This original article ran in the October 8th Edition of the Citizen News, a local newspaper serving Sherman and New Fairfield, Connecticut.
By Alicia Sakal
In our small New England town of Sherman, many local people know Mike Luzi as “one of the nicest guys ever, who runs the Sherman IGA”. For longtime residents, if they really think hard enough, they may actually be able to count the years he first opened the store. As for newer residents, the total count happens to be 30 years of amazing service and dedication to the Town of Sherman.
What is common knowledge in our community is that Mike provides residents with a convenient market and deli with “something for everyone”, his selection is expansive, and he’ll special order anything for you. He also has the friendliest of employees on earth that will help you out. As for the countless fundraising initiatives in Sherman, plenty of people know that Mike provides food and beverages at cost and is always their go-to person.
Mike directly touches the lives of families and residents in need, especially during economic downturns, and he is synonymous with local charity. Mike also provides much needed food and organizes food drives on their behalf. In addition, as if this weren’t enough on his list of good deeds, Mike makes donations to local nonprofit charities that help to further support many noble causes in the community. No wonder why the Office of the First Selectman declared this Saturday, Oct. 11 as the official “Mike Luzi Appreciation Day”.
When asked how he picked Sherman as his new store location 30 years ago, Mike replied, “I was already running another grocery store in Winsted, Connecticut at the time and just happened to read in the newspaper about a grocery store that was for sale. The next thing I know, I found myself jumping in the car and heading to Sherman.” The rest is history, as the saying goes, and Mike immediately fell in love with the store, the building, and the Town of Sherman.
He quickly became the new, proud owner of the Sherman IGA. “Family and friends helped me to clean, paint, and stock the store,” he said. Literally, three weeks after receiving the keys to the storefront, the Sherman IGA doors re-opened for business. Mike recalls opening day vividly and knew instantly that he made the right decision. “Much to the relief of the town, they welcomed me with open arms.
Mike commutes from Bantam where, even during inclement weather, like with Hurricane Sandy and other major storms over the past years in which the town lost power, Mike was there with his doors open for business. “I mostly open the store myself. I leave home at 4:30 A.M. and I usually arrive at the store around 5:00 A.M.” The store’s official hours are 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. seven days a week, year-round. The one-and-only day the Sherman IGA is not open is on Christmas Day because Mike keeps a promise that he made to his Mom decades ago.
Mike takes pride in his early morning ritual which consists of meeting people for deliveries, lining up the newspapers, getting the bakery going to make the bread, and making the coffee for his customers. A “Day in the life of Mike” starts with the first shift of customers around 6:00 A.M. “I must say, the Sherman IGA is the preferred meeting place for the majority of the local contractors like the town’s construction workers, painters, and floor sanding guys. They come in for coffee and talk about the day and weather. They even come here to network with each other and have formed a group,” said Mike energetically.
The second shift of shoppers Mike sees are the moms and dads that suddenly realize they ran out of sandwich meats for their children’s school lunches, and they come into the store in a panic. The commuters also come in at this time to buy newspapers before heading out to the train station. “It is routine to see mothers doing their shopping while the kids are in school. Then there’s the after 5:00 wave of parents with their children that need to shop for sporting events, or people just stopping in to shop after working all day,” said Mike.
“The Sherman IGA is a hometown market, a meeting spot, and is the center of the town. People, my customers, come to me with all kinds of issues and I just want to be there for them. It can be anything: a loss in the family, children having problems, someone needs food. I also love helping all of the nonprofits like the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, and I just love to do good things for the community. The people feel like the Sherman IGA is their very own private store.”
As for Mike’s other charitable causes, aside from the 12 listed in the Mike Luzi Appreciation Day Proclamation, he donates to other nonprofits outside of the Town of Sherman. For well over 30 years, he has supported the Special Olympics. His store is also a major contributor to the Connecticut Food Bank. Last year, this nonprofit picked up 6,000 pounds of food just from the Sherman IGA to support their cause for feeding one out of every seven people who go to bed hungry in this state. “They couldn’t believe it and how beyond generous our small town community is,” Mike declared with pride. Once a month, and with the help of many others, he also helps feed 40 to 50 homeless people in New Milford.
As for the challenges Mike faces as a small town business owner, there are plenty that worry him. He said, “I’ve had some great days and good years, but right now, this location struggles. It’s a sign of the times when you see all of the small businesses around us that closed. Factor in the added costs of running a local business, like increased taxes, it’s not easy but I love it because I am an integral part of this community.”
When asked what more we can do as a community to give back to him, Mike confided, “I need your support for my business and your loyalty. Please come into my store and shop whenever you need something. Support your local businesses in town because once the small shops are gone, they are gone forever. The big stores are gobbling us up. In order to be successful, we all have to work together.”
Mike also discussed how important it is in real estate to have a local grocery store in town. He thinks that if the Sherman IGA didn’t exist, then some potential buyers may choose other small towns. “Sherman is a sought after town to live in. Realtors showing homes for sale always stop here. In order to make and keep Sherman as a desirable New England town, my store and supporting it is very important in making the decision to move here.”
For all of these reasons, and then some, the Office of the First Selectman is honoring Mike and recognizing him for his years of service and dedication to our community. Whenever you have a minute Saturday, October 11th try to make a special trip to the Sherman IGA to say “thank you” to Mike for everything he does for the people of Sherman. You never know when you or a neighbor may one day need his help.
Business owner. Local humanitarian. Person with a heart of solid gold. Now, this is an exceptional human being and Sherman is beyond lucky to have Mike Luzi. Thank you, Mike, for embracing our Town.