25 years may not seem like a long time, but in a place like Greenpoint/Williamsburg, where the streets and avenues see businesses open and close on a weekly basis, for a mom n’ pop shop like Cato’s Army and Navy, a quarter-century of success is quite an accomplishment.
The Veneziano family bought the storefront in 1975, after Tony Veneziano—whose son Ed now runs the shop—needed a side project; According to his son he never had fewer than two jobs. Working at ExxonMobil occupied most of his time, but on the side he would operate small mobile amusement park rides that traveled on wheels throughout Brooklyn. As he grew older, he became unable to lift the machinery, and had to retire from his post. Instead, he decided to go into retail, and opened Cato’s Army and Navy, on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.
“25 years ago, Manhattan Avenue was in decline, so we found the storefront,” Veneziano said. He inherited the business six years ago, and has been in charge ever since, though he splits the responsibilities with his mother Marion. “It was amazingly courageous for my father to open this business, because nobody in my family had any retail experience at all. But 25 years later, here we are!
Ed Veneziano was born in Bushwick, but spent the majority of his childhood in Middle Village, Queens, where his family moved when he was very young. He’s since moved out of the city—he commutes into Greenpoint from Long Island every day—the Garden Spot is, and has always been, something of a second home to the Venezianos. After a steady career in Human Resources at Arthur Andersen, a consulting firm that was fatally damaged amidst the Enron debacle, Veneziano turned his attention toward the family business, and the Greenpoint community.
“The opportunity presented itself to me, and I’m still here!” he said. “My mother is also still as involved as ever. Sometimes I feel like this is a senior citizens center, because all of mom’s friends come into Cato’s and chat. After George’s closed, we became the oldest business on the block.”
Cato’s Army and Navy had been providing Greenpointers with T-shirts and slacks, cargo pants and army attire since before brands were popular, but as culture and demographics in the neighborhood continue to change and shift, the Venezianos have managed to stay relevant—something Ed attributes to the small town, family-style feel of their business. The Venezianos are also involved in the Greenpoint Business Association—Ed sits on the steering committee. Even the name itself—Cato’s—is a testament to the ethic of small, family business. It is the combination of Tony Veneziano’s name and his son’s: Carl. “We wanted to combine their names,” Marion Veneziano said. “But we couldn’t call it Taco. So, we called it Cato!”
“Our involvement in the community is what makes a business like ours unique,” Ed said. “Every year we contribute to places like Toys for Tots, and the Greenpoint Lions, the Memorial Day parade, the list goes on—there are literally hundreds. We are a part of this community, and we have to show our appreciation and support for it.”
“As demographics change and high rises come in, we are all at risk,” he continued. “But we don’t want to stop progress, we just want to protect what Greenpoint is: a village, a wonderful, family, mom n’ pop atmosphere.”
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