Category Archives: Downtown

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)

 

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?

Kemper Gunn: 3-0 And Done

This morning, the board of selectmen approved a lease for the Kemper Gunn house. The vote was unanimous: 3-0.

Soon it will move across Elm Street, to the Baldwin parking lot. The Y will already have left, and the renovation/reconstruction/renaissance of Church Lane will begin.

Bedford Square will become a reality. Kemper Gunn will be leased to non-chain outlets.

Downtown will never look or be the same.

In a very good way.

An artist's rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it  is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

 

Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer Headline Best-Ever Blues, Views & BBQ Fest

When it comes to blues music, Westport is not exactly Chicago or Memphis.

And when you’re talking barbecue, Kansas City and Atlanta come to mind far quicker than this place.

But over the past 6 years — thanks to the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association has done a phenomenal job putting our town on the music and culinary maps.

The 7th annual event — set for Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31 on Labor Day weekend — will make all previous ones look like county fairs.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Blues, rock, brass and funk fans will be blown away by the lineup. The WDMA has signed Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer and a host of other big names — Bill Kirchen, Pop Chubby, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Raw Oyster Cult and Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, to name a few — and rented the new Levitt Pavilion for 2 days of fantastic entertainment.

There’s 9 hours of music each day, for the very cool pre-pay price of $50 Saturday and $25 Sunday ($60 and $30 respectively, at the door). A 2-day pass is just $70 — and kids under 12 are free, with a paying adult.

(For Westporters only — and only through August 17 — the Saturday all-access pass is $40. The regular pre-sale price is $50; on-site, it’s $60.)

Meanwhile, the “Family Fun Fest” — in the library and Imperial Avenue parking lots — features plenty of food (including Bobby Q’s, but also from Blue Lemon, Meltmobile, Rolling Cones and others, plus of course a worthy selection of beverages); the always popular BBQ competition; rib- and pie-eating contests; cooking demonstrations; music (including School of Rock kids); bouncy stuff, and all that jazz.

And the price for that has been cut, from $25 last year to just $10. Kids 12 and under go free.

The Packin' Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The Packin’ Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The WDMA does a great job — often without proper credit — promoting free community events, like the Fine Arts Festival, Halloween Parade and Art About Town. They donate to other non-profits, and with projects like Tunnel Vision they beautify downtown.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is the WDMA’s signature event. In just 2 weeks, Westport will be smokin’.

(For advance tickets and more information, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

iFloat’s David Beats Goliath

For a year and a half, David Conneely had Westport floating on air.

Okay, water.

His iFloat therapy center above Oscar’s provided a unique way for thousands of men and women to relieve stress and rejuvenate bodies.

But — starting a year ago — even floating quietly in the dark, suspended in a warm solution of Epsom salt, could not relieve David’s stress.

Ten weeks of construction at a women’s store downstairs caused iFloat to close often. Then — after sheet rock ceiling was removed — the store’s music, telephones, even sounds of conversation and laughter shattered the tranquil time that iFloat clients cherished.

One of the iFloat relaxation tanks.

One of the iFloat relaxation tanks.

David tried to work with the store. But months of phone calls, emails and meetings produced no remedy. The store was not legally liable to solve the problem, so David could not sue. Besides, he’s not that type of guy.

David spent plenty of time and money consulting with contractors. No one could help.

He spent more time and money searching for a new site. He did not want to leave Westport, but he’d already lost six figures of income.

In May David spoke with landlord Lee Papageorge about leaving.

iFloat logo

As they worked on a mutually beneficial exit strategy, David’s father died. David spent time in Boston with family, including his brother Martin.

Martin — who owns Conneely Contracting in nearby Arlington — had been one of their father’s primary caregivers. He also had 4 girls, so he’d been unable to help David.

Finally, though, he had time to come to Westport.

Martin assessed the situation. “I can fix this,” he said.

He ripped out a wall and the float tanks. He elevated them — no easy task — and uncoupled the entire float room from the floor and walls. He installed vibration isolators — shipped overnight from California — along with sound-isolating glue and soundboards. Then Milton added new woodwork.

He did not charge his brother a dime.

It all worked perfectly. iFloat is back.

David Conneelly, in iFloat's warm and welcoming lobby.

David Conneelly, in iFloat’s warm and welcoming lobby.

True to his nature — and that of his low-key business — David is not shouting the news. But he is thrilled to offer floats again, proud of the support of his family, and honored by the staunch support of customers like Jamie Walsh, Grayson Braun, Betsy Wacker and Bill Donaldson.

“They kept me motivated and involved,” David says.

At last, David can relax.

Along with thousands of satisfied, gratefully floating customers.

(Click here for hours of operation and more information.)

