Tag Archives: Red Izzo

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.

This 60th Anniversary Is Actually “Diamond”

Sixty years ago this spring, Westport Little League was born.

Four teams — the Bombers, Hornets, Jets and Rockets — competed in that inaugural season.

And if you think I had to do scholarly research to unearth that fact, think again.  I talked to half a dozen men who played Westport Little League in 1951.  All are now in their 70s — but all reeled off those 4 teams’ names as if they were back at Green’s Farms Elementary School field, hitting and fielding and yelling “heybatterbatter!” and having the time of their lives.

In an era of Little League baseball and softball, Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, PAL football and cheerleading, WSA soccer, youth lacrosse, rowing clubs, and just about every other sport for kids except Australian Rules football, it’s easy to forget the impact of that initial Little League season.

It was the 1st youth sports league of any kind in Westport.

“We had real uniforms, umpires, coaches, base paths and a pitcher’s mound,” AJ “Red” Izzo recalls.  “Before that, we just played in the back yard.”

Playing “real” baseball made quite an impact.  Six decades later the players remember not just the team names, but plenty of other ridiculous random relevant details.

“Jeff Strauss hit the 1st home run,” Jack Mitchell notes.

“The coaches all lived on Old Hill Road, for some reason” Bud Frey adds.  He reels off 3 of their names:  Henry Dietrich, Harrison Schevelson, Bob Getty.

Bud was just 10 years old that 1st season.  He played on the Rockets, and got 3 hits in one game.  They were his only hits all year, though — and they came in the final game of the season.

Bud spent the next 2 years with the Jets.  “I never knew why I was traded,” he says.

A team from the early years: the 1956 Bombers. Front row (from left): Doug Jacobs, Bob Entigar, Buddy Matthews, Jerry Williams, Bill Deegan, David Ohanian, Bob Rogers. Middle row: Jim Stewart, Jerry Melillo, Dick Sutphen, Bob Rowlands, Ted See, Carl Gajdosik, George Karfiol. Rear: Bill Deegan, Jack Rogers, Vern Matthews. (Photo courtesy of Bill Deegan)

Geoff Lavaty was new to Westport — and baseball.  “I’d come from the Bronx,” he says.  “I played stickball.  I wasn’t sure if I could adapt.”

He did.  Like nearly every other 10-, 11- or 12-year-old boy in town, he leaped at the chance to play real baseball, with real (parent) coaches.

Little League drew boys from the 3 elementary schools —  Bedford, Green’s Farms and Saugatuck — together for the 1st time.  It created lifelong friendships, and lasting memories.  It set Jack Mitchell and Red Izzo on a path to become baseball captains at Staples, 6 years later.

Tomorrow, Westport Little League — in 2011 a much larger organization with majors, minors, other divisions, girls and its very own fields — hosts championship games.  No special events will mark the 60th anniversary.

But league officials are quietly proud to have outlasted other cultural icons, including Davy Crockett caps, hula hoops, the frug, disco, 8-tracks and Pong.

“Parents who played Westport Little League now watch their own kids — and grandchildren — play,” says baseball official Carl McNair.

“They still love to talk about the championship game, the home runs, the victories and beat-downs.

“But whatever the subject, they all have smiles on their faces.   The overall wins and losses fade into the distant past, while the joy of playing America’s pastime is timeless.”

Play ball!