Former owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware, current RTM member, he’s got his finger on the pulse of every issue in town. He knows the ins and outs, pros and cons of life here today. He’s got plenty of opinions — but he delivers them with grace, warmth and optimism.
No one loves Westport more than Jimmy. And no one articulates that love better than he.
The other day, we sat on the Westport Library Forum stage. Thanks to Verso Studios, our conversation is now part of the “06880: The Podcast” series. Click here to enjoy Jimmy Izzo’s memories, insights and ideas.
The other day, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz moved a Westport Public Art Collection painting from the Parks & Recreation office to Town Hall.
“Up by Daybreak Nursery” — done by noted Westport artist Howard Munce in 1989 — showed the weird Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street intersection, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42.
On the back, Kathie noticed a few interesting things:
The note on the left — written by Howard in December of 1999 — said:
In 1989 I came upon this scene and quickly went home for my camera.
The locale is at the convergence of Rt. 136 and Rt. 57 — just opposite the Daybreak Nursery.
When former 1st Selectman Bill Seiden saw it he said “Worst traffic situation in town.” Many agree.
Since this painting was done, the nursery has built and planted a mound on the small island that separate the two roads. Also, the Merritt Parkway entrance has been redesigned, causing greater complication at the corner.
Happy motoring. Howard Munce.
Equally fascinating were these “Street Beat” interviews from the December 2, 1999 Minuteman newspaper. The question was: “Which is the most dangerous intersection in Westport?”
On the left, Jim Izzo — owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware — described nearby Main Street and Canal Road. “There is an accident every 2 weeks or so, some kind of fender-bender or something,” he said.
Sid Goldstein nominated Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, because of its narrow turning lane onto Wilton (since improved), and “drivers stop too close to the yellow line on Route 33 heading south” (still an issue).
Nancy Roberts of Wilton said it was the very intersection that Munce had painted: “The merge is laid out so that it confuses people, and not everyone stops properly.”
Todd Woodard — a Tacos or What? employee — thought it was Post Road East, where Roseville and Hillspoint Roads were not aligned properly. Plus, he said, the “big dip” on Roseville makes it hard for visibility. Also the two restaurants’ driveways are poorly placed within the intersection.”
Finally, Chris Cullen — who worked in marketing — pointed to North Compo and the Post Road. “They should make a right turn lane” on North Compo, he said, “because traffic gets backed up very easily.”
Those comments were made 20 years ago. Many are still relevant today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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.
The customer listed all those items on that sheet of paper. He also slipped a check under the door for the total amount.
What can be better than Westport’s Minute Man, down by the beach?
How about a 2nd Minute Man — this one downtown?
Jimmy Izzo — the Mayor of Main Street — caught an artist in action yesterday. He was decorating the construction fence in front of the old YMCA, part of the new Bedford Square project.
His name is Jahmane. He’s based in Norwalk, and has exhibited at the Westport Arts Center (among many other places).
Let’s hope this one is not decorated the way our Minute Man friend down at Compo sometimes is.
PS: Who says Westport is no longer an artists’ colony?
Meanwhile, in related fence-painting news, the Westport Arts Center, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Downtown Merchants Association are sponsoring a “Westport Paints The Town” event a week from tomorrow (Saturday, June 20, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.).
Individuals and families can have their “selfies” outlined on the wall by artists, or can paint their own artistic vision. A $10 per person fee helps cover artists and supply costs. (Professional artists will also participate.)
Tables and chairs will be set up on Church Lane, which will be closed to cars during the event. Restaurants including SoNo Baking Company, Spotted Horse and Pink Sumo will take orders curbside. And a DJ will add music to the art.
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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