here in the early 1900s.

The Mitchells are mere newcomers.  Their store opened “only” in 1958.

Allen Raymond

All 3 — and their families — have been involved with the Westport Y ever since they themselves were members.

And all 3 give generously of their time, talent (and money) to countless causes besides the Y.

Tomorrow’s honor is richly deserved.

Knowing all 3 men, I can predict what will happen tomorrow:  They’ll deflect any praise.  They’ll thank instead the organization that is honoring them.

And they’ll say they only wish they could do more.

Bill Mitchell

Pre-Blizzard Report

Stew Leonard’s was only mildly chaotic this morning, in advance of the blizzard of the decade century Cenozoic Era.

Then again, it was only 8:10 a.m.

Earlier, at CVS, I ran into Bill Mitchell.  “I guess we’re gonna get whacked,” I said.

“It could be worse,” the ever-optimistic clothier said.  “It could have come 2 days earlier.”

If you’ve got a blizzard story or photos — before, during or after the storm — click on the “Contact Me” link at the top of this blog (or send it to dwoog@optonline.net).

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

A Tailor’s Tale

It may be the 1st time in history a clothing store bought a full-age ad to honor a tailor.

Today’s Westport News features a tribute to Domenic Condeleo.  He’s celebrating 50 years as a tailor at Mitchells of Westport — and the Mitchell family wants the world to know how proud they are of him.

Domenic now oversees a staff of 23.  He personally fits America’s top executives — some of whom refuse to see anyone else, the ad says.

“Mitchells would not be as successful as it is today without Domenic,” notes Bill Mitchell.

“Not only is he an incredible tailor, he also is a top-notch manager, and a great salesperson.  His personality makes people gravitate towards him.  He’s a star.”

This is not the 1st time Mitchells has honored Domenic.  Back in 1994 — when he’d been with the family for “only” 34 years — the US hosted soccer’s World Cup.  Bill and his brother Jack flew Domenic around the country, to watch his beloved Italian team play.

Tomorrow (Saturday, April 24), Mitchell’s invites Domenic’s many customers and friends to toast his half-century of service.  The store serves prosecco and antipasto from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.  All are welcome.

And while you’re there thanking Domenic, thank Bill and Jack for their very classy thanks too!

Mitchells Make Menswear Hall Of Fame

When a magazine like MR — a major publication in the men’s fashion industry — announces its Retailing Hall of Fame honorees, you expect the focus to be on the bottom line:  sales figures, market share, store growth.

The story on Bill and Jack Mitchell does just the opposite.

Jack and Bill Mitchell (Photo courtesy of MR Magazine)

Jack and Bill Mitchell (Photo courtesy of MR Magazine)

It emphasizes first the philanthropy that the co-owners of Mitchells of Westport inherited from their parents, Ed and Norma.  The Mitchells’ 3 stores (they also own Richards of Greenwich and Marshs of Huntington) “sell millions of dollars worth of Armani suits, Loro Piana knitwear and Hermès ties,” the magazine says, “so they can give away millions more to help many causes (AIDS awareness, breast cancer research, inner-city education programs, poverty prevention and more).”

The story notes the importance of relationships:  with customers, sales associates, suppliers, and of course within the Mitchell family (between them, Bill and Jack have 7 sons — whose own 12 children wait in the 4th-generation wings).

Although Jack and Bill continue to serve as chief executive and vice chairman respectively, last year they followed their father’s footsteps and gifted the equity in the entire business to their sons.  “One of the biggest legacies of my life is that we were able to do that,” Jack told MR with emotion.

The Retailing Hall of Fame piece eventually gets around to business.  It’s hard not to, given the magazine’s charge and the current state of the economy.  But even then, there’s the family business twist (and everyone in the business is treated as family):  Every month, all the associates receive a sales report.

“No secrets,” Jack says.  “We don’t tell them the cash flow and bottom line but we’re pretty open with every other number and tell them to keep it confidential.  We tell them that when things get better we’re all going to celebrate.”

It’s fashionable to joke about Mitchells prices.  But — and here’s the real bottom line — the store truly is less about prestige suits, shoes and jewelry than it is about the people who work, shop and, yes, socialize there.  And the ones who benefit from the generosity of all who do.

Along with thousands of Westporters, I count the Mitchell family as good friends.  I’m proud not only that MR Magazine has recognized them with a Menswear Retailing Hall of Fame award — but that it did so for all the right reasons.