Tag Archives: Mitchells of Westport

Mitchells At 60: Westport Flagship Store Flies High

A couple of Saturdays ago, hundreds of folks from Fairfield County and beyond jammed Mitchells.

They celebrated the store’s 60th anniversary — and its just-completed major reconfiguration.

The 27,000 square feet sparkle with updated designs, new collections, fresh lighting and an ultra-modern feel.

The fresh, new interior at Mitchells of Westport.

One floor below — where dozens of employees direct the operations of the 9 stores Mitchells owns on the East and West Coasts, and 18 tailors work their magic — another renovation has launched the business far into the future too.

It’s a far cry from the first Ed Mitchell’s store in 1958. All those celebrating customers last month could not even have fit in that tiny shop on the corner of Post Road and North Compo.

Back then, “the Mitchells” consisted of Ed and his wife Norma, and Ed’s mother (who did the tailoring).

The original Ed Mitchell’s. It’s now the site of People’s United Bank.

Yet 60 years ago they put out a coffee pot, and poured free cups. It was a small gesture, but a telling one. We want you here, the Mitchells said. And we’ll do whatever we can to make you feel at home.

The coffee pot has been replaced by a fancy machine, with espresso and capuccino options. Ed and Norma’s family is now on the 3rd generation, with a 4th waiting in the wings. Most family-owned businesses don’t make it past generation 2.

The coffee cup and family feeling are why Mitchells has survived — and thrived — over 6 decades.

I’ve known Bill and Jack Mitchell — Ed’s sons — since my father took me to the store as a child. I coached all 3 of Bill’s sons. I know many other Mitchells.

But the other day, as I sat with Jack (now chairman of all 9 stores) and his son Andrew (chief marketing officer) for a quiet, casual conversation about the past 60 years, I realized what a remarkable story this is.

A Mitchell family photo. Jack is at far left; Andrew is 4th from left, and Bill is at far right.

Although the business is now national, its roots remain right here in Westport. And that is the key both to Mitchells’ success, and why it is such a great “06880” tale.

“We’re bucking a national trend,” Jack says. “The headlines across the US are about retailers — Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and a lot more — that are closing stores and concentrating online. We’re investing in brick and mortar.”

Mitchells does have a robust web presence. But, Andrew adds, “we believe the digital world must support the in-store experience.”

“Our value that the customer comes first, and our goal of building relationships, hasn’t changed since I was at Wesleyan University and my dad opened the store,” Jack says.

“But this has changed.” He holds up his iPhone.

His staff uses the internet to track inventory, and ship it so customers can find the right shirt, suit, blouse or shoes online. They’re encouraged to visit a store, try it on and have it tailored. An item in the Seattle store can be shipped quickly to any other store, in Westport, Greenwich, Long Island, California or Oregon.

Customers browse online. But many enjoy the in-store experience too.

But Mitchells does much more. Their website encourages customers to email their personal style advisor, or call a sales associate. All emails are answered by real people.

“People are busy today. If they can only look at shoes at 10 p.m. when the kids are in bed, fine,” Andrew says. “If someone in a London hotel room sends an email or text, it may be 3 a.m. here. But we’ll take care of it.”

When the store is closed, a phone message offers an actual number to call in the event of a fashion emergency. Those calls are answered by an actual Mitchell family member. Immediately, the problem is taken care of.

What is a “fashion emergency”? An unexpected funeral, and no suit. A business meeting, and a forgotten shirt. Things happen.

A Mitchell family member will open the store on a Sunday for those issues. If needed, they send a tailor to a customer’s home.

Jack Mitchell (left) lives in Wilton. Bill lives in Westport. They — and their extended family — go the extra mile (literally) to help customers.

That personal touch is why customers continue to flock to the stores. Each one is different. However — as they’ve bought properties across the country — the Mitchells have been careful to keep each local identity.

And name.

“Why change Richards in Greenwich, Marsh’s in Huntington, Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto, or Marios in Seattle and Portland?” Jack asks. (There’s also a by-appointment tailor shop on 5th Avenue and 58th Street.)

“Every one of those stores is part of its community. Our customers have 9 times the inventory, but the heart and soul of the customer experience is local.”

