Tag Archives: Crossroads Ace Hardware

Westport’s New Liquor Store: Have You Heard About The Grapevine?

Bia Hittman’s parents first met at Crossroads. Back in the 1970s, it was a lively restaurant with a young crowd.

The other day, Bia’s mom and dad celebrated their 41st anniversary. Crossroads is gone. So is its most recent replacement: 323 restaurant.

But Bia’s parents are still drawn to the area. In the small shopping center across Canal Street, Bia and her husband Seth are hard at work. They’re opening The Grapevine — a modern and very cool liquor store — in the space known to generations of Westporters as a different Crossroads: Ace Hardware.

Crossroads Ace Hardware closed last year.

Bia grew up in Trumbull. But her parents brought her to Westport often. They ate at Onion Alley, shopped at Henry Lehr. She tasted her first matzo ball soup at Oscar’s.

Seth is from Nyack, New York. He’s a tech entrepreneur and investor. They lived in Manhattan, with 2 kids and 2 dogs.

But, she says, it was “Westport or bust” for her. “It was always my dream to live here.” The restaurants, shopping, beach, great schools — all drew her in.

Four years ago, the Hittmans moved here. He commutes a couple of days to New York. But almost immediately, they began looking for a way to become part of the community.

Bia Hittman, in her new store.

They thought about real estate. Then they had another idea: a liquor store.

They searched for an opportunity. A few months ago, she says, “the stars aligned.”

Ace Hardware closed. The owners of Parkway Liquors — on the other side of Coffee An’ — were looking to sell.

The Hittmans bought Parkways’ liquor permit. Then they went to work.

The Grapevine’s open, inviting interior — and new ceiling.

They dropped Ace’s loft, and got rid of the side stairs. They added a cathedral ceiling, with handsome trusses. They put in new flooring, and painted brightly. The Grapevine — the clever name — is now the only bi-level liquor store in the state, Bia says.

The entrance has been moved to the north side. There’s plenty of parking there — and the new orientation will be great for a Grapevine innovation: curbside service. Orders can be placed online; when you drive over, it’s ready.

The 3,000-square foot store is open and inviting. The Hittmans are focusing on craft and gluten-free beers, and organic and gluten-free wines. They’re vetting their vineyards, ensuring that “organic” is not just a word on the label.

The Grapevine’s staff will provide advice on building and stocking your wine cellar. “We’ll do everything from soup to nuts,” Bia says (invoking, perhaps, her parents’ days at Crossroads).

She, Seth and partner Joe Annunziata — a longtime veteran of the wine business — look forward to partnering with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association on events.

They are excited about their location. “People drive by coming into and out of Westport,” Bia says. “We’re the entrance and exit.”

The former side of Ace Crossroads is now the main entrance to The Grapevine.

The Grapevine’s soft opening early this month will be followed by a grand opening the first weekend in May.

Meanwhile, the little shopping center’s newest tenant is getting to know the neighbors.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and kind,” Bia says. “Especially Coffee An’.”

Which raises the question: What wine goes best with a glazed donut?

Thank YOU To A Class Crossroads Act

(Photo/Jamie Walsh)

As Ace Crossroads Hardware prepares to close for the last time, AJ Izzo, Janet Lane Horelick and Jimmy Izzo hoisted this sign.

It’s a typically classy, community-oriented gesture.

Of course, we should be the ones thanking them. For 27 years, the Main Street place has been more than a “helpful hardware store.”

It’s been the “Cheers” of retail. Everyone knew our name.

And it’s been our community center.

A big little piece of Westport is ending.

Thank you, Crossroads Hardware!

End Of An Era: Crossroads Hardware To Close

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.

 

 

 

It Took A Tough Nor’easter To Knock This Tree Down

Yesterday’s mega-storm brought this monster tree down on Canal Street.

(Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Westporters had to find an alternate route to two of the most important spots in town: Crossroads Ace Hardware, and Coffee An’.

Jimmy Izzo: Customers Are At A Crossroads

In 27 years at Crossroads Ace Hardware, Jimmy Izzo has seen a lot.

New homeowners move in. Jimmy and his staff help with everything they need: paint, mailboxes, garden supplies. He watches their kids grow up. When they get ready to downsize, Crossroads is there too.

