As Time Goes By For Rye’s Longtime Merchants
A good thing to do at the start of every year is to take a walk through town. Have a good look at all the small businesses that make Rye the great place it is.
A good thing to do at the start of every year is to take a walk through town. Have a good look at all the small businesses that make Rye the great place it is. If you’re new to town, you might not know that many of these businesses are older than the average resident – and still thriving.
Many have changed the way they do business and the kinds of services they offer to keep up with the times. They’ve been here in good times and bad, and they’re still smiling.
Starting with this issue, we celebrate all the businesses that have been in Rye for more than a decade.
T.D.’s Rye Smoke Shop
Peggy and Tony D’Onofrio retired from the dry-cleaning trade over four decades ago, with the intention of moving on to a business that allowed them to work together. In 1970 they found the perfect fit in the Rye Smoke Shop, and effectively became the heart of downtown. Now helmed by Peggy and Tony Jr., Tony Sr. passed away 16 years ago, the duo says it’s the customers who keep coming back that make the business special. Added Tony Jr., “One day I’ll never forget is when Eddie Olczyk brought the Stanley Cup into the store after the Rangers won in 1994. He took pictures with all the kids, and I even got in one.” The classic shot is taped on the wall behind the counter, next to the hundreds of photo cards sent in by loyal and loving patrons.
Rob Porto’s uncle and father started the business in 1947. “It’s a totally different business today, but we’re still a resource for the community and I really feel a commitment to this community. My wife Anya and I and Pedro , who’s been with us for a few years, help people with custom printing, give them advice on digital. We don’t sell a lot of film these days but we still sell a lot of cameras and lenses and equipment and we enjoy being in the conversion business. I’m so glad we decided to keep running the business after my father passed away. I have to say I also enjoy the occasional celebrity sighting. I was here the day Kurt Russell came in to shop for a camera.
Members of The Twig organization opened a little shop on Elm Place in 1947 to support United Hospital. The business blossomed and they moved to The Arcade Building on Purchase Street in the 1960s. When the hospital closed, the Twig reorganized and ever since has been a keen supporter of the Rye-Rye Brook-Port Chester EMS. Two years ago, the Twig shop moved to a quaint building on Smith Street. The 30 women that work at the shop, said Anita Schwarz, one of the oldest members, “enjoy one another, hunting for antiques, silver, and furnishings, arranging everything in the shop, and donating the proceeds to the EMS. Our group meets monthly and we’re not just having coffee and cake. We’re also very good customers. It’s a great place to buy something for your own home or a friend’s.”
When Rob Rogers’ grandfather didn’t get the promotion he thought he deserved from Nye-wait Floors in Auburn, he decided to start his own business. With his son, Ted, who’d gone to college to study animal husbandry but became a trainee in a carpet store in New Rochelle because he wanted to work in the same business as his father, they started Carpet Trends in 1955. They rented a shop for $90 a month on School Street. Soon, Augusta Rogers, Ted’s mom, a realtor who had a flair for decorating, joined the business. That flair helped the store take off. Rob started working there summers and school vacations, learned how to clean carpets at a facility on Second Street, and enjoyed the physical labor. He was working for Union Carbide in their automotive division after college when his father asked him to come back and work for him. That was 1985. In 1995, he bought the business from his parents. “I guess that was one of my most memorable years.” He enjoys owning his own business — “that’s a big motivator in getting me to work every day, along with having five children! — and loves satisfying the customers. He’s happy that his son Tyler is working along with him now. Carpet Trends has been a family business from the start.
Sam Moy, a 1968 graduate of Rye High School, has been with Fong’s since the very beginning. Once located in Sunrise Pizza’s space, the ever-reliable dry cleaning business moved to its corner at Elm and Theodore Fremd when Sam took over for his father, See Ngum Moy, in 1969. Sam and his wife, Lili, along with their son, Eric, are still there today, and bring a smile to every resident’s face they come across. “We have some of the same customers my father had,” said Sam. Added Eric, “We’re talking 40 or 50 years. Time waits for no one, but that’s a true testament to the service we’ve provided for decades.” Eric noted that a customer came in a few years ago, and presented the family with a ball of string collected from years of dry cleaning packages. “The customer was moving to a retirement home. It was a very happy and sad moment in many ways.”