And the local Westport experience informs everything the entire company does.

“Our corporate office is here,” Jack says. “We have more Mitchells on the floor here than any other store. This is our heart and soul. It’s where it all began.”

For 60 years, Mitchells has embraced the community. They host 2 major fundraisers each year — Pink Aid (which started here) and Near and Far.

But they open their doors to 150 or so smaller events each year. Shopping nights for charity, group meetings, small fashion show fundraisers — just ask, and the Mitchells say, “Sure!”

Their quiet, behind-the-scenes help is even more legendary. The stories could fill a book. (In fact, Jack — the “hug your customer” expert — has written 3.)

“My father always said, ‘if you’re good to the community, you’ll have a healthy business,'” Jack says.

“Westport has been good to us. We just try to give back.”

FUN FACT: Why — when Mitchells changed the name from “Ed Mitchell’s” — did they eliminate the apostrophe? “It’s not about us owning it,” Jack explains. “It’s about all of us growing, one customer and one family member at a time.”

And, he adds: “If we were starting the business today, it would not be Ed Mitchell’s. It would be Ed and Norma Mitchell’s.”

He pauses, thinking about his mother’s enormous contributions to the success of the store.

“Or Norma and Ed’s.”

Party At Mitchells!

At 33,000 square feet, it’s pretty big.

And with its new renovation, it’s more modern than ever.

But at its heart, Mitchells of Westport is still a community center — a home away from home.

That’s never more true than on Saturday mornings. The coffee is on. The bagels are fresh. And there, in a comfy corner, you’re apt to find members of the extended Mitchell family. They greet old friends, meet new (soon-to-be-old) friends, and somehow manage to turn a high-end men’s and women’s specialty retailer into the 2018 version of a country store.

The Mitchell family

This year, Mitchells celebrates its 60th anniversary.

And this Saturday (September 22), in honor of its new look, the store is hosting a townwide party. They invite everyone to stop by, enjoy the new look, have coffee and bagels and more.

And if you remember their original location*, they’d love to hear your stories.

*It was a tiny shop, located at the corner of Post Road East and North Compo Road — where People’s United Bank is now.

Celebrating 75 Years Of Staples Tuition Grants

In 1943, the Staples High School PTA gave $100 to a group of Westporters. They in turn found a worthy recipient, who would otherwise be unable to attend college.

With that donation, Staples Tuition Grants was born.

In 2017 — nearly 75 years later — the organization provided $300,000 in assistance to over 100 recipients. They were graduating seniors, and college students who had received previous grants. They’re attending public and private universities, junior colleges and vocational schools.

They supplement their grants with jobs. They work hard. They’re grateful that college — exponentially more expensive than ever — can be a reality.

Some of the awardees at the 2015 Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

STG is rightfully proud that for three-quarters of a century, they’ve provided millions of dollars to tens of thousands of students.

So they’re throwing a party. The theme — naturally — is “75 years of college.”

Set for Saturday, March 10 (7 p.m., Branson Hall at Christ & Holy Trinity Church), the casual, fun event features college-ish food (pizza, burgers), drink (keg beer, wine) and music from (most) attendees’ college years. There could be ping pong and foosball too.

Party-goers are encouraged to wear their school colors or logowear. A 1955 recipient has already RSVP-ed. Organizers hope other former recipients will attend too.

The cost is $75. (It’s a fundraiser, obviously.) Organizers are soliciting 75 business sponsors, at $100 each (in honor of that first-ever grant).

Gault Energy and Melissa & Doug have signed on as lead sponsors.

Igor Pikayzen — a 2005 Staples grad, and STG recipient — will play. Westport filmmaker Doug Tirola — whose father was on the STG board — is making a special video. Former STG recipients Ned Batlin and Trevor Lally will give brief remarks. So will Miggs Burroughs, who designed the logo.

Everyone — Staples grads, and those of every other high school; college alumni and people who never went; anyone who ever got a scholarship, and anyone who did not — is invited to the 75th anniversary celebration.

Let’s make sure that Staples Tuition Grants is still doing great deeds in 2093 — 75 years from now.

