Category Archives: Downtown

Jayne Mauborgne’s Love Letter To Westport

It’s Westport’s 2nd favorite sport, after tearing down perfectly good homes: Bashing our home town. (See? I can’t resist, even in a perfectly good introduction to this story.)

But, of course, there is much — very much — to love about this place. Alert “06880” reader (and longtime Westporter) Jayne Mauborgne sent this along. She wrote it 10 years ago. A real estate agency reprinted it for potential buyers. It’s as relevant today as it was, way back at the dawn of the 21st century. Jayne said:

When I was in my late teens I traveled with my  father, who was in sales. He called on a clothing store, on Main Street.

Part of the pleasure of traveling with him was lunch. This day was no different.  We ate at a Chinese restaurant on Main Street, then took a walk in the back by the water. I remarked to my dad, “when I grow up I hope I can live in a house in Westport.” It was love at first sight.

When Jayne Mauborgne first visited Westport, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores.

When Jayne Mauborgne first visited Westport, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of Main Street stores.

Many years later the dream became a reality. My husband and I moved with our 2 little daughters to a lovely house in the town of my dreams.

That was 54 years ago, but the thrill of Westport never wears thin. My girls attended public schools here, getting attention one can only dream about.  Teachers were our neighbors and friends, and the caring was overwhelming.

I didn’t work when my children were young. I enjoyed the PTA, made lasting friendships, played tennis, my husband golfed at Longshore, we enjoyed the beach and 4th of July, Staples Players, wonderful restaurants, Memorial Day parades, a first-class library (even before the new building) – too many things to mention.

Nothing beats a Memorial Day parade in Westport.

Nothing beats a Memorial Day parade in Westport.

Life has changed. The girls are professional women. For the last 35 years I have owned my own business. I worked hard. But at the end of each day, just walking at the beach, watching a sunset at Compo or walking at Winslow, my thoughts stray to the wonder of this town. To the familiar faces in the supermarket. The friends and acquaintances I run into in a restaurant or just walking on Main Street. How lucky I am.

The greatest pleasure for me is Winslow Park. What forward-thinking people we have had at the helm of this town, to put 22 of the most valuable acres aside for walking, enjoying or doing nothing at all (which is a lost art in this town). How beautiful to watch the sun go down, see the dogs playing, see their owners having a few relaxed moments from their busy days, moms with carriages, joggers, kids on sleds in winter.

To have such a beach 1 mile from my house is unbelievable. An Olympic pool at Longshore, sailing, tennis courts galore, golf: what doesn’t this town have?

Longshore's charms are endless -- and timeless.

Everyone loves Longshore.

 

I have had occasion to call the police a few times over the years. I don’t think I have even hung up the phone when they appeared at the door. The same holds true for EMS. The dedication of the people who serve this town voluntarily. Hats off to all of you who give tirelessly of your time and energy — especially as everyone here has a point of view and wants to be heard, even if it is midnight.  And show me another town where you get to meet, eat and chat with the top executives.

Yes, I knew this was the right place for me. So I just want to say “thank you Westport.” You have given me a really nice life,  and if I am lucky I  hope for many more years of pleasure.

Downtown’ s Hidden Oasis

Downtown Westport will be a shopping zoo this weekend.

But there’s serenity there too — like the spot Betsy P. Kahn captured earlier this week:

Downtown view 2 - Betsy P Kahn

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to get stressed.

Amid all the craziness, take a deep breath.

Find a spot like the one above.

Appreciate all the beauty and joy that surrounds us, every day.

Then — refreshed — head back into the fray.

Downtown Merchants: It’s Not Easy Being Green (And Red)!

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has followed the “06880” discussion about local holiday decorations with interest. Steve Desloge says:

As president of the DMA, and also president of Rockwell Art and Framing (with custom frame stores in Westport, Fairfield, New Canaan, Ridgefield, North Stamford and Wilton), I am very familiar with each town’s holiday decorations. I share everyone’s frustration with the lack of holiday decorations on Main Street.

I would like to explain some of the short-term challenges and long-term solutions that are in store for downtown Westport.

This past summer, approximately 8 new trees were planted on Main Street to replace the dead/damaged/dying trees that were previously removed. However, 4 of these trees did not take hold, and had to be replaced within the last 90 days. Per the Westport tree warden, no lighting is allowed in the trees this year for fear of damaging or killing such young, vulnerable trees.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

In attempt to compensate for the loss of lights, the WDMA has decorated 11 light standards between the Post Road and Avery Place, plus 2 on the Post Road with holiday greens, trees and ribbons. However, there is no electricity available on the poles for decorative lighting.  We installed solar powered light strands; however, the lights just are not as bright as we expected, and thus very disappointing and very frustrating!

