Category Archives: Downtown

Randy Herbertson’s Very Local Visual Brand

Randy Herbertson is a Midwesterner. His wife grew up in California — where she had no idea that ancestors named Barlow and Hurlbutt had roots in this area dating back centuries.

In 1997 Herbertson — a talented, creative marketing executive — was transferred east by Conde Nast. He lived in Westport and commuted to New York, where for many years he owned a branding agency.

In 2013 he had a revelation. “Am I stupid?” he asked himself. “Why can’t I work in Westport too?” (His wife — the lead designer at Terrain — already did.)

Randy Herbertson

Randy Herbertson

He and his business partner, fellow Westporter Geoff Shafer, opened their multimidia design and promotion firm, The Visual Brand, downtown. In the 2 years since, Herbertson — who makes his living observing consumers’ behavior — has saved hours of commuting time each day.

He knew that would happen. What he did not expect was that he’d become part of a flourising, fun downtown community.

Operating out of reclaimed space on Church Lane — a building behind SoNo Baking Company — Herbertson and Shafer have found plenty of local clients. They hang out in cool places.

Herbertson has joined local business organizations. He’s hired Connecticut designers. “I’d never even heard of Western Connecticut State University,” he admits. “But they’ve got a great program, with really good people.”

Herbertson and Shafer found other businesses founded by former New Yorkers. Neat coffee and cocktails and Luxe Wine Bar are two. Westport Wash & Wax and Quality Towing are 2 more. Not everyone aspires to work in New York forever,” Herbertson says.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

From his office — the mail sorting room of the very first Westport post office — Herbertson watches Bedford Square rise.

“It’s a bit of a pain,” he says of the construction. “But it’s exciting. It will be very good overall.”

His marketing eye has been caught by Anthropologie, which will do “some very cool stuff” with their repurposed space.

But, he says, “it’s important to keep the local element downtown — not just the big corporations.” He cites SoNo Baking as “very focused on what this community needs.”

His vision is stirred by the possibilities across the street. A choir member of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Herbertson would love to find an investor, buy the adjacent Seabury Center, and turn it into a performing arts center like the Ridgefield Playhouse.

“I’m really bullish on downtown,” he notes. “We have an opportunity to be really creative. My son lives in West Hartford. They’ve done some pretty cool stuff up there, in an area that used to be not so good. I hope we can do it better.”

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand's website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm's office.

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand’s website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm’s office.

After 2 years, Herbertson says, he’s found “no downsides” to working in Westport. (He still has clients in the city. They’re just a train ride away.)

“It’s completely possible to do everything we did in New York — at a fraction of the cost.”

Plus, there are all those wine bars, coffee shops — and maybe even a performing arts space — just steps away.



In This Driver’s Defense, Perhaps The Line At Bank Of America’s Drive-Thru Was Really, Really Long

Bad parking - Bank of America

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Raindrops

This image from Lynn U. Miller — taken today on Main Street — sums up today quite well:

Main Street - Lynn U. Miller

On the other hand, it’s a lot better than the story I almost posted. You know — the one about hurricane preparations and all.

Westport’s New Skyline

Westporters watch warily, as the Bedford Square crane towers over downtown.

But — as Robert Eckman’s photo shows — there is a certain beauty at the busy construction site, too.

Crane - Bedford Square


Vanishing Main Street: The Sequel

Steve Edwards — Westport’s public works director — offers this comment on today’s “06880” story, about the new Main Street sidewalk:

Your reader’s observation that in places on Main Street the curb placement has changed is correct.

This is a positive curb re-alignment based on survey measurement and engineering design. As the new granite curbing is being installed, the town  is taking the opportunity to “straighten out the curb line” on Main Street that historically had significant variation.

For example,  in front of Chase Bank a belly in the curb line was removed to create a more visually attractive uniform curb. In a number of places along the roadway the curb line has been corrected. In some cases the roadway got slightly wider, and others slightly more narrow.

At some points, the new curb on Main Street is wider than before.

At some points, the new curb on Main Street is wider than before.

Vanishing Main Street

Alert readers are the lifeblood of “06880.”

But it took a particularly alert “06880” reader to spot something interesting going on during the interminable downtown renovation project.

The reader writes: “As they replace the curb next to Jonathan Adler, they’re moving the curb about 20 inches further into the street. This will have a big impact on driving on an already narrow Main Street.”

Sure enough, here’s what’s happening:

Main Street

The only solution may be Smart Cars. Because — as we all know — Westport is sure as hell not teeming with smart drivers.

Bridge Street Bridge: A Bit Of Background

The recent flurry of posts about the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge prompted Kathie Motes Bennewitz to check in.

The town arts curator writes:

The recent Westport Historical Society exhibit, “Saugatuck@ Work,” addressed the Saugatuck bridge. This original drawing of the bridge (July, 1884) is from the WHS archives:

Bridge Street bridge - original drawing

The WHS exhibit included this information:

The Saugatuck River Bridge carries Route 136 over the Saugatuck River in Westport today. The bridge, built in 1884 and designed by the Union Bridge Company of Buffalo, is the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The movable bridge allows waterborne traffic to easily pass, which was crucial to the area’s maritime economy at the time it was built.