(Click here for tickets to the 75th anniversary celebration, and more information. If you’re a former recipient and would like to be taped for a video, or are interested in helping sponsor the event, email poley@optonline.net.)

Friday Flashback #33

It’s been nearly 3 years since Westport’s Boat Locker sailed off for Bridgeport. But owner Scott Hardy still proudly displays a mid-1980s poster of his home town.

The other day, Jeff Manchester was in the store. He’s a 1980s Westport guy himself — a former Staples wrestling star, now back here raising his own family.

The poster brought back many memories: Soup’s On, Party Barn, Allen’s Clam House, Pancho Villa’s, DeRosa’s, Ships, Westport Bank & Trust.

Some of the businesses — Mitchell’s and Sakura — are still around. And some of the views will never change.

Take a look. Think about how Westport has changed.

And how it hasn’t.

Then — whether you grew up before or with Jeff, or moved in yesterday — click “Comments” below.

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

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.

 

Tyler Mitchell Dresses With Levatee

Mitchells does not sell t-shirts.

But Tyler Mitchell does.

The 1997 Staples grad — a 3rd-generation family member, who co-owns and runs Mitchells’ 2 Wilkes Bashford luxury stores in San Francisco and Palo Alto — has embraced the Bay Area’s entrepreneurial, tech spirit.

And — although this is a solo, private venture — he’s married it to the apparel business he knows so well.

The Levatee app offers plenty of options.

The Levatee app offers plenty of options.

Tyler — who hangs with friends like the co-founder of Instagram — has created an app. Users can quickly and easily design t-shirts with their own words or phrases, in different colors, styles and fonts. Shirts are printed within 24 hours of an order.

They’re available in V-neck, crew, neck and tank styles. (Of course, they’re made from high-quality material.)

Tyler is not the first person to offer the service. But, he says, his shirts are digitally printed, creating a better look. And the ordering process seems quicker than competing companies — 30 seconds, not 30 minutes.

Users can share their design by text, or on Facebook and Instagram (duh). Shirts can be sent as gifts via a phone’s contact list.

The app is called Levatee. “Levity” and “t-shirts” — get it?

You can’t get it at Wilkes Bashford. Or at Mitchells.

Tyler’s out in San Francisco. This is all about the web.

Tyler Mitchell poses with a vareity of Levatee shirts. (Photo/San Francisco Chronicle)

Tyler Mitchell poses with a vareity of Levatee shirts. (Photo/San Francisco Chronicle)

Wilkes Bashford And Westport

Today’s New York Times carries the obituary of Wilkes Bashford. The “clothier whose eponymous emporium is famous for having dressed affluent, elegance-conscious San Franciscans for the last half-century” died Saturday at 82.

Why is this “06880”-worthy?

In 2009, the Union Square store and its affiliate in Palo Alto were bought by Mitchells of Westport. Third-generation family member Tyler Mitchell now runs the 2 California locations.

And — in a typical Mitchell move — the company allowed Bashford to continue working there. Which he did, until nearly the end of his life.

Wilkes Bashford (2nd from left), flanked by Mitchell family members Tyler, Jack and Andrew.

Wilkes Bashford (2nd from left), flanked by Mitchell family members Tyler, Jack and Andrew.

 

 

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.

Jack Mitchell Hugs His Customers — Again

Any author would kill to sell 225,000 copies of a book in North America — and another 50,000 globally.

Jack Mitchell did that. And “author” is his 2nd career. For the 1st 40 years of his working life, he was best known as the co-owner of Mitchells of Westport.

Of course, without his phenomenal success there — and his hands-on, very personal approach — he would not have found his other calling: best-selling writer.

Jack Mitchell, and his updated book.

Jack Mitchell, and his updated book.

Now his book sales will skyrocket again. Hug Your Customers — first published a dozen years ago, and a wild success through 18 printings — has been updated. The revised edition (on sale April 14) includes an updated history of the company (which bought Marshs on Long Island in 2005, and Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto in 2009), and improved customer service techniques with the surge of the digital age.

