Quick: Name Westport’s oldest family-owned business.
It’s Gault, by a long shot. Established in 1863 — midway through the Civil War! — the company has evolved from coal hauling to bioheat and other, more modern energy solutions. But after nearly 160 years, Gaults still run the show.
What’s second? Many Westporters would say Mitchells. Founded in 1958, the mom-and-pop men’s clothing shop has morphed into a bicoastal group of high-end men’s and women’s stores. With the 4th generation poised to take over, it’s a proud, still Westport-based institution.
But Mitchells is not our town’s 2nd-oldest family business.
Like Gault and Mitchells, Gilbertie’s changed with the times. Antonio Gilbertie’s original cut flower company now has a tagline: “nurturing the organic gardener.”
But he would be proud to see what his son, grandson and their families have done with the business.
Antonio and his wife arrived from Italy around 1919 “with just the clothes on their back” says Carrie Gilbertie, who married his great-grandson Tom.
In 1922 Antonio sold his first flowers from a greenhouse on Sylvan, near Riverside Avenue. The Saugatuck neighborhood was nearby, and there was plenty of demand for carnations and lilies.
Antonio Gilbertie, and his family.
When Antonio died, his son Salvatore took over. He died young — just 52 — and left the business to his wife “Nana” and children.
Sal Jr. had gone to school for accounting, but came home to run Gilbertie’s.
He was fascinated by herbs, and bought a 36-acre farm in Easton. He earned certification as an organic farmer, and started a microgreens business.
Today, the company supplies customers as far away as Virginia.
Sal Gilbertie, in the field.
“People love Gilbertie’s,” Carrie says. “We’ve stayed true to who we are. We’re all about organic and natural.
“We practice what we preach. We nurture people, and the earth. We’re very involved in the community, and we help them find so many ways to take care of the planet.
“We’re not trying to be something we’re not. People appreciate us.”
The pandemic was, surprisingly, a boon to Gilbertie’s. An “essential business,” they never closed. With Westporters stuck home — and a huge influx of newcomers eager to find backyard projects — the family and their loyal, longtime staff offered tips on what vegetables, flowers and herbs to grow, and how to grow them.
Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
They’ve kept coming back.
New customers come all the time too. Some discover Gilbertie’s by word of mouth. Others are attracted by the Winter Westport Farmers’ Market, held every Thursday from November through March, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in and around their 3 greenhouses.
Everybody loves the Westport Farmers’ Market. (Photo/Lisa Lewin)
A full year of celebration is planned, including gardening and chef demonstrations, giveaways, prizes, a town-wide scavenger hunt, and a party with live music.
“06880” will keep you updated on the all the goings-on.
But first: We’re proud to be the first to wish Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center a happy 100th birthday!
Speaking of education: Sure, the Westport Public Schools select a Teacher of the Year. But there’s something special about earning that honor from a different source: the Staples High School football team.
This spring, the Wreckers — used to be cheered for — turned the tables. They gave shout-outs to their favorite educators in a homemade video. At the end, they announced the winner.
Who is this year’s football team Staples Teacher of the Year? Click below to see:
Two more sings that Westport is getting “back to business.”
The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce held its first in-person gathering in 20 months yesterday, at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center. Over 60 people gathered in the garden, in beautiful weather. They shook hands, ate food catered by Calise’s Deli, and — as they did for years before the pandemic — exchanged business cards.
Sal Gilbertie spoke about the 100 years since his grandfather began as a flower grower, then turned to herbs. Today Gilbertie’s is a major micro green seller, in addition to their nursery’s plants and trees.
Sal Gilbertie addresses the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce.
But the Chamber wasn’t the only major Westport organization holding its first live-and-in-person meeting yesterday.
Sunrise Rotary also gathered together, for the first time in over a year. Attendance was solid. Handshakes and hugs were heartfelt.
And for those unable or not yet ready to attend, the event was livestreamed.
Westport Country Playhouse has 4 new trustees. Three are from Westport: Jessica Caldwell, Will Haskell and Margie Jacobson.
Haskell — a state senator whose district includes Westport — has a long theatrical history. As a member of Staples High School’s Class of 2014, he was elected of Players, the drama troupe. One of his first memories of live theater was seeing “Curious George” as a child, at the Playhouse’s old barn.
