From the Founder: The Spirit of Old Greenwich
Greenwich is often described as a town of villages, and no community fits that description better than Old Greenwich. It’s where, 372 years ago, the history of Greenwich began. The original settlers, Jeffrey Ferris, the eccentric Robert Feake and Captain Daniel Patrick, a soldier of fortune driven from Boston for “crude and unbecoming behavior,” were an ill-assorted trio. After conning the Siwanoy Indians into signing away most of their coastal tribal land for a mere twenty-five English coats, Ferris named the area Greenwich for his home town in England. The rest of what is now the Town of Greenwich was known as Horseneck and settled later.
While Old Greenwich residents are proud of their history as our town’s birthplace, they are equally enamored and concerned with preserving the village’s small town ambiance that led them to make it their home. A leisurely stroll along Sound Beach Avenue in the heart of the shopping area is a refreshing change from the sophisticated chain stores that repeat themselves in shopping strips elsewhere. Stores here are mostly family owned, some for several generations. Bennett Jewelers was founded in 1945 by the grandfather and great-grandfather of the present proprietor, Allison Falco, who assumed ownership from her father Wyatt Bennett; Porricelli’s Food Mart, with second generation Jerry and Joe in charge, has Joe Junior in the wings for third.
In our forty-nine years in neighboring Riverside, Old Greenwich has been a favored shopping experience. We have witnessed change, most of it inevitable. Besides Porricelli’s there were once two other grocery stores: Stewart’s Market, which specialized in home delivery—a phone call would bring madam’s groceries to her door—and Grand Central where CVS now stands. Across the street the family owned Kerr’s pharmacy stood for many years before succumbing to the merchandising power of CVS. Many other establishments have remained but with new or second-generation ownership. Images, owned and operated by Tom Ragland before becoming our First Selectman, is a landmark art and framing store under the ever-popular Marcos Torno, who provides a gallery in his store for local artists. Viscardi’s Colonial Inn is now the remodeled Beach House Café under new ownership. John Mackey, proprietor for over forty years of Mackey’s Service station at the hub of downtown Old Greenwich, was a legend in his time, and universally known for his service and his smile. Son-in-law Peter Pennella continues the Mackey tradition of friendly dedication to customer needs.
Many other stores have lent stability and a hometown atmosphere to the Old Greenwich shopping area over the years, including Feinsod’s Hardware, formerly Sterling Watts Hardware, Alpine Pantry which makes some of the best sandwiches you will find anywhere, and Sam’s Wine and Liquor. John Martello, son of Sam and a former head of the Old Greenwich Merchants Association, pointed with pride to the standing clock on the sidewalk outside, paid for, he said, by the association’s members.
Yet times of late have not been easy for Old Greenwich merchants any more than for retail stores elsewhere. More empty storefronts than anyone can remember testify to the recession and Internet shopping. Not surprisingly, Just Books on Arcadia Road went the way of many independent as well as chain book stores. Most landlords have been realistic and adjusted their rents to accommodate tenants faced with lower revenues. Unfortunately, a few shortsightedly raised the rent and lost their tenants. Such was the case with Housewarmers, a store that featured attractive mid-priced home furnishings and accessories — forced to close its doors in the face of the landlord’s demand for an excessive rent increase. Empty stores represent lost income for the landlords, and also have a negative impact on the entire shopping area.
Still, Old Greenwich offers an attractive and convenient venue that satisfies a variety of shopping needs. Sound Beach Avenue is pedestrian friendly, and there is generally adequate parking available with no parking meters. Many of the retailers are doing as well or better than their counterparts elsewhere, and changes are in the offing. One is the Arcadia Coffee Shop’s application for a license to serve wine and beer. Robert Guerrieri, an ardent booster of Old Greenwich, is the owner of Arcadia and also owns the Upper Crust Bagel Shop. Says Guerrieri of Arcadia, “This is a large facility to be dedicated just to serving coffee, and we want to make this a modestly priced, family restaurant.” (Aren’t we relieved it’s not another bank!)
But for many, Old Greenwich is not just a shopping destination. Large numbers turn out for the traditional Memorial Day Parade, the Fourth of July fireworks in Binney Park, the annual sidewalk art show, and the First Light evening celebration in December. Some may even remember the colorful bedstead races down Sound Beach Avenue. Old Greenwich is a town with character and spirit!