It’s got a Main Street address. But — next to Coffee An’ — it’s not exactly downtown. It is, however, the perfect place to observe local retail trends.

Some of what’s happened to Crossroads Hardware is unique to Westport. Much of it is part of a national movement.

No one knows how it all will play out. Not even Jimmy Izzo. And it’s hard to find a more astute observer of everything Westport than the 1983 Staples High School graduate. (Though his father AJ — himself a Staples grad — might give Jimmy a run for his money.)

Jimmy Izzo prepares for the next snowstorm.

“Today we’re an information society,” Jimmy says. “You can pull out your phone, order anything online, and have it delivered to your home within 24 hours.”

That’s true of nearly everything Crossroads sells. Whether it’s a mop — which you can also buy at Stop & Shop or CVS — or a gas grill, customers have exponentially more options than before.

They often buy the most convenient way. Many times, that’s online.

Then they’ll give Crossroads a call. They need help assembling that grill, or they’ve got questions about how to use it.

Jimmy answers them all. He’ll even tell customers to order online, and ship to Crossroads; he’ll put it together, then deliver it (for a price). Customer service is something a local store does far better than the web.

“If you come in for a can of paint, you leave with a bucket, brush and knowledge,” Jimmy adds. “We make sure you have everything you need, even if you haven’t thought of it.”

Crossroads Hardware is the closest thing Westport has to an old-fashioned general store — a place where folks not only shop, but sit around a pot-bellied stove, tell stories, argue, complain, and solve all the problems of the world.

(There’s no stove, but you get the idea.)

Crossroads Ace Hardware, where customer service is king.

Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of place customers look for today.

“Younger people are searching for ‘experiences,'” Jimmy says. “They want to live where the action is. Look at the Avalon in Norwalk.”

Modern families with kids, meanwhile, run everywhere on weekends. Time once allotted to household chores and maintenance is often filled with travel sports.

“Parents are taking their kids everywhere, every weekend,” Jimmy explains. “We used to see them in here on Saturdays. Now they don’t even have time for that.”

Getting the word out about Crossroads — everything from services like tool sharpening, to products like shovels and ice melt before a snowstorm — has changed too.

The local papers are virtually non-existent. Jimmy relies much more on Facebook advertising and posts, and other social media.

A wintertime Facebook post by Jimmy Izzo reminds customers of what to do when bad weather strikes.

The future — for stores like his, and all of downtown — is “unknown,” Jimmy says. He sees empty stores downtown, and less foot traffic. Part of the reason is that old-time relationships — between landlord, tenant and community — have frayed. Many Main Street properties are owned by out-of-town conglomerates.

“Downtown is looking for ‘wow!'” Jimmy says. “The Gap is not ‘wow!'”

He gives Bedford Square — David Waldman’s new retail/residential complex that replaced the former YMCA — an “11 out of 10.” But the rest of downtown needs a spark, Jimmy says.

“Main Street isn’t dead. It’s just trying to figure out what it is.”

One answer may lie in business-to-business networking — stores handing out coupons or flyers for other stores, say, or Crossroads combining with a lamp shop for an event that teaches how to wire a lamp.

“You have to give the customer a reason to make your place a destination,”  he insists. “Customer loyalty changes instantly these days.”

The retail sweet spot, Jimmy says, is the customer between 30 and 55 years old, with kids in schools.

But they’re not wedded to Main Street — or even a once-essential destination like Crossroads Ace Hardware.

“With technology today, their options are limitless. No one has to shop in a store.”

But if you do buy that gas grill online, be sure to call Jimmy Izzo.

He’ll assemble it for you.

And then make sure you don’t light your entire yard on fire.

Joe Italiano: An Ace Retires

Sure, you can get a snow shovel, light bulb or roach motel on the internet.

But you can’t get it immediately — right now, the moment you need it.

You can’t handle the merchandise, to choose  exactly the right product.

You can’t get the expert advice — and no up-selling — from knowledgeable, friendly folks you find at your local hardware store.

That’s why so many Westporters flock to Crossroads Ace Hardware.

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’.

Joe Italiano

Joe Italiano

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, where customer service -- and Joe Italiano -- are kings.

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.

It just won’t be the same without him.

