DANBURY — As a child, Peter V. Scalzo slept on the couch in the living room of his parents’ Danbury home, tended the animals and garden that provided their food, and watched how his relatives ran their businesses.
Those observations and that emphasis on hard work led Scalzo, the son of first-generation Americans, to turn his father’s company into one of the most popular appliance stores in the area.
Today, the he lives on a five-acre property in Brookfield, his son runs a real estate company and Scalzo Appliances still exists, although his family no longer owns it.
He served in the Coast Guard during the Korean War and has been active in the local religious community.
“We live in a great country,” Scalzo said. “People don’t realize it. People talk against it, but we live in a great country. No one could have had the opportunity that they (my parents) had and I had.”
In recognition of these successes, the 87-year-old will receive the 2019 American Dream Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony on Sept. 21. He will be among several recipients of awards or scholarships from the New American Dream Foundation.
Other recipients are immigrants like Juan Vasquez, a veteran who serves as quartermaster of the Danbury Veterans of Foreign Wars.
But Scalzo’s award goes to a community leader attune to his or her cultural heritage, said Emanuela Palmares, vice president of The New American Dream Foundation and editor-in-chief of Tribuna newspaper in Danbury.
The award is meant to show the “ripple effect” one American dream has had on the Danbury area and inspire young people recognized at the ceremony to make a similar impact, she said.
“The purpose of the category itself is to show the community that everyone has an immigrant story, whether it is four decades old or four days old,” Palmares said.
Scalzo’s parents were born in the United States, but their families came from the same village in Italy. His dad’s family had to return to Italy after his father was born because of a paperwork mistake, but settled in Danbury afterward.
Scalzo grew up on White Street surrounded by other Italian immigrants. The neighborhood knew him as “squeaky” because of his noisy bicycle. If he did anything bad at school, he would be spanked by his neighbors on his walk home, his son, Peter A. Scalzo, recalled his father saying.
Neighbors were knit together because, especially in the Great Depression, no one had much money, Peter V. Scalzo said.
“We didn’t have anything,” he said. “We just worked hard.”
His mother ran a grocery store and his aunt a liquor store, while his dad was a refrigerator mechanic for the Rider Dairy Company and started Scalzo Appliances. His father never went to trade school, but could fix anything.
“It just came to him,” he said. “It was a gift from God.”
He said he learned how to fix appliances from his dad and how to “romance” customers from his mother.
His focus on customer service and affordable prices helped build the company, which at one time had 40 employees and stores in Newington, Cheshire and Southington, among other locations.
“They were the go-to appliance business for years upon years,” said Peter A. Scalzo, the son. “If you asked someone on the street, ‘Where do you buy your kitchen appliances?’, the survey showed Scalzo was above Sears.”
In the 1950s, Peter V. Scalzo and his wife bought five acres in Brookfield for $3,750 and built a house on the land.
“It was heaven — heaven on earth,” he said.
In 2004, he tore down that house and replaced it with a modular home, where he lives with his second wife. His first wife, who he had four children with, died in 2005.
Over the years, he and his father purchased various property throughout the Danbury area, while his son, Paul Scalzo, started the Scalzo Group, a real estate business.
Peter V. Scalzo eventually sold Scalzo Appliances to one of his employees. The company is still in business, but no longer offers retail because it could not compete with big box stores, he said.
He has been involved in various local churches, starting a group that trains chaplains to visit nursing homes. He also brought Luis Palau, an international evangelist, to speak in the area.
“I wanted everyone to know Jesus,” he said.
These efforts to spread faith is one example of how he has impacted the community, said Dianne Yamin, a Danbury probate judge who nominated him.
She said he exemplifies the American dream,
“He has really blessed the community with his hard work and his love of family,” Yamin said.
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