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Hats off to him

D'Angelo wears his success in the souvenir business well

In blazing sunshine across the street from Fenway Park, owner Arthur D'Angelo, 79, is slowly and methodically pressure-washing the stale beer off the sidewalk in front of The Souvenir Store; a multimillionaire owner doing menial labor. By the time he finishes, one side of Yawkey Way is clean enough to eat an El Tiante Cuban sandwich off of.

It's the equivalent of Curt Schilling slathering sunblock on kids in the bleachers, then taking the mound and tossing a shutout. Inside the megastore his 65-person staff is enjoying the air conditioning. But D'Angelo, a short man with a sweet smile, doesn't want to delegate the chore.

``You delegate it and the people don't do the walk the way I want it done," he explained. ``I feel I can do a better job."

He's been doing a better job at just about everything since his family arrived from Italy in 1938, fleeing the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. ``I was 14 when we came to Boston," he said. ``I couldn't speak a word of English."

Arthur and his twin brother, Henry, started hawking newspapers for the Daily Record and the Boston American. ``The first words that I learned were, `Two cents, Mister,' the price of the paper. I hoped they'd give me a nickel and say keep the change."

The two eventually wandered from the North End to Dorchester to Fenway Park. ``We saw these crowds," D'Angelo said. ``We didn't know what baseball was. We snuck into the ballpark. The game started at 2 p.m. and we thought, `What are these idiots doing with a baseball bat?' But then it caught on and we loved the game. Why not capitalize on it?"

They did. Big-time.

D'Angelo says The Souvenir Store, run by Twins Enterprises Inc., is the largest of its kind. Most locals refer to it as ``Twins" even though Henry died in 1987. It features thousands of Red Sox items, ranging from Ted Williams-signed photographs to bras, dog collars, pool tables, and even a pizza cutter in which Sox radio announcer Jerry Trupiano calls a grand slam.

But their specialty is caps.

``We sell more caps than anybody in the world," said D'Angelo, who along with his four sons runs Twins Enterprises Inc. ``We probably make 40 million hats a year. We supply every ballpark. We make them for all the major league teams.

``We also have licensing for 200 colleges. Hockey, basketball in Europe, world soccer. I used to have to go to the factory in Canton, China, seven times a year. It's a good, sizable business."

How good?

``I don't want to get into the numbers," D'Angelo said, flashing a smile. ``Let me tell you something, I always thought I was gonna be successful, and I tell you something, I spend less money now than ever. I just wanted to accomplish something in life. That was always my goal."

D'Angelo added that ``anything stamped `Red Sox' sells."

Well, almost anything.

``Last year Johnny Damon jerseys were hot," he remembered. ``This year it's Ortiz. When the Yankees were in town we put the old Damon jerseys out. Of course we marked it down, half price. But no action. No takers."

Getting started
D'Angelo foremost is a survivor. After the twins sold newspapers, they moved on to selling flowers outside Boston College. ``But flowers only lasted one day," said D'Angelo. ``So we had pennants printed up locally and people bought them."

After a stint in the Army, D'Angelo was discharged in 1946 and returned to Fenway, hawking pennants. Interest in the team was high, as the '46 Sox won their first American League pennant since 1918 and played to a record 1.4 million fans.

``Ted was back from the service," D'Angelo said. ``They had Dave Ferriss, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky. Pennants were 25 cents. We had buttons with the players' pictures on them. We used to buy 'em for 12 cents and sell them for a quarter. You didn't need a license back then."

With the profits, they bought a Greyhound bus and followed a Freedom Train carrying patriotic exhibits cross-country in 1948. They sold Bill of Rights pennants, and copies of the Constitution and Japan's World War II surrender. Business was good.

But D'Angelo's heart was in Fenway. The twins returned to the Fens and used the Greyhound to store souvenirs and restock pushcarts.

``I got into the dry cleaning business in the early 1950s," he said. ``We had a store in Kenmore Square. Ted Williams used to go by there because he lived at the Somerset Hotel in Kenmore Square. So all of a sudden he stopped by with laundry. Eventually, I said to him, `Ted, I'll pick it up and deliver it,' and he said, `OK, Twin.' He called me `Twin' because of me and my brother. He liked that I had been in the service."

They built a trust.

``One spring he said, `Hey, Twin, I'm gonna give you the key to the place when I'm out of town. You can go get the laundry and use the place.' We got to be quite friendly. He was quite a decent guy. One on one he was a great guy."

The souvenir business was aided by his friendship with the Splendid Splinter.

``We started making a lot of stuff and he used to say, `You [guys] are making a lot of money off me and giving me nothing.' I said, `Ted, we're making you famous.' He wasn't a greedy person. He's not the ballplayer of today; they keep to themselves a lot. The newspapers have created that."

D'Angelo says he later became friends with Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.

``We had a restaurant in here," D'Angelo remembered. ``He used to come here and eat once in a while. But he used to send out for food every night, never paid for it. He used to send the batboy here every night. I was running out of dishes. He never brought the dishes back. I finally went to the clubhouse and I took 37 dishes back. I had to use a wagon."

Profitable venture
The D'Angelo brothers rented space outside Fenway until 1965, when they borrowed $100,000 and bought the building on Jersey Street (now Yawkey Way) that still houses The Souvenir Store.

It almost folded.

In 1965, the Sox suffered through a 100-loss season, and the next season drew just over 800,000 fans in finishing ninth.

``Nobody wants to remember a loser," said D'Angelo, who added that every time they lost, business was down 25 percent. ``There were some days where we didn't even take in $50."

But then came the Impossible Dream team of 1967.

``My favorite team was 1967," said D'Angelo. ``The Sox won the pennant, they lost the World Series in the last game. Besides Yaz, there was no real standout players, but they all charged into it."

Business boomed, but Major League Baseball fired a purpose pitch at them. ``They took us to court at the end of the '60s, but we worked out a deal and they gave us a license for baseball hats," D'Angelo said. ``We worked it out."

D'Angelo has survived numerous crises. In 1979, Sox co-owner Buddy LeRoux opened a souvenir stand in Fenway and tried to restrict use of the Sox logo. But Major League Baseball overruled the attempt, and D'Angelo ended up expanding his space and opening a store on Lansdowne Street. There were two baseball strikes, and a move by CEO John Harrington in 2000 to force D'Angelo out and build a new Fenway never came to pass.

``The Red Sox wanted to take over the property. I got a little scared and I went to see the mayor [Thomas Menino]. He said, `Arthur, nobody's gonna kick you out of here.' Go make a deal."

D'Angelo has also attended almost every game across the street since 1946. He arrives in the bottom half of the first and leaves early in the ninth, because he's taking care of business. He sits in the first row near the on-deck circle in Box 38.

The Red Sox gave him a 2004 World Series ring after the team's first championship in 86 years.

``John Henry was here chewing the fat and [Larry] Lucchino. They said, `If we win you're getting a ring,' and they kept their word. One for me and my sister-in-law. Classy guys. Tough business people, but I respect them."

D'Angelo treasures the ring, but mourns the loss of his personal souvenirs.

``We used to have a lot of my stuff in a building on Lansdowne," he said. ``It burned down [in the late 1980s] and with it all my treasures. Ted Williams-signed uniforms, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky. Personal stuff. I cried. We took a big, big hit."

He still puts in double shifts when the Sox are in town.

``What am I gonna do, cut back and wait to die?" he said. ``When the team is on the road I play a little golf with Yaz once in a while. But this is my life. I don't know anything else."

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