Everyone knows the oldest company in Westport: Gault.
Founded in 1863, it’s been a Saugatuck mainstay for 153 years.
At 89 years old, Riverside Barber Shop could be Gault’s grandchild.
But after nearly 9 decades here, it’s probably Westport’s 2nd oldest company.
“Riverside” may be a misnomer. For its first 82 years it was indeed located on Riverside Avenue — a few yards away from Gault.
For over 8 decades Riverside Barber Shop sat on Riverside Avenue (right). DeRosa’s restaurant was on the left.
In all those years, there were just 4 owners. John Santella opened it in 1927. His son Lou — the legendary “Mayor of Saugatuck” — took over from John. In 1999 Lou retired, and sold his shop to Pat Vigilio.
In 2009 Pat moved Riverside Barber to Post Road West — above Greg & Tony’s salon — when as part of the Saugatuck Center project, his building and the adjacent DeRosa’s restaurant were torn down.* (Pat donated his barber pole to the Westport Historical Society.)
Pat recently retired. The new owner is Tammy Stefanidis. She worked for Pat for 7 years, then spent the next few at home, raising her family.
Now she’s back.
Tammy Stefanidis, new owner of the very old Riverside Barber Shop.
Tammy knows the barber shop’s history. She’s proud that longtime — very longtime — customers keep coming back. She doesn’t plan any big changes.
But she does have one interesting offer.
If you’d like to donate your hair to Locks of Love — the non-profit providing hairpieces to children and teenagers suffering medical hair loss — stop in to Riverside Barber Shop.
Tammy will cut it for free.
*Bonus fact: Saugatuck Center was developed by Gault.
A lack of volunteers and sponsors doomed the 27-year-old institution — itself a revival of the long-running St. Anthony’s Feast.
But Westporters are intrepid. And though the carnival rides, fried dough and Johnny Maestro are gone, we can have our own Italian Fest this summer.
Or at least, we can celebrate the reason we had a festival in the first place: Saugatuck.
Rather than riding roller coasters, eating unhealthy food and listening to bands without most of their original members, let’s honor the place that meant so much to so many, for so long.
The Arrow Restaurant was always packed.
You can drive to Saugatuck, and ride along its still-familiar streets. You can walk around, and — though the smells and sounds of the 1930s, ’50s, even the ’70s are gone — still see the remnants of what was once Westport’s most vibrant neighborhood.
Or just sit back, close your eyes, and think back to the days of the Arrow restaurant, Lou Santella’s barber shop, and small grocery stores and other shops everywhere.
Construction of I-95 sliced the Saugatuck community in half.
Think of the grape arbors, plum trees and beautiful gardens of years gone by. Some survived construction of I-95, when it sliced through the heart of this tight-knit community. Many did not.
Recall Dr. Gillette Circle. It’s a strange name — but it memorializes the family doctor who served Saugatuck so well.
Think about the old Sons of Italy hall on Riverside Avenue. Next to it — once upon a time — was a cable grip factory. Nearby were farms, a shirt factory, homes that housed multiple generations and houses with multiple families.
Not far away is the train station. The 2nd set of tracks was built by Italian immigrants. It’s an important part of the community that’s still there.
Carole and Robert DeMaria in Saugatuck (now Luciano) Park. In the background is Esposito's Gulf station (soon to be Mario Batali's Tarry Lodge). On the corner is Arcudi's grocery story (now the 21 Charles Street office building.) (Photo courtesy of Terry Santella Anzalone)
So is Luciano Park. Both the park, and the station parking lot, were apt sites for the Italian Festival when it thrived.
The thousands of fair-goers may not have realized they were standing on a patch of history — that’s tough to do when you’re playing whack-a-mole, scarfing down pizza frites and dancing to do-wop — but it’s the way the world turns.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to think back — particularly this 2nd weekend in July, the traditional date for Festival Italiano — to what it was, and why it was there.
So spend a few minutes remembering the Italian Fest, and its the entire Saugatuck community.
You can travel back there in real life, or go there in your mind’s eye.
The Post Office is not the only new tenant in Playhouse Square.
At the other end of the shopping center — closest to the Post Road — a new franchise is moving in. Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club® will open soon, meeting Westport’s need for “discerning gentlemen who are looking for an experience that is the polar opposite of your everyday haircut from the ‘big chains.'”
Did you notice that Westport is filled with “big chain” hair cutting places?
I didn’t either. But that’s not stopping this 150-shop franchise from moving into town.
The website asks:
Have you ever felt like you’re one of the last gentlemen on the planet hoping for a quiet retreat where you can be surrounded by other like-minded souls needing the grooming and personal services that true gentlemen need?
Gentlemen — start your strops!
Step foot inside a Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club®, and you’ll instantly be transported back to a time when men were men, and when getting a straight razor shave and a haircut were the civilized thing to do.
At the same time, you’ll be offered a cool beverage, a modern selection of grooming products, listen to hand-selected music, and much, much more. You’ve worked hard to earn this affordable luxury. Join us and you’ll know…
That sound you just heard is Lou Santella rolling over in his grave.
We know you’ve been watching from afar as gentleman after gentleman has entered Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club® looking like a tired man, only to come out looking like refreshed gentlemen. You wouldn’t be the only one who wonders from afar, just how we do it. But for the answer, you’ll have to come inside and experience it for yourself.
You belong among Kennedys. You deserve to look like you behave, like the Ultimate Gentleman™ you are. The occasional fishing trip, golf outing or other rendezvous with “the boys” is an experience we all long for, but encounter all too seldom. Joining your local Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club® will bring you that same fraternization, while tending to your necessary grooming functions.