Caldwell graduated from Columbia University’s MFA film program. She produced independent feature films, while her feature film productions have premiered at Berlinale, SXSW and Tribeca. Her short film work has premiered at Sundance, Telluride, and Tribeca. Caldwell was also the writers’ room assistant and showrunners’ assistant on “Billions.” She is also a Moth storytelling contest GrandSlampion.
Jacobson is a nonprofit leader and attorney with legal experience spanning a variety of diverse settings. She is currently of counsel to a boutique law firm advocating for students’ rights from birth through post-secondary education, and co-founder of Woman’s Compass Forum. Jacobson previously served on the Playhouse board, from 2010 to 2016. She also serves on the boards of the ADL and the Remarkable Theater.
The WCP board of trustees is chaired by Westporter Ania Czekaj-Farber.
The Westport Library has 2 new trustees too.
Anna Alemani is CFO of Pierrepont School. Previously she had a 15-year career in finance. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BA in Business Administration from Bocconi University in Milan, where she focused her studies on management of museums and cultural institutions.
Dave Briggs spent his career in television, as a sports and news reporter/anchor. He has moved from South Dakota and Oklahoma to Boston, where he covered Red Sox World Series championships, Patriots Super Bowl titles and a Celtics NBA crown. He also hosted “Fox & Friends Weekend,” and (for NBC) NHL, NASCAR, NFL and Olympic tennis, before anchoring “Early Start” on CNN. He currently interviews important Connecticut residents for Moffly Media content.
Once again, the Westport Farmers’ Market has transitioned from its winter indoor season to the 6-month outdoor one. Executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall celebrates by nominating a stalwart support as “06880”’s Unsung Hero of the Week. She writes:
Becoming a legend takes devotion.
When I embarked on my early days at the Farmers’ Market, I kept hearing about a legendary farmer. I heard about Sal Gilbertie’s books, his knowledge of organics, his family business in Westport, his devotion to his church, and his community involvement in Easton and Westport with agriculture.
Each time his name was mentioned, it came with a compliment and admiration.
Sal Gilbertie, in the field.
When I met Sal, we formed a friendship that has lasted over a decade. He always has a quick, warm smile and a hug for people dear to him.
Though I want to say ours is a special friendship, the reality is that Sal makes everyone feel as if they are special to him.
For me, he has supported my desire to help local farmers and small mom-and-pop businesses. When I was new and didn’t know anyone — and I wasn’t a farmer myself — he took time to introduce me to other farmers. He put his seal of approval on my efforts.
After my successful first summer at the Westport Farmers’ Market, I had an idea. One weekend that fall, Sal and I went to an agricultural event. I saw his beautiful old truck with the Gilbertie’s Herb Garden logo.
I asked, “What would you think about the Farmers’ Market renting a greenhouse at Gilbertie’s and opening a winter market?” Without hesitation he said, “Sure!”
One thing I love about farmers in general: Their word is their bond. Sal is a great example of this type of honor. His willingness to help people, to believe in them, and his desire to support his community gave us a home for the past 10 years. It is a winter event haven for many Westporters.
Year after year, this family-owned business continues to grow. They’ve watched farmland turn to houses and businesses come and go, yet they have survived (and thrived) in the same location.
With Sal at the helm, they reinvented their business as demands have changed. It is exciting to think about celebrating this family, this man and this business as a community.
Sal now spends most of his time in Easton. He continues to farm organically, and recently embarked on a micro-greens business at the state-of-the-art facility he created there.
I am jealous of his energy, which comes from love. He loves what he does. He loves the land. He loves his family and the business they created. With that kind of love, energy is boundless.
Sal is devoted to his faith. If you attend his church on Easter or most holidays, you’ll find the altar covered in flowers. Sal is the reason it brims with greenery. He carries truckloads of plants inside, and places each one himself.
Each morning as I head to work or get the kids to school, I see Sal’s car in the parking lot for morning Mass.
There are many more stories I could share about this man who has been such a great friend to me and the Westport Farmers’ Market. With the type of devotion Sal has, he is truly a legend – and in this case, an Unsung Hero.
One more shot of our Unsung Hero.
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Alert “06880” reader Sal Gilbertie had time — p-l-e-n-t-y of time — to write to “06880” today. At 1:02 p.m., he sent this report:
I have been at the Norwalk DMV for about 2 hours now. If the current speed of customer flow is maintained, I’m guessing I have another 2 hours before my business will be complete.
Just snapped this picture, which represents some of the problem. I am directly in front of service windows 1-6, of 22 total service windows. Window 1 on the right did not fit into the picture, and window 6 on the left is obscured by the pole. Trust me: All are empty.
