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Saving the beloved building.

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Old Mill Grocer, 100 Years Later

History, Community, and Fond Memories of Illicit Candy Purchases

Historically, the building’s not remarkable. George Washington never slumbered beneath its beams. No famous film used it as a set. Unassuming architecture by today’s standards. Lousy parking. But ask almost any Westport resident - they’ll insist it’s one of the most important places in town.

Which is a heady remark about a place that sells toilet paper and turkey sandwiches.

This past March, Elvira Mae’s was days away from the proverbial wrecking ball. As most of you know, Elvira Mae’s was the deli and coffee shop in the Compo neighborhood, near Old Mill Beach, housed in the aforementioned building that saw thousands of Westporters and their offspring drag sand onto its floor in pursuit of ice cream cones and burgers.

WLM learned of its potential demise from über resident Dan Woog’s blog ( We also learned about the folks who challenged themselves to save the modest store, keeping it alive for future generations of wayward kids trying to buy candy bars without their parents’ permission.

First, a quick history as best as I can cobble it together*: Old Mill Grocer (OMG) opened in the 1920’s as a local grocery, then was quickly renamed Old Mill Grocery & Deli (OMGD). This is waaayy back when coastal property wasn’t prized as it is today (one homeowner decried his beachfront real estate as “too moist.”)

OMGD then sold the grocery to Kenny around 1931. Kenny’s became the store where teens and adults alike scored their cigarettes and Fanta.

Kenny was infamous for his lack of hygiene. Says Jim Hood, “One guy who knew him said, ‘Did you know Kenny kept his lawn mower in his bathtub? Because he never used his lawn mower and he never took a bath.’”

What no one knew then is Kenny was saving his soap money for loftier endeavors. Dan writes “When he died, he left hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Westport YMCA.”

When Kenny passed around 1983, three realtors purchased his estate - two homes and the store. After, let’s hope, decontaminating it, they leased the store to Peter’s Market, then to Stacey and Nick Yiozanakos who transformed it into the much-adored Elvira’s. Named after the matriarch’s sister who died at age 38, it became the go-to place for passersby and, according to Dan, “residents who rely {sic} on it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, conversation, gossip.”

Thousands of kids - many now adults - grew up going to the market throughout its numerous permutations. Ian Warburg reminisces “…this little joint has been an epicenter of sorts for me for my entire life. [I] Loved sneaking in there with my pals to get forbidden treats when we were kids, with the spare change we were able to scrounge up from around our houses and parent’s cars.” Jim, a 30-year resident of Westport, stopped by with his big, fluffy dog, Koda, “every day that I wasn’t traveling.” Ask almost anyone who loves the area and they’ll have a favorite memory.

Now, in the years that this market was busy being a market, the neighborhood around it became residential. The building stands on old soil that’s grandfathered into a clause permitting the site to be commercial. However, should one develop the property for a homeowner, the site can no longer sell so much as a dill pickle again.

But the seller would make a boatload of money. So the owners of the dirt beneath Elvira’s decided to go full-on house build. Then “neighbors got very rowdy” about losing their store. So with the help and understanding of their neighbors, Stacey and Nick purchased the site.

In 2008, Elvira’s was “struggling to keep the lights on.” The neighbors rallied, pre-funding accounts to help them keep it open, lest they lose their beloved grocery and deli to a resident hopeful.

In 2018 Nick was ready to retire and put it up for sale. The ‘hood twitched. Fortunately, new residents Hal and Betsy Kravitz swooped in and purchased it when the price leveled out. Why? “Because we’re crazy,” laughs Hal. Plus they loved its charm and history.

They appended Betsy’s middle name, Mae, to the sign: Elvira Mae’s, creating an unintended Mistress of Macabre-meets-Mary Ann homage to the past owners and the new. After a year in business they partnered with Joey Romano, changing the name to Joey’s by the Shore - Featuring Elvira Mae’s Coffee Bar. Catchy! But the neighbors loved Joey’s and Elvira Mae’s had great coffee, so…

But in December 2021, Ian, Jim, and Chris noticed a “For Sale” sign on JBTSFEMCB. The Kravitzes were moving and, despite months of searching, couldn’t find a buyer.

So the trio, with Tommy Febbraio and Emily Zobl, floated to Betsy and Hal a possible community purchase of JBTSFEMCB.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea,” remarks Hal. But realistic? Hmm… Lacking concrete alternatives, the couple reluctantly began talks with residential developers.

Not so fast, developers. Around January 2022 the quintet girded their coins, resolving to purchase the antique store, the outward appearance of which hasn’t changed in 100 years. To do so, they had to raise $1.3 million by a deadline of April 1.

They quickly readied their team, including Sophie Pollman and Scott Kobak, and began the race to rescue OMG.

While busily raising funds, they also researched local delis and grocers. One of them being The Porch at Christie’s, also in a historic building (1926), which the Pecoriellos successfully revitalized last year. They noted Porch’s prized Sweet P Bakery in which they train and employ developmentally and intellectually disabled adults.

This was their A-ha! moment: the new iteration of OMG would employ this same population and they’d apply for nonprofit status.

They reached out to Margie Jacobson and Marina Derman, mothers of challenged adult children. Margie’s response: “When I heard you were saving the market, I wanted to be involved. When I heard you were hiring people with disabilities, I had to be involved.”

Writes Marina, the mother of two autistic adult sons, “My son, who has autism, is one of the lucky ones who does have a job.* His job is the centerpiece of his weekly schedule. He’s so proud to work there, and is a faster and more productive worker than many of his peers.”

Meanwhile, donations rolled in from all over town.

But on March 26, while the deadline sharpened its fangs in preparation for the kill, the OMG team was short $325,000. They bought donuts and coffee, installed themselves in the empty Elvira Mae’s, and invited the public to an old-fashioned chat’n’chew’n’chip in. A strategy as timeless as the structure itself.

By March 31 they raised the last few thousand bucks. Over 500 individuals from all over Westport and beyond gave money to save the grocery. Of these, 100 people donated a million. 400 people gave the rest, with amounts as little as $10.

That night I like to imagine that the now-septet cried, laughed, held hands and tried to sing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Few were as happy as the Kravitzes, “Fantastic! Oh, we were so relieved! It’s unbelievable what they did.” Then Hal happily concedes, “It’s going to be way better than what it was, certainly better than what we’d be doing.”

The new name is Old Mill Grocery & Deli (get it?). There’s a long way to go - more funds, infrastructure, logistics - but they’ve cleared a big hurdle thanks to Westport strong.

It would be wonderful to go back to the 1920’s and tell the OMG owners how important their store will be to hundreds of thousands of Westporters. 100 years from now, it would be wonderful if they knew the lengths people went to save it.

*He works Garden Catering, New Haven

  • "The Team"
  • Kenny
  • Old Mill Grocer
  • Old Mill Grocery & Deli
  • Saving the beloved building.
  • An old marketing leaflet found tacked to a wall.
  • A painting, presumably to celebrate the Yiozanakos' purchase of the grocery. "today the whole building remembers. 6/14/98.