Qdoba, SHS And ALS

Qdoba — the new Mexican restaurant that will enliven/add to the traffic chaos of Playhouse Square — had a special pre-opening tonight.

Everything was on the house. Diners were asked to make a donation — 100% of which went to Staples High School athletics.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

Qdoba opens for real on Monday. From 5-9 p.m., pay whatever you want. 100% of the proceeds will go to the local ALS Association.

That’s a far better deal than pouring an ice bucket on your head.

Welcome to Westport, Qdoba.

And ¡muchas gracias!

Peter Flatow: Assessments, Inspections And The Status Quo

Alert “06880” reader Peter Flatow writes:

Last week I read a news story about the upcoming revaluation of real estate. When I learned that appraisers would enter my home, my reaction was negative. (Not about the revaluation. I agree it needs to be done – periodically).

I told Dan I’d like to research the topic for “06880.” Here’s what I found.

First, I would like to thank the RTM members who responded to my email or spoke with me in person. Also thanks to town assessor Paul Friia for his thoughtful and prompt responses to my questions.

I learned that no one must grant access to their home. It is voluntary. So much for my concern.

Paul reports, “the 2005 revaluation resulted in interior inspections of just under 60% of the properties in Westport.” Reading the enabling legislation (which is almost unreadable) and state reports on the internet, I found what’s required: a statistical assessment every 5 years, and a physical assessment every 10.

Would an interior inspection change the assessed value of this Westport home?

Would an interior inspection change the assessed value of this Westport home?

What is unclear (at least to me) is the rationale to include a voluntary internal inspection as part of the physical inspection. Fairness is inferred: The more data, the more accurate the assessment.

As anyone who analyzes data will tell you, accuracy (and fairness) diminish when samples are not equally drawn and consistent. Assessments are to some degree subjective because no two homes are exactly alike, so adding the variable of some homes having both internal and external assessments, and some not, would in my opinion make them less alike (less fair). While this all started as a feeling of invasion of privacy, it has turned into a question about whether our elected officials question what they are being asked to approve. Are they in a “maintain the status quo” mentality?

I asked Paul if, when the reappraisal RFP went out, he asked for the cost of just an exterior reassessment.

He said he did not, “because that wasn’t part of the scope of services that we were looking for.  I have always been under the opinion that the better the data that we have, the better chance we have at being fair and accurate.” I totally agree with the last sentence.

This is not critical of Paul. He is doing what has been done, and he is expected to do. But what if we began to question the status quo? What if we ask, “does this still make sense?” What would the town save if only an external (all that is required by law) “physical inspection” were conducted?

Every corporation I have ever worked with continually looks for ways to save money (improve profits) by changing or stopping unnecessary practices. What if all levels of government did the same thing?

Max’s Time To Go

After reading yesterday’s “06880” post about the final days of Max’s Art Supplies, local artist Miggs Burroughs hustled down to the store he’s loved for so many years.

He wanted the iconic Karron’s Jewelry clock, rescued once from another Westport store and long a symbol of the famed art store.

He was just a minute late. Sherri Wolfgang — a close friend — had already bought it. She told Miggs she’d wanted it since she was 8 years old, and bought her first sketch pad at Max’s.

“At least I got to take this historic photo with Shirley Mellor, Rita Ross Englebardt, Jay Cimbak, Nina Royce and Sherri, who was in tears the whole time,” Miggs says. “It was very emotional moment for everyone.”

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak.

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak. (Photo/MIggs Burroughs)


If You Teach Some Kids To Fish…

Summer vacation ends with a crash on Monday. The 1st day of school is ominously close.

But last evening, a mother gave a lesson of a different type to her kids. Alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor was at Old Mill Beach, and captured this classic Westport scene:

Fishing lesson at Old Mill Beach - Fred Cantor

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

Last week, alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Scott Smith stood at Parker Harding Plaza and looked at the Saugatuck River.

It was low tide. Very low tide.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

(Photo/Scott Smith)

He was amazed at how much gravel and fill has been deposited on the upstream side of the bridge, and how shallow this section of the tidal river has become. He knows the muck continues all the way further downstream.

Scott says:

I wonder what would happen if, instead of the 2-3 inches of rain we got a couple of days earlier, we received the 13 inches that fell on Long Island. I’m no marine engineer, but it seems we’re at risk of some serious wash-outs, starting with our Post Road bridge and no doubt possibly affecting our waterway through Saugatuck, out to the Sound. The river today is nothing like it was when barges and other vessels docked all the way to downtown.

I’ve heard that Norwalk is undertaking a dredging project for its river and harbor. Is this something to add to our already lengthy list of Westport capital improvement projects?

What do you think? Is the state of our river dire enough to spend money on it? What would we gain? Are there unintended consequences — positive or negative?

Click “Comments” below. And please use your full, real name.

Main Street Mystery

For several months, I’ve seen a car parked half on the sidewalk, half on Main Street, opposite Washington Avenue.

Main Street collage

At first I thought it was random. Now I’m certain it’s deliberate.

I can’t figure out why. There are driveways behind every home and office on that stretch of road, headed from Crossroads Hardware into downtown.

And no one else parks like that anywhere near there. So whoever does this must realize it’s wrong.

I know, there’s not much traffic on that sidewalk.

But there sure is on Main Street.

“06880” covers a lot of bad, entitled parking in Westport. Yet those are one-offs. This happens every day.

Does anyone know why?