Priceless Service At Ace Hardware

Alert — and grateful — “06880” reader Gwen Tutun writes:

I want to share a great experience I had this week at a local store. One of the legs of my “table in a bag” — which I use at the beach as many nights as possible — was missing a screw.

I brought it into Crossroads Ace Hardware. Joe very kindly said he could fix it. He had to epoxy a new screw in, and would have it ready the next morning.

I came back to get it. It now as good as new.

Joe’s charge for this? $3.50.

My gratitude and appreciation  — and certainty that Home Depot would not do that for me? Priceless.

Gwen Tutun is a very happy Ace Crossroads Hardware customer.

Gwen Tutun is a very happy Crossroads Ace Hardware customer.

Red Izzo: Drugs, Depression Rampant In Town

From his perch at Crossroads Ace Hardware, A.J. “Red” Izzo sees and hears a lot.

But in his 78 years in Westport, the former 2nd selectman candidate and Republican Town Committee member says, he’s never seen anything comparable to this. Izzo calls it a “life-and-death situation.”

He’s talking about “a major drug epidemic” — in the town, county and state — and an equally alarming rise in depression. Too few people are talking about these issues, he says.

A.J. "Red" Izzo, at his familiar spot in Crossroads Ace Hardware.

A.J. “Red” Izzo, at his familiar spot in Crossroads Ace Hardware.

Izzo hears of the vast amount of prescriptions doctors are writing. Of young people stealing pills from parents. Of the easy availability of drugs of all kinds, and the lack of services for anyone wishing to get off the roller-coaster of addiction.

“When I was growing up, Westport had 5,000 people and 2 facilities — the Westport Sanitarium (on what is now Winslow Park) and Hall-Brooke,” Izzo says.

“Now we’ve got 26,000 people, and nothing.”

Izzo says that too many Westporters are not talking about the twin scourges of drugs and depression.

“This is killing people,” he notes. “I don’t know the answer. But we have to understand the severity of it. It’s not a black/white, right/wrong issue. We have to start talking about causes and effects and solutions.”

Izzo shakes his head.

“I’m concerned about the young people. People of every age have to understand this is here, and it’s real. If we don’t face up to it, bad things happen.”

An Ace Customer At Crossroads Hardware

If you’ve lived in Westport for more than 12 seconds, you know that Crossroads Ace Hardware is the place — for any home-related item you could imagine, for fantastic personal service, and for that sit-around-the-potbelly-stove community feeling you can’t get anywhere else.

Ace HardwareIf you don’t know and love Jimmy Izzo, his father AJ and the rest of the Ace crew, you should crawl back into your cave.

But if you’re like me, you’ve probably driven by at night after they’ve closed and thought, “Wow, they leave a lot of stuff outside. They must really trust people.”

They do. And here’s why.

Yesterday morning, Jimmy went to open up. Under the door, he found a handwritten slip of paper.

Overnight, a customer had helped himself to some bamboo sticks, copper pipe and plastic tomato stakes.

Jimmy Izzo - Ace Hardware

The customer listed all those items on that sheet of paper. He also slipped a check under the door for the total amount.

Plus tax.

“People are good,” Jimmy says.

Well, yeah. Because, Jimmy, you’re good to them.

Ace Is The Place

During the 22 years Julie and Bob Fatherley have lived in Westport, they’ve become big fans of a nearby store.

Jim and A.J. Izzo run Crossroads Ace Hardware —  “a fantastic local business,” she says.

Crossroads Hardware, Westport CTTheir customer service is “incredible,” Julie adds. “Their great assistant, Joe Italiano, has even made house calls to some of my friends.”

Recently, Joe assembled a tool kit for the Fatherley’s young grandson, Gordon. The 2 1/2-year-old loves to hammer nails into wood with Bob.

The other day, 3 generations of Fatherley males headed over to Crossroads. The boy brought along freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

It was a typical Saturday: busy as heck. Everyone had a question, request or command of the staff.

Nonetheless, Joe took Gordon on a tour of all the wonders to be found in a hardware store.

“This is what community is all about,” Julie says.

It is indeed. A tiny gesture — but one that resonates with an entire family.

And one that helps make a young boy understand what the world — and, just as importantly, the people in one small community — are all about.