Rye Country Store
Christopher Colalucci and Claire Hassi-Rivas purchased the Rye Country Store, which was once known as the Rye Meat Market, from Vincent Spinelli in 1987, and eventually moved it from where Cosi is located to its current spot. “We took over two weeks before Christmas,” said Colalucci. “What do they call it? Baptism by fire.” Of the many memories of time spent at the store, Colalucci said there were two sides to that coin. “The floods stand out, but so does meeting all the interesting people and celebrities like Joe Torre and Ed McMahon.
It was John Passarelli’s sister who got him into the hair salon business. “I was just a teenager who wanted to be a singer and she told me to do something with my life while I was waiting.” He loves getting in the shop early and making preparations for the day — sweeping outside the shop, making sure the place is even cleaner than he left it the night before, and brewing coffee for the customers, many of whom come in early too. I’m here because of all the great people, their children and grandchildren. And I wouldn’t be here without all the great ‘girls’ who’ve been working with me forever.
Rye Art Gallery & Framing
Anthony and Steve Francella’s father Anthony worked for his uncle, who had a framing business. In 1972, he decided to start a business of his own with his wife Pat. They settled on Rye and are so happy they did. The ‘boys’ took over from their parents seven years ago, and agree that the best time they’ve had was the week they took off to renovate the space. They’ve made a few changes, notably making it a more traditional gallery, featuring the works of a number of fine local artists, like sculptor Bob Clyatt. “Offering a good product and good service is very satisfying work, and we work with a lot of interesting art.”
Pat Porto was teaching art when her father, a photographer and owner of Rye Camera, said, “We really should go into the framing business!” She loves the design part of her job as much as working with customers on framing everything from an old family photo to a Miro. Her most memorable day, and one of the saddest for her now, is the day Steve McDonnell came to work for her. They were the closest of companions until his death, and she misses him every day.
What got John Johnston into the meat market business was the recession of 1975. He’d studied journalism in college but wanted and needed a full-time job. He learned the meat business, liked it, and bought an established market in Rye in 1978. The fact that his wife, Jackie, who works alongside him, grew up in the business is a big help. What keeps John, pictured with his son Dan, going is “Coffee and our customers.”
Alex Policicchio has been around pizza his entire life, as well as a fixture in lives of many Rye residents. He greets all as “My friend”, and it’s hard not to feel the same about the warm-hearted Calabria native. “This is my life,” he said. “My entire family cooks and makes pizza, and there is nowhere I’d rather do it than in this nice town.” He’s been doing just that since 1982, when he opened Sunrise as a teenager with his older brother. Some 30 years later, and it’s clear he is a master of his trade. Just try that Chicken Alla Vodka Pizza. My word!
As an art teacher who was really interested in her subject, Beverly Sansone transitioned into the framing business with ease and style. She started off with a partner but has been on her own for many years. When the storefront that she’s in on Purchase Street became available she jumped at the space, envisioning it as a gallery — with vintage jewelry and the work of local artists. “Art and framing go together.” She’s pleased to have been able to frame so many beautiful photographs, watercolors, and oils, while getting to know so many customers. For her, the business is getting better every year, despite the economy, because as clients adjust, she adjusts along with them.
“It’s a sociable business, I get to talk to my friends every day,” said Jim Finneran, the longtime proprietor of The Pub, on why his Elm Place watering hole keeps him happy after all these years. Finneran noted the old railway car got to be home after a while, and the same could be said for his customers. “It’s a fun place where people get to argue the same things every day: Yankees or Mets, Jets or Giants. But there is only one hockey team – the Rangers!”
A longtime downtown fixture, Gerri Piovesan ditched her ice cream scoop and bounded across the street from Baskin-Robbins in 1984 to purchase, along with her father, what would become Poppy’s Café. “This is a beautiful town, and a we know a lot of our customers by name. It’s a comfortable place and we enjoy working here and with each other.” She said working on Purchase Street was most magical when Rye held First Night on New Year’s Eve, an alcohol-free community event that culminated in a midnight surprise.
Lori Friedman started her women’s retail clothing business in Scarsdale and opened a Rye branch in 1985. “She has an incredible eye,” says store manager Hayden Maitre, “and we’ve been around so long because we offer an eclectic mix of sporty and dressy, and go against the one-brand world. The sales team knows their customer base — and their tastes and wardrobes — well and work to accommodate their every need. They hope this year will be as good as 2010.