Counting Down The Minutes At Max’s

The countdown has begun for Max’s Art Supplies. The legendary 59-year-old downtown store’s last day of business is Saturday, August 30.

Much of the stock has already been sold. But intriguing items remain. They include:

  • a vintage Karron’s Jewelry clock
  • a set of 32 oak flat shelves that holds 30″ x 40″ paper
  • an oak drawer 95 1/2″ long by 25″ deep
  • a paper cutter
  • an artograph
  • a never-opened “winner waxer
  • Letrasets
Some of the special items still available at Max's.

Some of the special items still available at Max’s.

  • Paper of all kinds
  • Sign cloth
  • Picture frames and mats
  • Pens
  • Fabric paint
  • Dyes
  • Markers
  • Back-to-school stuff galore
  • Plenty of fixtures
A few of the fixtures being sold at Max's.

A few of the fixtures being sold at Max’s.

The day after closing — Sunday, August 31 (2 p.m.). — owner Shirley Mellor and her staff will hold a “festive celebration” to say goodbye to the community. A special invitation goes to “the artists who have long been with us, and will always be a part of our extended family.”

One more bit of Max’s news: Jay Cimbak, the master picture framer there for the past 25 years, will be the new manager at Rockwell Art and Framing in Westport. It’s just a few doors east of Max’s, on the Post Road.

For nearly 6 decades, Shirley and the rest of the Max’s crew have served Westport with distinction. They’re going out with plenty of class.

More at Max's Art Supplies.

More at Max’s Art Supplies.

John McGrath: You CAN Go Home Again

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 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.

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.

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.

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.”

The Big Five-Oh

“06880” is fair game for just about every story — so long as there’s a Westport angle. 

I try to avoid missing-pet posts — though I did cover the expensive, long-running search for Andy, the lost corgi — and I turn down nearly every request about a Staples High School reunion. Trust me, I say to myself: No one cares about your little get-together. (My official response is more tactful.)

But Staples’ Class of 1964 reunion last weekend merits a mention. For one thing, the 50th is a Big Deal.

For another, it was a kick-ass class that came of age at an important time in Staples — and world — history.

For a 3rd, I gave a tour of the new Staples building to nearly 100 reunees. They truly loved what they saw, and appreciated the school they’d attended. They returned to Westport with the wisdom of adulthood, and the enthusiasm of teenagers. I had a blast, but they had an even better time. 

The Staples Class of 1964  included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members -- Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

The Staples Class of 1964 included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members — Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

So here — thanks to Barbara Range Szepesi, Arline Gertzoff and Bill Martin — is their report.

Many of them more than 100 members of the Class of ’64 who gathered last weekend were reunion first-timers who faced the experience with trepidation, deferring registration until the last possible moment. Others came only because another class member promised to be there. While many members of the class live locally, others came from all over the country: California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee.

What happened was nothing short of amazing: the rekindling of friendships and more after 50 years of separation, the mixing of a vast cross-section of class members who might never have interacted during a normal school day, the bonding power of shared experience then and 3 days now.

The celebration kicked off Friday night, August 8, at SoNo Brewhouse. Gordon Hall, a beloved history teacher at Staples, reminisced with students he fondly remembered and just had to see.  Jack White, a pillar of education in Weston, shared memories with pupils who once were bused to Staples (there was no high school in the then-small town).

On Saturday morning, a large cohort toured the new Staples, so very different from the California-style campus of 50 years ago. Astonishment at how much the school has changed mixed with the realization of the great education we received there. We were the class that started senior year traumatized by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and seeing the “Ask not…” plaque from our class in the new courtyard only heightened our remembrances.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

The gala reunion dinner was held at the Red Barn on Saturday night. Classmates feasted and were entertained by members of their own class. Eric Multhaup, Melody James, Sylvia Robinson Corrigan and Bettina Walton updated songs of the ’60s for today. Mike Haydn played both Mozart and an original piano piece, accompanied by Bill Reardon on the drums. Bill Briggs and Linda Clifford performed a duet. Holly Kimball Tashian and husband Barry Tashian (’63) played selections from their Nashville repertoire.

As memorialized in a poem written for the occasion by Josh Markel, it was a time for reflection and celebration. So much changed in the course of 50 years, not the least of which was hair color (or lack thereof). We had married or not, had children and grandchildren, sometimes divorced and started over again.  Careers spanned law, medicine and teaching; drama, art and music; business, social work, and beyond.

On Sunday classmates socialized at Compo Beach, a favorite haunt of 50 years ago. There, before a final class picture, quietly singing “Amazing Grace,” we approached the water and tossed 43 red roses into the Sound for the classmates we have lost and still hold dear.

Everyone stayed until the day ended with handshakes, hugs, and the hope to meet again in 5 years.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

Earthplace Adds Own Transportation

Earthplace‘s after-school enrichment program will continue as usual this fall. Thanks to an agreement with a private transportation provider, students will travel directly from all 5 Westport elementary schools, to the sanctuary and museum.

Public transportation has ended. The Federal Transit Administration ruled that Westport’s after-school shuttle bus was an unauthorized public transit service route.

Earthplace worked with the Westport Transit District and Sandy Evangelista, transportation coordinator for the Westport public schools, to secure the alternate service.

“The loss of this public service puts the financial burden for transportation on Earthplace,” the organization says. “However, we recognize that this program is vital to working parents who need to know that their child will have a seamless transition from school to an afternoon of fun and learning.”