But one thing never changed, from the 1958 day Jack’s parents Ed and Norma Mitchell opened an 800-square-foot men’s clothing store on the Post Road/North Compo corner, with little more than 3 suits and free coffee*: Hugging customers works.

Some of the hugs — given freely by Jack; his brother Bill (to whom the book is dedicated); the 7 third-generation sons, who now run the business, and their super-loyal staff — are literal.

Many more are figurative. But all — from free M&Ms and coffee, to sending a suit to Japan so a customer’s son can attend a funeral (the solution: find another customer flying there on a private plane) — help make Mitchells’ stores legendary, in the often impersonal world of retail.

They also make for very entertaining reading.

Mitchells logo

My favorite stories describe:

  • Tying bow ties for formal events for people who did not purchase their apparel at Mitchells — and altering a dress for a woman who’d bought it at Bergdorf’s
  • Opening the store on Sunday for complete strangers, thanks to an answering system that routes “emergency” calls to owners’ homes (you’d be surprised how many “clothing emergencies” there can be)
  • Going to customers’ offices to fit them, then returning to deliver the tailored goods — even if those offices are in New York or New Jersey
  • Giving their long-time, Italian-born head tailor a gift worth more than gold: tickets and plane trips to World Cup soccer matches
  • Allowing a great customer who loves Mitchells to work as an associate on the floor one Saturday. The man called many friends and clients, sold nearly $10,000 worth of merchandise — and Mitchells made a donation to his favorite charity, in his name, as thanks.

“Hugging is universal,” Jack says. “And it still works.”

Hug Your CustomersSo does book-selling. Hug Your Customers has been bought in bulk by large companies; copies are given to top executives, salespeople, even entire staffs.

The book’s success led to a 3rd career for Jack: motivational speaker. He’s spoken around the globe.

Literally. Business groups in Estonia and South Africa have hired Jack to help them understand the Mitchells way.

Now an updated edition of Hug Your Customers is being shipped. It includes new anecdotes, and an instructive section on how Mitchells weathered, then roared back from, the Great Recession.

But the heart of the book is the same. The focus on great customer service has not changed.

Just as, in the Mitchells stores themselves, it never will.

(Hug Your Customers is available April 14 online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble — and of course at Mitchells of Westport.)

*Because that courtesy can lead to sales of $2,000 or more, it’s been called “the world’s most expensive free cup of coffee.”

Fairfield County Aid, From Near & Far

Connecticut leads the nation in income inequality. The top 1 percent of our residents earn average incomes more than 48 times those of the bottom 99 percent. In Fairfield County, the figures are undoubtedly even more skewed.

Quietly — but very effectively — Near & Far Aid helps those on the lowest rungs.

NearFar_logoSince 2000, the unassumingly named, all-volunteer organization has donated more than $14 million to men, women and children living in poverty right in our midst.

Grants go to services providing emergency food, shelter and clothing; economy security programs like job training, financial literacy and affordable housing, and of course education.

The funds come from neighbors who contribute generously — very generously. But raising money is never easy. With tremendous competition from many worthy groups for donations, Near & Far Aid works hard to solicit funds.

They’re helped greatly by the generosity of the Mitchells. The  family — who offer up their store for nearly every charity that asks — holds a special place in their hearts for Near & Far Aid. For 20 years, they’ve hosted an amazing Spring Gala.

Sara BareillesThis year’s event is Friday, March 6. The highlight: an intimate concert with 5-time Grammy nominee Sara Bareilles. There are also live, silent and fine wine auctions; a spring fashion show, plus cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and supper.

As usual, Bob Mitchell — co-CEO of Mitchells and Richards — will be a “silent” event chair. He lends support, ideas and resources, but takes no credit.

“We truly cherish our 20-year partnership with Near & Far Aid,” Mitchell says. “Our family shares the same mission to give back to the less fortunate, particularly here in our community. We are so excited for this year’s 20th anniversary. We’re confident it will raise a record amount of funds, bringing relief, assistance and hope to those living in poverty.”

The “wealth gap” in this area is enormous. The consequences are real.

But the opportunity to help is priceless.

(For information on Spring Gala tickets, or to volunteer or make a donation, click here.)

The Mitchell family

The Mitchell family