We have installed a 25-foot tree with lights on the river near the bridge. Geiger’s will be selling Christmas trees downtown, and a menorah has been placed in front of the old Y to bring some holiday atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the WDMA has no control over how or if member or non-member businesses decorate their premesis.  We have been informed that some previous decorations were “jury-rigged” with extension cords, wires and other unsafe practices.

Downtown holiday events have been scheduled for the 2 weekends prior to Christmas, including carolers, Santa Claus and free horse and buggy rides, all sponsored by the WDMA. The WDMA also provided a free community party on December 3 with live music, ice carvers, Santa, and free food and drinks from members Bobby Q’s, Blue Lemon, and Westport Pizza.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Between February and May 2015 the town will install all new curbing and brick sidewalks between the Post Road and Avery Place. In addition, 28 new decorative light poles, similar to those in surrounding towns, will replace the current highway light standards. Each pole will have electrical outlets for holiday lighting, plus a banner on one side and a planter on the other. The WDMA annually plants and maintains the flowers in the existing baskets.

It is too early to understand if we can place lights in trees for next year, but we will certainly work with the town and the tree warden to evaluate all possibilities.  The town is working closely with the DMA. We are already talking about design ideas for next year that will be special and different.

We are working hard to improve all aspects of core downtown.  I invite you to view downtownwestportct.com, to get a good insight of how the Downtown Master Plan is developing. It is very exciting to see what is in store in the months and years to come.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season from the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

Breaking News — Java To Close

Java — which gave downtown a needed shot of joe — is leaving its funky Church Lane spot.

Its last day of operation is December 31 — less than a year after it arrived.

Java helped rejuvenate the Church Lane neighborhood.

Java helped rejuvenate the Church Lane neighborhood.

But fear not. SoNo Baking Company is moving in.

Maybe.

A Java manager — who declined to give his name — said this morning that employees learned on Monday they’ll move to a new location.

He’s not sure where it is, or when. But he said that SoNo Baking will replace Java in February.

SoNo Baking CompanyThat was news to 2 SoNo employees — one in the Westport store at AJ’s Farm Stand, the other at South Norwalk headquarters.

They put me in touch with SoNo Baking Company & Cafe owner John Barricelli.

“That’s a big rumor going around,” he said. “It’s very preliminary. Where did you hear that?”

From the Java manager, I said.

“Well, it’s probably going to happen,” John elaborated. “But until the leases are signed, nothing’s definite.”

Stay tuned. If we hear more about why Java is closing, where it’s going or if SoNo Baking is definitely moving in, we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, that news ought to wake you up.

Lights Float Across Main Street

iFloat is a downtown oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation.

iFloat logoLast year, owner David Conneely thought of putting up decorations to brighten the drab Main Street scene. But he was too busy —  that’s what happens when you run a business that helps people slow down — so it never happened.

This year, he lit some candles. He wasn’t satisfied, but it was a start.

Yesterday, he read an “06880” post about another dismal, decorations-less downtown holiday season.

This morning — as in, 2 a.m. — David was hard at work adding color to the iFloat windows above Oscar’s.

iFloat lights 1

He’s proud of his work. And, he notes, he bought the lights locally. So he looks forward to bringing his receipt to the Spotted Horse, for a free dessert.

The view from inside.

The view from inside, looking toward Tavern on Main.


 

Estelle Margolis Makes Myrtle Avenue A Neighborhood

Most people drive down Myrtle Avenue on their way to — or from — somewhere else.

Some head to Town Hall, or the Westport Historical Society. Others use it as a shortcut to or from town.

But to the folks who live in the handsome homes there, Myrtle Avenue is not a narrow through street. It’s a neighborhood.

In the hustle and bustle of modern Westport life, though, it seldom felt like one.

Myrtle Avenue: grace, beauty -- and neighborliness -- in the heart of downtown.

Myrtle Avenue: grace, beauty — and neighborliness — in the heart of downtown.

Last year, Estelle Margolis — she lives at #72 — invited everyone to her lovingly maintained 1790 home. Neighbors Rondi Charleston and Page Englehart helped plan the get-together.

Over 2 dozen neighbors showed up. Some were old-timers; others had just moved in. They talked about who they were, where they came from, and what brought them to Westport.

They named themselves the MAGs — for Myrtle Avenue Gang — and shared e-mail addresses.

Since then, they’ve had more cocktail parties in various homes. They arrive early, and stay late.