To be fair, this was taken at 12:31 p.m., quite possibly the tail end of some sort of lunch break (unannounced, if it occurred at all). However, at no time since I have been here have more than 11 of the 22 windows been staffed with DMV personnel at any time.
Everyone in the entire place is very friendly, pleasant and patient (staff and customers).
But everyone (all of the staff and customers with whom I have spoken) agrees that the place is clearly understaffed.
The general consensus is that DMV is a “pay-for-play” kind of place. The 2 questions most people seem to ask are:
“Why doesn’t DMV raise its fees so it can hire more people?”
“When the DMV does make changes, why don’t they adequately plan for an ever-increasing level of service requirements, since there will never be fewer people or fewer cars?”
In a state like Connecticut — with an economy like ours — there are probably lots of well qualified people who would welcome a chance to have a job in DMV.
Lots of people are wasting lots of time here. Kind of takes some of the mystery out of why productivity and the economy are growing so slowly, doesn’t it?
How hard can this be to fix?
POSTSCRIPT: Sal emailed again, at 1:39 p.m.:
I just finished. My business was completed efficiently and pleasantly, albeit with plenty of time lost.
SPECIAL “0688o” PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: AAA offers many DMV services — including driver’s license renewals. They’re no longer in Westport — but there are offices just over the Norwalk line, and in Fairfield. Click here for details.
“06880” reader Sal Gilbertie lives about a mile from the Bridgeport condominium that burned to the ground 4 days ago, leaving 120 people homeless. Last night, he wrote:
I wanted to thank “06880” for your coverage of the New Year’s Eve fire and update you on the amazing work done by people like Elaine Marino, whose efforts are clearly needed, and much valued and appreciated.
I took some pictures today. There is total devastation. The complete loss suffered by residents is illustrated graphically.
Nothing is left of the condominium on Charles Street, Bridgeport. (Photo/Sal Gilbertie)
The warehouse staging area at 837 Seaview was a beehive of activity today. City workers, firemen and volunteers sorted donations, still arriving by the truckload.
I spoke with both Mayor Joe Ganim and Gina Malheiro, deputy chief administrative officer of Bridgeport. Both were deeply grateful for the assistance offered by the entire Bridgeport area. Both also seemed energized by what is now their 4th day of work on behalf of the displaced residents.
The donation center was filling up. To see what is still needed, read below. (Photo/Sal Gilbertie)
After those conversations, and others with city employees I do not know, I can give you the following update:
The displaced residents are all housed — some already in permanent locations, others in hotels until Bridgeport city agencies can place them.
On Monday, the families will be assisted by the city in replacing lost vital documents so they can begin rebuilding their lives. The families will then be brought to 837 Seaview to “shop” amongst the donated items.
Another view, after the Bridgeport condominium fire. (Photo/Sal Gilbertie)
When asked what is needed most now, the most emphatic answer was “money.”
Those wishing to make donations can act in one of 3 vital ways:
Donate to the Red Cross specifically for “Bridgeport Fire.” I was told the monies would go toward offsetting the assistance already given to the families immediately after the fire. As funds accumulate, they will also be distributed to each family displaced by the fire. American Red Cross, 158 Brooklawn Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604; phone: 800-319-9935.
A few years ago, the Westport Farmers’ Market needed a winter home. Sal Gilbertie — the herb garden founder’s grandson — stepped up to the plate.
When Wakeman Town Farm needed to brighten its grounds for a Harvest Dinner fundraiser, Sal showed up with a truckload of over 100 fall mums. He dropped them in the yard without a word.
To show its appreciation — and demonstrate the importance of strong local roots — WTF is partnering with Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens for a 1-day Christmas tree and greenery sale. It’s next Saturday (December 1, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at Wakeman Town Farm, 134 Cross Highway.
Sal will sell Fraser firs and undecorated wreaths, plus balsam wreaths festooned with pine, cedar, herbs and assorted natural decorations.
At 5 p.m. there’s the 1st-ever Wakeman Town Farm Christmas tree lighting, featuring hot chocolate and a bonfire.
True to its goal of supporting local farmers, growers and businesses — as well as its educational mission — WTF passes along this info:
Christmas tree farms stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife, while also creating scenic green belts. For every real Christmas tree harvested, 3 seedlings are planted in its place. That, in turn, reduces global greenhouse gas effects.
Meaning — just like at Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens — strong roots continue to grow.
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