Tag Archives: Bob Mitchell

Y’s Men Pivot In Pandemic

It’s hard to imagine a more active, involved — and social — group than the Y’s Men.

So it’s hard to imagine any Westport organization impacted more by COVID than the 400-plus seniors who hike, bike, play bridge and backgammon, sing, enjoy classical music, work with computers, discuss investments, and hear interesting speakers on a local and global topics every week.

The Y’s Men will not let a global pandemic keep them down. Though their in-person meetings are limited, they’ve adjusted, adapted and pivoted.

These are indeed wise men.

Like many members, president Bob Mitchell calls the group “a very important part of my life.” A member since retiring from a career in banking and IT in 2014, he appreciates both the variety of activities and the camaraderie.

Since the coronavirus struck, he says, “we rewrite our playbook every day.”

Bob Mitchell, Y’s Men president

Thursday morning general meetings were always convivial. After Coffee An’s coffee and donuts, members enjoyed speakers. Senators, congressmen, CEOs, authors, entertainers — packed audiences heard them all.

In-person sessions were replaced by podcasts. Among the guests: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Board of Finance chair Brian Stern, “Live at Lincoln Center” producer Andrew Wilk, Dr. Robert Altbaum, CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota, golf pro Kammy Maxfeldt, realtor Alex Chingas and “06880” blogger yours truly.

The speakers series has now transitioned to Zoom. Every week through Christmas is booked, with guests and topics ranging from the history of the White Star Line to Westport’s downtown and Department of Human Services.

Mitchell notes one upside of virtual meetings: the chance to hear from people like Basil Hero. The author of that book about lessons learned by 12 men who went to the moon, he’s a former Westporter now living in San Francisco. That makes an in-person meeting tough — but a Zoom session easy.

A Y’s Men Zoom meeting.

The Y’s Men usually take the summer off. This year, groups like the Book Club continued to meet, virtually. The biking and walking groups got together for actual bike trips and walks — socially distanced, of course. Tennis players were active too; soon, they’ll move indoors.

The Bridge Club did not meet. But they’re starting now — virtually, of course.

“We are committed to keeping our members active, involved and social as much as possible — whether face to face or not,” Mitchell says.

Y’s Men (and wives) enjoy a socially distanced get-together at Compo Beach. (Photo/Molly Alger)

COVID did more than derail many Y’s Men’s plans. It also took the lives of 3 members.

One was a hiker. Group friends walked and met in his honor this summer, at Sherwood Island.

As the Y’s Men gear up for another year — one unlike any other, but filled like all the rest with events and activities — Mitchell invites any retired or semi-retired man who lived (or once lived) in Westport or Weston to join. Click here for more information, or email president@ysmenwestportweston.org.

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.