Beyond the food and drink, Estelle says, “We’ve found out how everyone on the street is interesting, caring and kind.”

The most recent MAG party was last Sunday. It’s a busy time of year, but plenty of people came. In the holiday spirit, Estelle asked them to bring kids’ books. They’ll be delivered to a Bridgeport home for abused mothers and children.

Estellel Margolis (center), surrounded by Myrtle Avenue neighbors. (Photo/Rondi Charleston)

Estellel Margolis (center), surrounded by Myrtle Avenue neighbors. (Photo/Rondi Charleston)

“MAGs are now much more than neighbors,” Estelle says. “We are dear friends, very close by, all available for help that any one of us might need.”

“Estelle brought us together in the spirit of love and support, as only she can,” notes Rondi Charleston. “We are so grateful for her.”

“We feel very lucky we landed on Myrtle Avenue,” Estelle says, speaking for so many MAGs.

“We’re in the heart of downtown Westport — and as close to heaven as we can get!”

 

Not Your Father’s YMCA

Despite this morning’s post, there are some holiday decorations downtown.

But they’re not Christmas lights.

And they’re not where you might expect them.

Alert “06880” reader Jeff Giannone sent along this shot:

Y menorah

A menorah stands ready for tonight’s celebration of Hanukkah — the “Festival of Lights.” Set for 6:30 p.m., it’s sponsored by the 4 synagogues in town. All Westporters — of all faiths — are invited.

So head down to the site of the recently vacated Y.

Or — as it was once known — the Young Men’s Christian Association.

 

 

David Meth On Downtown Holiday Decorations: “Bah, Humbug!”

Longtime and very alert “06880” reader David Meth is feeling a bit Grinchy this holiday season. He writes:

Westport of the past had Christmas Spirit. Main Street was lit in colorful lights.

Now what remains are cold, impersonal tiny white beads strung across the street from the rooftops of the stores. They slice the street off from the spirit of Christmas, and greet the New Year with darkness and shadow.

This lifeless garrote that threatens to surgically eviscerate Main Street from heaven above is not even turned on to illuminate the plastic banner wishing whoever dares to look up a Happy Holiday.

The "Happy Holidays" banner, and barely visible zigzagging white lights are the only decorations on Main Street. (Photo/David Meth)

The “Happy Holiday Season” banner, and almost invisible zigzagging white lights are the only decorations on Main Street. (Photo/David Meth)

The town’s attitude is whispered in bold letters: We Don’t Care! Just Come Spend!

The horrible, isolating white thread of lights decorating the (impossible-to-call “Christmas”) tree in front of Town Hall is not only an embarrassment. It is an offense.

The tree in front of Town Hall. (Photo/David Meth)

The tree in front of Town Hall. (Photo/David Meth)

If it were not for the small, colorfully lit tree in front of the offices of  Millman and Aarons, there would be no color at all.

So who cares least: Town Hall or the Downtown Merchants Association? How much more do red, green and blue lights cost in electricity to add life to the graveyard called Main Street?

 

Post Road Protest

In the 1960s and ’70s, the Post Road bridge was the site of anti-Vietnam War protests.

In the 1990s and ’00s, that spot — now named the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, in honor of the longtime UN volunteer — was where demonstrators railed against other US incursions.

Today, a few dozen people — and a couple of younger ones — again protested. This time the catalyst was the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the deaths of 2 unarmed black men, in Missouri and New York.

(Photo/David Vita)

(Photo/David Vita)

 

 

Remembering Gorham Island

Wednesday’s “06880” story on the death of Sidney Kramer included a few lines about his founding of Save Westport Now. The impetus for Westport’s 3rd political party was the construction of a 40,000-square foot glass office building on Gorham Island, diagonally across Parker Harding Plaza from Kramer’s Remarkable Book Shop.

Reader Kathleen Burke was reminded of a beautiful watercolor postcard. Artist Walter Dubois Richards created it, as part of the campaign to save the Victorian house that sat on Gorham Island.

Whether all you know of that spot is the bile-green office — or if you fondly remember the old home there — you’ll appreciate Richards’ painting:

Gorham Island - Walter Dubois Richards

Here’s another view, of unknown origin:

Gorham Island house

Noted artist Al Willmott painted this view of Gorham Island and downtown:

Gorham Island by Don Willmott

As did famed “Little Toot” artist Hardie Gramatky:

Gorham Island by Hardie Gramatky

Here’s the view today:

Gorham Island office

We can’t get that house back. But it wasn’t because Sidney Kramer didn’t try.