First we received a mysterious comment on one of our posts about the state of the Wellesley retail landscape. A reader was wondering about Steven Varriale, owner of O’Neil Jeweler in Wellesley Square, and was addressing him by using The Swellesley Report comment thread as a conduit (not a bad strategy when trying to reach someone in town, actually): “Are you OK? Store empty. Hope you’re well.”
What could this mean? I wondered. Concerned about one of Wellesley Square’s most enduring business owners, I stopped by the venerable shop to see for myself.
I was greeted with a sign in the window that said, “Sorry for the inconvenience. We will reopen September 18. For inquiries, please see Andy next door at The Toy Shop.”
You bet I went next door to see Andy at The Toy Shop. After giving me the generalities, Andy connected me to the primary source by dialing Steve and handing the phone to me.
Turns out Varriale isn’t exactly OK. Health problems have forced him to temporarily close up shop, and when I say force, I mean force. Varriale is famous for his work ethic and is the quintessential shopkeeper, seldom missing a day of work in the 45 years that he’s owned O’Neil’s. But sometimes, even for someone as tough as diamonds, taking care of business means taking care of your health.
“I’ve had surgery on my legs,” Varriale told me. “I’m feeling great and I’m going to be back sooner than I thought, which is great. My brother has been going over a few days a week to help with anything urgent, and the store’s hours will be getting back to normal as we get to the end of the month.”
Meanwhile, Varriale has been ordered by his doctor — in strong terms — to rest and heal.
The best part about this story, of course, is that Varriale is following doctor’s orders and therefore will be back soon to take care of O’Neil’s, which his father owned and ran before him. Another great part of this story is the way Varriale and Andy are the types of next-door neighbors to each other that we should all strive to be with our own neighbors. They exchange pleasantries. They discuss the state of the neighborhood. And they’re there for each other when life’s inevitable bumps in the road present themselves.
Plus, they do every day what I hear over and over again that Wellesley wants: they run independently owned businesses that give the town authenticity and stave off a cookie-cutter feel that chains seem to usher in. Not to pile on chains, but Pinkberry pretty much ghosted Wellesley when it left Linden Square without so much as a handwritten sign in the window that said, “Thanks, it was fun while it lasted.”
Can you even imagine O’Neil’s or The Toy Shop leaving us that way, without even a backward glance? Me neither. It just isn’t in their customer service DNA profile. Yes, that’s a thing.
We’ll see you soon Steve.