The bridge consists of a 144-foot-long fixed approach span on the eastern side, and a hand-cranked movable span. Both spans are pin-connected Pratt through truss designs made of wrought iron.

In the mid-1980s there was a successful 2-year battle to save and restore this Westport landmark. The battle began when Federal and state officials determined that the 100-year-old structure had rotting floor beams, and steel decking, trusses and girders had fallen into disrepair. Their plan was to build a new bridge, 3 lanes wide and with a higher vertical clearance, with no posted weight restrictions.

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

This bridge was never without political controversy. The bridge’s present location was the historic crossing point, as established in 1746 when the Disbrow ferry was established to carry traffic over the Saugatuck River.

However, local merchants and financiers, such as the Jesup family and Horace Staples, built a substantial infrastructure of maritime, financial and commercial facilities upriver at Westport center, and blocked this bridge’s realization for decades. They wanted to force the flow of traffic from Fairfield, Greens Farms and Compo uptown, crossing the river there to reach the depot and wharves to the west.

Yet in the early 1880s, when the needs of overland transport demanded a new bridge in Saugatuck Village, there was little question but that the bridge would have to be built to accommodate the passage of vessels destined not only for Saugatuck itself, but also for the larger port upstream at Westport center.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Horace Staples admitted late in life that it was the mistake of his life in having the bridge built where it was now [downtown] instead of at Ferry Lane, where the road builders that proposed and where the ferry had been established.

Ironically, the onion trade declined drastically soon after the bridge was opened, rendering moot the reason for erecting the swing bridge rather than a cheaper and less troublesome fixed crossing.

(Kathie adds: The Library of Congress has Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey photographs online. Click here to view.)

Tyrannosaurus Crane

As Westport’s downtown is being transformed by the construction of Bedford Square, its skyline has suddenly been filled with what one alert “06880” reader calls “Tyrannosaurus Crane.”

Crane over downtown - Bedford Square

The reader wonders: Why have other buildings in Westport — taller than this one’s 39 feet — been constructed without a massive crane?

The reader sent along a news story. Yesterday a huge construction crane crashed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing at least 107 people.

The reader hopes there is “a hell of a bond” in place on Church Lane.

Bedford Square Picks Up The Pace

Construction continues — and clogs — downtown Westport.

The Bedford Square development is in the concrete-pouring phase. Traffic — and traffic detours — are common in the Church Lane-Elm Street area.

Bedford Square - 3

Meanwhile, around the corner, work is being done at the former YMCA Bedford Building.

Bedford Square 1

Passersby can see that the grand stairway — and much of the interior — is gone. In its place will be a large Antrophologie store, including include a full restaurant, clothing, home and beauty stores, and the BHLDN wedding brand.

Beddford Square - 2
Developers have said the triangular centerpiece of the Bedford Building will remain. The golden “YMCA” letters will be relocated on site, somewhere.

UPDATE Paper Source Erases Great Blues, Views & BBQ Vibe

An alert “06880” reader loved loved loved this weekend’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But the ending left a sour taste. Here is the reader’s report:

At the end of yesterday — as my friends and I were all on a high after such an amazing weekend — I heard a story that almost ruined everything.

Paper Source — the store between Restoration Hardware and Bank of America — had every car towed that was parked in their lot.

They didn’t have to. The store was closed on Sunday. [UPDATE: As noted in John Suggs’ comment below, the store was open for business.]

Yes, they technically were within their rights to do this. But as the saying goes, just because you can does not mean you should.

The police are incredible each BBQ Fest weekend. They allow everyone to park everywhere. I believe that no tickets have ever been issued during a Festival weekend.

Cars parked behind Paper Source were towed during yesterday Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Cars parked behind Paper Source on the Post Road were towed during yesterday’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

I could not be more upset that this was how the Festival ended for some Westporters and our visitors. Can you imagine a family, exhausted and ready to go home, only to find their car gone? An officer told me the charge to release the car was $212.

The police did not know this was happening until people started to call with complaints.

I myself am a rule follower. But even I would have parked in the Paper Source lot, knowing the store was closed!

I can’t imagine why anyone would do such a mean-spirited, anti-community thing. Someone said that because this is a national chain, with maybe a manager who lives far from Westport (and possibly because managers change all the time), they just don’t get it.

They aren’t a true part of the community, so they don’t understand that we are one. I am not anti-chain at all. I hope this was just some jerk making a stupid, stupid decision.

The only thing I can do is let “06880” readers know what Paper Source did.

And tell everyone that I myself will never shop there again.

Huge crowds attend the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. Parking is tight -- but most businesses realize the importance of the event to downtown. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Huge crowds attend the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. Parking is tight — but most businesses realize the importance of the event to downtown. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)