The new face of Westport includes many young families. Parents are in their 30s or 40s; their kids are in elementary school, or even younger.
Many have moved from New York. Others come from around the country. There are plenty of internationals too.
But a surprising number of “newcomers” are actually “old-timers.” They’re men and women who grew up in Westport, then left for college and careers. Now — at an age their own parents might have been when they moved here — these Staples grads are moving back, with their tots in tow.
The reasons vary: a desire for their kids to be close to grandparents. The lure of schools and beaches. A wish for their children to have the same type of growing-up experiences they did.
Some of the returnees always figured they’d move back. Some thought, never in a bazillion years.
John and Danielle McGrath, and their kids.
John McGrath is one of the boomerang gang. A Coleytown Elementary and Middle School student who graduated from Staples in 1995, he continued his football career at Trinity College.
He soon became a successful New York bond trader. He and his wife Danielle bought a weekend home in Westport in 2008, when their daughter was born. In 2012 they moved here full-time, near the beach.
“I loved Westport when I was growing up,” John says. “It felt like my friends and I were always outside, playing soccer or baseball. Those are my earliest memories.”
As they got older, John says, the hangouts became Compo and Longshore. Describing his youth to colleagues who lived elsewhere, he realizes “how much there was to do here. I’m so proud I had the chance to grow up here.”
Now, as an adult, he’s thinking about other things: excellent schools, relatively low property taxes. But the amenities are still very, very important.
There’s no place like Compo for kids.
Danielle grew up in southern Jersey, outside Philadelphia. Moving to her husband’s hometown, she was nervous that his friends would have to be hers. (Several of John’s best Westport friends have moved back to the area too.)
But she met a great group of people through schools and their kids’ activities. (Their daughter is 5; their son is 3.)
Now, John says, “she’s more popular in town than I ever was.”
Danielle also worried about leaving New York’s restaurants and cultural scene behind. She’s discovered plenty of good restaurants and culture here.
The Westport Country Playhouse helps anchor our cultural life.
Some things have not changed. Westport Pizzeria is still in town (though it moved around the corner). Compo and Longshore are still fantastic.
Other things have changed somewhat. John’s daughter will attend Green’s Farms Elementary — a school that was closed when he was growing up. Staples is a new building, twice the size of the old. Bedford Middle School is new too.
John’s daughter skates at Longshore — the rink there is a new addition — and he hopes she’ll learn to sail at John Kantor’s nearby school. (“I never sailed,” John notes.) His kids may also be involved in music or theater, activities John never did. “There are so many options,” he says. “I just want them to be happy.”
“Westport still has the hometown feel,” John adds. “But there have definitely been upgrades, to move with the times.”
Then there’s Elvira’s. “We’re in there 2 or 3 times a day,” he says. “They know my kids — they know everyone’s kids. It’s awesome.”
Elvira’s: the heartbeat of the Old Mill neighborhood.
So — 35 years down the road — does John hope his daughter and son follow their father and grandparents’ lead, and move to Westport?
“I hope they travel, and experience a lot of different places,” John says. “If they decide in the end on Westport, that would be great.
“People call me a townie,” he concludes. “I lived for 15 years in New York, and I really appreciate that.
“But I chose to come back to Westport. And I’m glad I did.”