We beg the question, “Where else can you go, in the middle of a hectic workday, get a fantastic haircut and relaxing straight razor shave, then tackle the rest of your day completely refreshed?”
(Yes, if you’re wondering, “beg the question” means “the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place.”)
So how much does this Ultimate Gentleman™ experience cost? (Or, in Kennedy’s All-American Barber Club®-speak, how much do you pay to become a Member?)
Come on in and see for yourself. Once you do, we’re sure you’ll understand why we call our service offerings an “affordable luxury” and a “luxurious necessity.” Investment in Membership varies from location to location and is dependent on the Membership level you select.
In other words: a lot.
The Kennedy's Club in Playhouse Square. Why a toilet sits atop the steps is a mystery.
Posted onApril 6, 2010|Comments Off on Italian Fest To Honor Lou Santella
This year’s Italian Festival will honor Lou Santella.
The founding member, longtime director and unofficial “Mayor of Saugatuck,” who died earlier this year, will be remembered at the annual event, set for July 8-11.
Tim Romano is grand marshal for the Thursday evening parade.
The Italian Festival tradition — rides, food, music from the like of the Duprees and Emil Stucchio — will continue, though for the 1st time since its founding 27 years ago Lou Santella’s warm, welcoming spirit will be only a memory.
The Italian Fest is an integral part of Westport life. It took a lot of hard work by Lou, and others, to resurrect what long ago was known as the Feast of St. Anthony.
Today, it may be harder than ever to keep the Festival going.
Director Roberta DellaDonna Troy and grand marshal Buck Iannacone enjoy last year's Italian Festival parade.
Director Roberta DellaDonna Troy — who succeeded, and was mentored well by, Lou Santella — starts planning in early October. She arranges for permits, tents, music and much more.
When set-up begins in early July, there are still only a handful of volunteers.
Many Westporters think the Italian Festival is a town-sponsored event. It’s not.
Festival Italiano Inc. is a 501(c)3 operation. It relies on the generosity of sponsors and volunteers. Both are desperately needed.
Expenses are high. Last year, the Italian Festival spent $31,800 for police, $28,000 for electrical services, and $6,000 for the Fire Department.
Besides providing 4 days of old-fashioned fun and entertainment, the Festival gives back plenty. All money raised goes to charities ($10,000 in 2009) and scholarships (22 last year, each for $1,000).
Most Westporters don’t know that. They enjoy fried dough, Whack-a-Mole and doo-wop groups, without even thinking of the enormous amount of work that goes into each summer’s Italian Festival.
For 27 years — through heat waves, thunderstorms, and rumors of its own demise — Festival Italiano has been a boon to Westport.
We’ve lost more than a great, gregarious Westporter. And we’ve lost more than a beloved barber. For years Lou was the unofficial mayor of Saugatuck. As that storied part of town races toward redevelopment — his old Riverside Barber Shop is already closed — we’ve lost one more important link to our past.
Years ago, I wrote a “Woog’s World” column on Saugatuck. The idea wasn’t mine; it was Lou’s. We were talking at the Italian Festival, and he said, “You never write anything about Saugatuck.”
He was right.
He said that Saugatuck is “the real Westport — the soul of the town.” He offered to give me a tour. I jumped at the chance.
We started, fittingly, in his barber shop. Gesturing broadly — with his big hands — Lou said, “No matter where they live, people from here consider Saugatuck home.”
Without pausing to think, Lou rattled off a list of families. There were judges, policemen, teachers, contractors, firemen, restaurant owners, and everything in between.
Those were his people. We got in his big car, so he could show me his world.
Lou drove up Charles Street, where St. Anthony’s Festival once reigned every summer. He pointed to a nondescript building. Tucked away under the roof was a statue of Saugatuck’s patron saint. “As far as my mother was concerned, Jesus works for St. Anthony,” Lou joked.
On Franklin Street Lou described the grape arbors, plum trees and beautiful gardens of years gone by.
Then he motioned to a parking lot. “The house I was born in used to be here,” Lou said. “And over there was a little grocery store. My uncle owned it. You could get anything there.”
Lou Santella and his wife Marge.
Every few yards brought a new story: how the Nisticos founded the original Arrow restaurant, on the corner of Franklin and Saugatuck. The pub that sat where Dunville’s is now. The devastation I-95 caused when it was built. “People had to move,” Lou noted. “Not far, but out.”
On Saugatuck, near the Exit 17 northbound ramp, I gazed right past a green plot of land. “I used to live there too,” Lou said quietly.
We turned onto the oddly named Dr. Gillette Circle, but I didn’t even have to ask. “They built this when the highway came through,” Lou said. “A lot of these houses were moved here. Dr. Gillette was our doctor. He was a very special man.”
And so it went. I saw a bank branch office; Lou saw the wooden row houses that once stood there, and the fireworks that always made the firemen work overtime. I stared at the unsightly Charles Street office complex; Lou described the store it replaced, owned by Joe Arcudi’s father. And Luciano Park — well, it’s been in Saugatuck even longer than Lou (though the name dates “only” to the late ’60s), but Lou remembers the bocce courts there.
Our tour ended back at Lou’s barber shop. Across the street, he explained, was the old Sons of Italy hall, and a cable grip factory.
“This is the heart and soul of Westport,” Lou repeated. “I’m so proud I grew up here. No doubt about it.”
I’m so proud to have taken that tour. I’m so proud to have known Lou, to have called him a friend, and to have been able to describe his Saugatuck — in his own words, far more eloquent than mine — to the rest of Westport.
Lou’s death is more than a loss to Saugatuck, and the entire town. It’s the end of an era we will never see again.
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