Photograph by Julie Bidwell
Palmer’s began as a simple market on the Noroton Green in 1921, but as the family business closes in on a century of service, it celebrates its transformation to a shopping destination for prepared foods, flowers, baked goods, gifts and catering expertise. The company’s growth is impressive, but so is its commitment to the community. The Palmer family has been giving back to Darien since its founding and continues to do so today in new and creative ways. To learn more about the company’s civic philosophy, we talked with CINDY PALMER DEAN, a fourth-generation family member who co-owns the store with her cousin Greg Palmer.
You manage the giving program at Palmer’s. There must be many requests for donations. We try to support all of the organizations in town in some way. One thing we do each day is prepare a pickup for The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County. We’ve been doing this for a few years now. I got the idea when I was working late one night and saw the garbage going out, and with it, day-old baked goods. I said, no, that can’t happen. So I called the food bank. The only day they don’t pick up is Thursday, because we give the baked goods to St. Luke’s for its community supper. The church serves as many as 150 people at a time. I don’t think residents realize there’s such a need for food in this town. There are many hungry people living here.
How long have you been overseeing donations? For the past 10 years. My father [Rocco Palmer] managed it before I did. He was crazy for Darien and did a lot for the town, but he was always the quiet one in the background and didn’t ask for recognition. I didn’t see a lot of him during the week when I was growing up. He worked all day at the store and at night attended meetings. He was the president of both the Darien Chamber of Commerce and the Darien YMCA, helping to raise what was at the time a record amount of private funding for its expansion. He’d say “Whatever is good for Darien is good for Palmer’s.”
Sounds like giving is in the Palmer family DNA. Oh, yes. My grandfather [Joseph Palmer Sr.] was the same way. The Heights would not be here if not for him. He helped form the Noroton Heights Business Association in the mid-1950s when I-95 came through Darien and tore apart Noroton Green. The group helped local businesses relocate. I’ll never forget when he died, we had to have his wake at the DCA because so many people wanted to pay their respects. I couldn’t believe what an impact he had.
How does the Palmer family stay involved today? My cousin Greg and I are both active in town. He was recognized as Volunteer of the Year by the Darien Chamber of Commerce, and sits on the boards of the Darien Old Timers Athletic Association and Spring Grove Cemetery. He’s also president of The Noroton Heights Shopping Center, and is helping to spearhead redevelopment there. I’m active in my hometown of Redding, as well as in Darien, where I grew up. Like my father and grandfather, I’m a huge supporter of local nonprofits like Post 53.
Which fundraising initiatives are you excited about now? We’re proud to be sponsoring The Depot’s winter benefit in February. We want to go all out for them and we hope the community will come out for this organization. The Depot is an incredible resource for teens, who need it now more than ever. We’re always happy to partner with Person-to-Person, too, and other food banks. We actively collect for these organizations throughout the year, even in summer. People don’t always realize there’s a need for food at that time. We do a huge drive for kids left home alone to fend for themselves. We call it “School’s Out. Hunger Hurts.” We put together $10 bags filled with kid-friendly, easy-to-prepare meals and display them in the store. Customers pay for them and leave the bags with us; the food bank picks them up. We help communities beyond Darien, too. This past hurricane season, we collected and matched donations for Texas and Florida.
You work hard. Do your children Megan and Travis ever get to see you? Yes, because I work with them! It’s good for them to see their mom in a different environment.
What are your long-term goals for the giving program? Over the past five years, we’ve really increased our donations—more than a third of our advertising budget now goes toward supporting Darien and the surrounding towns. The community supports us and we want to support it in return. And I love meeting the people who do the good work. I just met a group in Norwalk that provides tennis lessons to inner- city kids after school. And we were recently at the Star gala, which is always such a beautiful event. We always donate a huge dinner party as an auction item. I enjoy coming up with fun ways to help an organization promote its efforts, and we’ve worked with every organization in town, including the schools and churches.
Would you say Darien residents have big hearts? The town of Darien is very generous. Whenever we reach out, I am amazed by the level of response we get from the people who live here. I think we all feel blessed to have what we have to live in this beautiful town, and so we all want to give back.
Palmers supports so many nonprofits, but doesn’t it also create a welcoming community within the store? We like to provide a place for seniors to come for conversation. Some customers stop in every day for just a few things. They’ll get their cup of coffee and cart and make their way through the store, talking with the staff. They’ll say hello to Kenny in the deli, Gene in grocery, and Greg and me. They know our stories and we know theirs. There is a wonderful familiarity. That’s what happens here. You don’t have to worry about leaving your purse in the shopping cart when you walk to the end of the aisle. You can relax, because we are watching out for you. Palmer’s is a safe and friendly place.