The late Steve Brighenti embodied hard work, friendly service
By John Fitts
In early 2020, a visit to Avon Appliance might well have felt like a trip back in time, with prominent wood paneling straight out a 1970s suburban basement, a paper-based point of sale system, decades old flooring and a proprietor that believed in hard work, quality service and, most of all, a personal connection.
When Stephen (Stefano) “Steve” Brighenti died Sept. 10, 2020 just shy of age 92, he had only just a few months earlier, and simply due to declining health, stopped working.
“He just loved to work,” said Michael Brighenti, his son and long-time business partner. “He was six-days-a-week for 70 years.”
The Brighenti family is well known in numerous local business ventures and Steve Brighenti quietly partnered with his late brother Silvio in several, including Classic Hotels of Connecticut, where Steve Brighenti often enjoyed an early morning coffee and newspaper.
But Avon Appliance always held a strong place in his heart and he continued to come to work as long as he could, even when the profits weren’t there.
Steve Brighenti started the business with his parents Jack and Charlotte in the mid 1940s, according to his obituary.
Its beginnings were humble, and in an area that was less affluent then, his father knew how to treat people, Michael Brighenti said.
“Back then when he started, no one had any money to pay for appliances, so you operated on a promise, an IOU and just your word,” he said. “At that point people would pay you weekly and he just had a paper trail.”
Deliveries were also humble as his dad and his friend Bud Phillips would load up the family station wagon, make their stops and then often enjoy a couple of beers and pool games at a local tavern.
As the business grew, of course, and soon it had two delivery people, two electricians and two secretaries.
Some, such as Steve’s childhood friend and secretary Margaret McGuire stayed for decades.
It also became a family business as Michael started after graduating in high school in 1974. Another son, Steven, worked there right after college and son Gary worked on deliveries for the past 15 years or so, Michael Brighenti said.
In the early days, Steve Brighenti, who obtained an electrical contracting degree from Georgia Tech after serving in the U.S. Army in Korea at the end of World War II, would also do electrical contracting after hours.
The business changed some over the years, with the electrical contracting being phased out over time, but overall Brighenti was steadfast in his business approach.
“Nothing really changed in 70 years in the way he did business,” Michael Brighenti said.
Behind the scenes, that involved a little stubbornness and resistance to change. But while the store might have looked dated in recent years, another old-fashioned quality was perhaps its most enduring – that of personal attention.
“He was really friendly guy,” People came here because they liked him and he was very easy going and very, very low pressure,” Michael Brighenti said, adding that dealing with a customer generally involved more personal inquiry than it did sales talk.
“Two minutes of the conversation was buying a washing machine … and 10 minutes of the conversation was ‘how is Barb doing?’ or ‘how is Bill doing?’ Or ‘does your husband like his new job?’ … That was the majority of the conversation at a sale. … He’d talk to customers and ask about the family. It was more of a social thing.”
Dennis Berti of Avon was a long-time customer and said Brighenti offered the kind of service absent from today’s big box stores.
“He knew everybody that went into his business and you knew him on a personal level because he was very engaging,” Berti said. “Not only did he have a great business, he made you feel at home. Everybody got that kind of service.”
Brighenti also took care of his customers after the sale, Berti added.
“If you had a problem, he would send one of his sons to take care of it and that was the end of the discussion.”
Bernie Flannery, who grew up in Avon and now lives in New Hartford, also vouched for the late Brighenti’s personality.
“I’ve known Steve my entire life and he was a tremendous person and businessman,” he said, adding that he was “very generous, very kind and very, very helpful.”
Steve Brighenti’s obituary puts it this way, “He did business the old-fashioned way, reluctant to change, which was immediately apparent upon entering his store. Yet he knew where to find that fuse you needed amid thousands of boxes in no particular order in the basement of this Avon landmark.”
The landscape will eventually change. The retail store is closed and its exact future uncertain, but Michael Brighenti will carry on the service side of the business for some period of time.
He said his dad was OK with knowing the store itself would close, alluding to his easy-going nature about so many things.
And Steve Brighenti’s life wasn’t all work.
He and wife Arlene were married in 1954 and had five children. Sadly, she died in 1976.
“He quickly became the mother and the father,” Michael Brighenti said, adding that his dad became quite the cook and the family enjoyed hosting social gatherings and activities like the post-delivery late-night pizzas.
A faithful church goer, he was also a “proud” member of The Gildo T. Consolini Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3272 in Avon and loved the annual Memorial Day parades.
He loved to travel, garden and fish, his obit states and Michael said he also enjoy playing golf with a friend at the former Canton Golf Course, a town he knew well as he, like many in Avon at the time, graduated from Canton High School.
He was also a member of Prince Thomas of Savoy Society, The Italian Club for which his father Jack was a founding member. Steve Brighenti especially loved the dinner dances at the club, his son Michael said.
Steve Brighenti was certainly a key part of the fabric of Avon. As his children noted in his obituary, “He displayed his values by example of how he lived. He accepted people for who they were, treating people equally and kindly, and was genuinely interested in their story. With an amazing memory, he shared countless stories of Avon and family history. He had a wry sense of humor, a great smile, and loved to laugh. He never complained; he did what needed to be done, whatever came his way in life. He was never in a hurry, never asked for direction, but enjoyed meandering, eventually finding his way. He was a loyal friend and a devoted father and grandfather.” VL