WESTERLY — Bittersweet. That’s the word Lido Mochetti uses more than any other to convey his feelings about retiring after 31 years in business in downtown Westerly.
On Saturday Mochetti will close Classic Framers for good. At the age of 73 and in great health, he’s retiring about two years sooner than he had planned.
“Business in a word has been really bad,” Mochetti said.
Sometime before the holidays last year, Mochetti talked to David Rathbun, who owns the 2 High St. building that houses the shop, about the future. They agreed to give it another six months to see if things improved but that’s about when a major infrastructure project to replace the drainage system under the road began. The project, which is still not totally complete, involved jackhammers, heavy equipment, the road gettiung torn up, and traffic diversion. He closed the shop at least once because access was impossible and other times he worried that people thought he was closed as the work went on just outside his windows.
“The construction was the final straw. It affected all of us down here. It’s still not finished and now they are doing the roads and sidewalks,” Mochetti said.
And so the decision to close was made.
“Things work out for he best, one way or another, but it’s bittersweet. I’ll miss my customers. I’ve really met some neat people over the years,” Mochetti said.
In the backroom where Mochetti has plied his craft for more than three decades are the tools of his trade: a heat press for dry mounting, a matt cutter, a wall-mounted glass cutter, and a corner vice for joining frames. Other smaller tools are situated around a workbench. Aside from that, he’s got a landline telephone and an adding machine. He did all of the work on his own except for projects that required paper restoration.
With a degree in art history, Mochetti specialized in restoration work. He framed numerous antique textile pieces — projects that required particular care because the items often needed to be washed before being put back into a frame. Before doing the washing Mochetti would test the material for overall tolerance and color fastness. “It was always a challenge because people were concerned about preserving these things,” he said, adding that “everything you do has to be reversible, otherwise it will affect the value.”
It’s the challenges that kept him engaged — working with the customer to find the exact right frame. “In this job you never stop learning. Almost everything that comes in is a challenge in one way or another and that I will miss also — the fact that it’s not necessarily a cut and dried business,” he said.
The uniqueness of the projects insulates the framing business from the internet, which has changed so many other businesses.
“Framing is too complicated. A lot of it you can’t do through technology. Every item that comes in has a different set of circumstances that you have to deal with. There’s no consistency. It’s not like simply taking a photograph and sticking it in a frame with a mat,” Mochetti said.
Mochetti, it seems, met the challenges well. “There’s a wonderful interaction back and forth with the customer. I have to say, in 31 years, I can’t remember one customer ever coming back and saying they were dissatisfied with something that I did. That’s the big plus of working directly with someone,” he said.
Thirty-one years ago Mochetti started at the shop after having taught an American furniture extension course for the Rhode Island School of Design and an interior design class for the Community College of Rhode Island at night, and taking care of his daughter while his wife, Helen, worked at the Westerly Library during the day. He brought his art background to framing and the shop, as well as experience gleaned from working for a time at the venerable G. Fox & Co. department store in Hartford, where he took a two-year retail executive training program offered by the store.
Born in Westerly, Mochetti knows the downtown area well. It’s a family tradition: His mother worked for nearly 50 years at the old McCormick’s department store. From his shop space at the corner of High and Broad streets, with its expanse of windows, Mochetti has observed the downtown area’s peaks, valleys, and transitions. During the last eight years or so, he said, he’s witnessed a remarkable change as retail spaces have been crowded out by gyms, nail salons, yoga studios, and real estate offices. The most activity, he said, is at night in the bars and restaurants.
“Shopping in general, in my estimation, has changed. Fewer and fewer people are shopping in the traditional way,” Mochetti said.
Because of the shop’s location, Mochetti said he has become acquainted with many residents and other business owners. “I’ve always been not only a business but also a social center and I’m going to miss that,” he said.
Mochetti has also been well known for the hearty potted geraniums that line many of the windowsills of his shop. “People stop in all the time and ask me about my geraniums and how they do so well,” he said.
Here’s his answer: a green thumb, great light, good temperatures, and occasional fertilizing.
In his retirement, Mochetti said he expects to be busy with projects that his 1896 house requires. Expanding the volunteer work he performs at Christ Church and at Westerly Library is also likely, he said.
Over the years Mochetti has framed all sorts of things — football jerseys, hockey sweaters, and military medals. Paintings, one of his favorites, were a mainstay. He recalled work on a particular pastel from a Watch Hill customer as especially memorable. It was a 6-foot by 4-foot rendering of a woman that had fallen off a wall, smashing the frame and glass. Because pastel is such a fragile medium, the work required extraordinary care, he said.
Mochetti has developed a base of repeat customers who have turned to him for their framing needs over the years.
“A lot of them have been in to see me in recent years and I thank them very much for their consistent business. I’ve enjoyed that very much over the years and that’s a bittersweet kind of a thing, but you make the best of it,” he said.