Charlie’s Shoe Repair
Charlie Nam’s nook of a shop has given Rye some of its throwback charm for over a quarter-century, but it’s the cobbler’s service that has made him a downtown mainstay. Although he says nearly every day is the same for a shoemaker, his customers always bring a smile to his face.
In search of a job, Aram Atmaca went to his cathedral in New York City, and the only work they could find for him was as a spotter’s apprentice. That’s how he got into the dry cleaning business. He opened Falcon Cleaners on Purdy Avenue in 1986 and loves every day of work — because of the customers he has gotten to know and help out of a spot or two. His most memorable day on the job was when he had to deal with an inkload explosion. “I learned a valuable lesson that day: check every pocket!”
Rye Grill & Bar
“This place is all about family,” said Michael Fabry, the manager of the Rye classic. And as true as that statement is, most don’t know the half of it. Michael met his wife while working there, as did longtime bartender Brendan McKiernan. “It’s a great meeting place,” added Michael. “You can jump off the train and meet your friends. We also accommodate the kids. It’s just always been a fantastic place with a top-notch family atmosphere.”
Stanley’s Custom Tailoring
You would be hard-pressed to find someone who is more of a gentleman in Rye than Stanislaw Szewczyk. The Poland native was a three-time champion in his field, besting over 400 tailors each time, before coming to the United States 23 years ago. But, the heart of this champion belongs to Rye now. “I love my job and I love the people here,” he said. “I’m more than happy to do anything – from A to Z – for my customers.” With 52 years in the business, his father was also a tailor, Stanley can truly do it all – from clothing for the Cracow Philharmonic to historical garments and down to the simplest of alterations. “There is nothing better than to see a customer in town, smiling, happy, and feeling good wearing the clothes I tailored.”
Hanni’s Fine Jewelry
A lover of fashion, beautiful things, jewelry, and people, Hanni Ackerman got into the business because her husband is in the diamond business. She loves being in the center of town, but above Purchase Street, on the third floor at No. 35-37, where she moved nine years ago. “Being upstairs gives me and customers a lot of privacy. My clients can sit up here in comfort and take their time choosing the right design.” What keeps her going? “The personal relationships I’ve developed. I know these families — through births, christenings, weddings, anniversaries, and grandchildren.”
Rye Eye Care
Throughout his education, Steve Bloom was interested in biology and science. “I had a family member who was a physician who was an early role model. After I graduated college I spent a semester in grad school studying neurophysiology, but quickly learned that I missed the human interactions. I followed an upper classman into optometry because it gave me my science fix and allowed me to interact with people on a daily basis.” He opened Rye Eye Care on Purdy Avenue in 1994 and moved to Purchase Street in 2000. One of his best years was 2010, when they expanded, which “now allows me to take care of our patients in the manner they deserve. I am very lucky that I work with an extremely talented staff, two of whom are my wife and daughter, and can be practicing and living in a community as wonderful as Rye. I have developed amazing relationships and my early younger patients have now grown and are bringing their children to me.”
David Schulman has been in the optical business for a little under 30 years. Originally wishing to enter the financial sector with an MBA, he was swayed by his older brother – a physics student – who directed his eyes elsewhere. “Putting a pair of glasses on someone’s face and seeing them react with a big smile, knowing I did the job properly, that is without a doubt what keeps me happy.” Schulman loves meeting the bright and successful people of Rye, and enjoys it even more when they return to his Rye establishment, part of a five-store chain.
The Best Little Hair Salon
Husband-and-wife team Don Mirello and Jonna Crispens closed a salon nearby in 1997 when they discovered the unique space overlooking Purchase Street. “I knew moving here was going to be either a great move or a big mistake!” said Mirello with a laugh. The pair is going strong 15 years later, pointing to their focus on hair and color expertise. “Rye is fabulous,” said Don. “And it’s a pleasure to be a part of the lives of the most fashionable women in Westchester.”
Andrew Levy got into the dry-cleaning business through a friend, and has never looked back. “Every day here has been pretty good,” said Levy, who grew up in Westchester. “I have no complaints! The customers keep me coming back. The people in this town are great, and I’ve loved watching their children grow up.”