Saturday, January 31, 2004
Edwin William Mitchell, who with his wife Norma founded Mitchells of Westport clothing store in 1958 and saw it grow into a multi-million dollar regional retail powerhouse, died today after a brief illness. He was 98.
His death at a Fairfield residence for the elderly two months short of his 99th birthday was announced by the Mitchell family.
Mitchell, whose retail expertise drew attention from universities and business groups but was best known locally for his devotion to his community, had recently been hospitalized at Norwalk Hospital. He was a resident of Westport and Pompano Beach, Fla.
A framed picture of him was placed in the store on Post Road East where arriving customers saw it upon their entry and flags outside were lowered to half staff.
Westport First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell said all of Westport shared the Mitchell family loss.
“The Mitchell family has been scions of this community for three generations,” she told WestportNow. “Ed was one of the most kind-hearted, good natured, successful entrepreneurs that I have ever known.
“He has left a legacy of success and community spirit through his children, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“He will be missed and Im glad that the Mitchell name will continue to play a prominent role in the Westport community.Ҕ
Rep. Christopher Shays also mourned Mitchaell’s loss. “Ed Mitchell has become an icon in Fairfield County and beyond,” he said in a statement.
“He and his family established one of the premier clothing stores in the country, based on the principles of outstanding value, quality and service.
“Most important, he was a man who was a strong leader with a kind heart. He was a blessing to Westport and his life deserves only to be celebrated.”
In 1995, Mitchells acquired Richards of Greenwich, the leading mens clothing store in Greenwich. In 2001, MR Magazine, the magazine of Menswear retailing, named Mitchells/Richards Retailer of the Year.
When Ed Mitchell opened his store in Westport in 1958, his company was built on providing customer service that exceeded his clients’ expectations.
The retailer knew all of his customers personally and could recall what each bought for their wardrobe.
The second and third generations of the Mitchell family now run the stores, including Jack, the chief executive officer; his brother Bill, who is president, and five sons.
Sales today exceed $60 million annually—especially impressive considering that Westport and Greenwich have a combined population of under 100,000.
Outstanding service remains the key differentiator that keeps customers coming back to Mitchells.
The more than 187,000 customers of the Westport and Greenwich stores make up a loyal customer base that includes a virtual Who’s Who list of executives from corporate America.
“Dad was two months short of his 99th birthday. He had a tremendously full and rich life,” Bill Mitchell told WestportNow. Ed Mitchell’s picture sits on a Mitchells counter today as son, Bill, takes condolence calls at rear. WestportNow.com photo
“The family is sad yet tremendously grateful for all he has given not only to our family but also to the communities of Westport, Wilton, Weston and beyond.
“Many people will remember him on behalf of his efforts for the community.”
In 1958 at age 53, he and his wife founded Ed Mitchell’s, a small men’s and boy’s clothing store in Westport.
Norma Mitchell died 10 years ago after almost 60 years of marriage, and Muriel, his second wife, died two months ago.
In addition to sons Jack and Bill and their wives, Linda and Sue, he is survived by grandsons Russ, Bob, Todd and Andrew, Scott, Chris, Tyler; in-laws Kathy, Karen, Rachel, Tara and Ali; and great-grandchildren Lyle, Bob, Kathleen, Lauren, Dana, Eleanor, Will, Elizabeth and Ryan.
Mitchell remained an active member of two churches—Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport where he was Deacon Emeritus, and First Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach.
He served on numerous community boards including Board of Trustees and as a director of the Westport/Weston YMCA, president of the Westport Rotary Club, the Westport Board of Finance, and president of American Field Service.
He also was one of the founders of the Westport Little League, a trustee of the Westport Youth Museum, the Staples High School Tuition Grants Committee, director of the Connecticut Retail Association and a member of the board of The United Fund.
He also received many community awards including YMCA Faces of Achievement Award, Sportsman’s of the Year Award, and the Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
A memorial celebration service has been set for Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. at Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport.
Posted 01/31/04 at 04:19 PM Permalink
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I’m so sorry, he was such a neat guy. I met him when we moved here in 1960 and his store was at the Post Road. and Compo Road in the old house there. Boy 43 years of living here brings back lots of memories. The best to all the family. He was a very special person.
A giant of a man, whose impact on Westport will live on for generations to come.
My two sisters and I all worked at Mitchells as we went through high school and college. A true honor to know the family and the patriarch that got the huge snowball rolling in the right direction.
Thoughts and prayers are with the Mitchell clan this week as they celebrate the life of a legend.
More than twenty years ago, I worked summers and school breaks at Ed Mitchells, mostly supporting the talented tailors and seamstresses in the onsite Tailor Shop. One of my tasks was to carefully open stitched-shut seams in men’s suit jacket pockets, following alterations. At first I wondered why Ed Mitchell paid me to do this, when customers could do it for themselves. But I quickly learned: I was carrying on the proud Mitchell Family tradition of giving customers more than they expect, when they least expect it. In this case, my job was to assure that customers avoided frustration the first time they pocketed items in their new suit jackets. Little thing? Maybe. But Ed Mitchell built a thriving business by understanding that it’s the little things that count. His legacy lives on, every time a member of the Mitchells/Richards Family delights another customer.