You can tell it’s spring in Brookfield when you hear Tony Del Ciello’s bell. When the weather starts getting nice, you’ll see him walking up and down the streets of the village, pushing his green and red knife sharpening cart, the wooden wheels grinding against the sidewalk and the cart’s bell ding-ding-dinging as he goes.
But when you hear the bell, you’d better act fast. He’s only in town for a few days and then he moves on farther west. By the end of the summer, he’ll have walked through Lombard, Villa Park and Glen Ellyn. He’s got a lot of ground to cover before he knocks off for the year, usually around mid-October.
“I’m here once a year,” Del Ciello says. “Brookfield is not that big. Four, five, six days.”
And while not as many people are home during the day anymore, invariably people appear, lured by the bell, carrying knives and scissors for Del Ciello to sharpen.
“Years ago, everybody was home,” Del Ciello says.
When a customer approaches, he stops walking, folds down the board that serves as a seat and begins working the wooden treadles with his feet in order to spin the grinding stone in front of him.
“I’m the only [sharpening] guy left,” he says.
Del Ciello, 70, lives in Oak Park, though he doesn’t take his cart through his hometown. There used to be another man who sharpened knives in Oak Park, so Tony avoided cutting in on his territory.
“I don’t go into Oak Park … out of respect for the old guy, I never went,” Del Ciello says.
Tony doesn’t appear to like answering questions, the ones he gets peppered with everywhere he goes.
After all, many of his customers have never seen such a contraption and they often make a point to tell Del Ciello that he reminds them of their old neighborhoods, when the knife sharpener, invariably Italian, could be heard making his summer rounds.
One of his customers on April 3 was Frank Esposito, a retired Stone Park police officer who lives in LaGrange Park. Esposito had gone outside to go to the store, but put the errand on hold when he saw Del Ciello walking down the street.
“He comes down the street and I hear the bell. When I was a kid in the city, the pushcart would come by with the bell, or the truck, in the alley,” Esposito says. “When I heard the bell and I saw the belt and the wheel, I says, ‘I gotta get my knives sharpened.'”
Still, prod him enough and Del Ciello opens up to his customers, who stand rapt as he grinds new edges onto their old knives.
“I meet a lot of interesting people,” he says with a pronounced Italian accent. “Lot of beautiful ladies, too.”
Although he didn’t put a number on it, Del Ciello says he’s been making rounds as a knife sharpener for a “long time” and has been sharpening objects “since I was a little kid.”
A retired factory worker, Del Ciello said he was introduced to this particular brand of knife sharpening by a friend.
“It was something to do on a weekend, and I starting doing it,” he says.
The cart Del Ciello uses looks like an antique, but it’s really less than 10 years old. He built it after he lost his original cart, which he bought many years ago from a knife sharpener in Berwyn. About eight years ago, someone stole Del Ciello’s van, with the cart still inside.
“I build this one, a copy from the old wagon I had,” he says.
Two years later, however, he found his old wagon.
“Actually, the old wagon find me,” he recalls.
While working the Beverly neighborhood of the city one day, someone approached and said he had a neighbor who had a knife sharpening cart he wanted to sell.
The man, who lived in the south suburbs, said he bought the cart at a flea market. It turned out to be Del Ciello’s old cart, and the man simply gave it back to him. He still uses the old cart as a backup when the new cart needs repairs.
“This one is better, more stable,” he says of the new cart.
Del Ciello doesn’t have any kids, so there’s no one to pass the cart down to in the future. In the meantime, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, so if you live in Brookfield you’d better keep your ears open and eyes peeled.
He won’t be in town much longer.