Kemper-Gunn House Moves One Step Closer To Move

Historic Church Lane is nearing its new look.

Earlier today, a notice was posted in the Baldwin parking lot. It announces a hearing next Wednesday (August 13, 8:30 a.m., Town Hall Room 309) regarding a .13-acre lease in the lot. The board of selectmen will be asked to approve a lease, to accommodate the relocation of the Kemper-Gunn House from across Elm Street.

That vacated property will then become part of the retail/residential development that replaces the soon-to-be-vacated Westport Family Y.

The Baldwin parking lot lease, which has already been approved by the Board of Finance and Planning & Zoning Commission, awaits final Board of Selectmen action.

The meeting announcement sign, in the Baldwin parking lot.

The meeting announcement sign, in the Baldwin parking lot.

According to 3rd Selectman Helen Garten — a member of the Kemper-Gunn Advisory Group — “the lease creates a unique public-private partnership that not only will ensure the preservation of a historic downtown structure, but also will return the building to productive commercial use as a home for small, independent businesses.”

Major components of the plan include rental of the Baldwin lot land by the town to DC Kemper-Gunn LLC for 50 years, with renewal options up to 98 years.

DC Kemper-Gunn LLC will own the house and pay for all site work, relocation expenses, renovation and ongoing maintenance and repairs. The town will incur no operating expenses.

An old door and lock, in the Kemper-Gunn house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

An old door and lock, in the Kemper-Gunn house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

DC Kemper-Gunn LLC has agreed to preserve any original exterior features of the house that are in good condition, or replace them with original materials.  Garten hopes that some interior architectural features can be reused or donated to the Westport Historical Society.

The plan calls for refitting the interior for commercial use. The lease requires all tenants to be small, independent, preferably locally owned businesses — no chain stores. Garten says, “Our aim is to add to the diversity and vibrancy of our downtown business offerings.”

The town will receive taxes on the building and improvements, as well as rent and — eventually — a share of net profits generated by the commercial rental operation.

“Since we are receiving no income now, this is a net gain to the town financially,” Garten notes. “But the real reward for Westport is how this venture will help restore a sense of place to our downtown.”

The actual relocation is tentatively set for November. A giant Elm Street block party may accompany the move.

An artist's rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

An artist’s rendering of the Kemper-Gunn House, after it is moved to the Baldwin parking lot.

 

Putting A New Stamp On Saugatuck

If you’re one of the many Westporters peeved by the Playhouse Square post office: Help is at hand.

A new branch opens next month in Saugatuck. Located on Ketchum Street, just off Franklin Avenue — the one-way street running from Tarry Lodge underneath I-95 — it’s got 2 things our itty-bitty shopping center post office lacks: parking, and interior space larger than, um, a postage stamp.

Saugatuck post office

The Saugatuck branch replaces the old building next to the train station, which was followed by a grim temporary trailer in a parking lot opposite Dunville’s.

As a resident of the condos behind Playhouse Square, I strongly urge everyone to use this new branch for all your postal needs. (Or not. As noted in the comments below, it’s for post office boxes only.)

And — once you’re there — bop over to Garelick & Herbs. WestportNow reports that the popular gourmet food store opens soon at 580 Riverside Avenue, across from Downunder. It replaces CM, another gourmet market.

Garelick & Herbs is also vacating its Post Road East location, opposite Stop & Shop. It will move to the Southport line, site of the former Double L Market.

Which is not far from the Green’s Farms post office. Where you can also go, to avoid the Playhouse Square mess.

Que Pasa, Qdoba?

You may not have heard of Qdoba. But your kids probably have.

As reported in “06880” way back in Enero, the Mexican grill — beloved by college students for its (relatively) fresh food and (somewhat) reasonable prices — is coming to our little ciudad.

The sign went up today:

Qdoba

Burritos, quesadillas and 3-cheese nachos can’t be far behind.

Qdoba is located in the free-standing space at the entrance to Playhouse Square. The previous tenant was Pierre Deux. Before that, it was Alphagraphics. Earlier, it was Sam Goody.

Waaaaay before that, the Crest Drive-In.

And yeah — even longer ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth — it was a Dairy Queen.

Dairy Queen, Westport CT 1956

Fortunately, Qdoba has its own parking lot. So traffic in Playhouse Square won’t be adversely affected — well, not too much.

On the Post Road around that light, though — ¡ay, caramba!

Mahackeno Y Opens August 29; Long Journey Ends, New Road Begins

The new Westport Family Y at Mahackeno faced years of approval and litigation delays.

But once construction began 17 months ago, the Y raced ahead.

Now — ahead of schedule — the new facility is almost ready for prime time.

The final touches are underway. The cardio and weight machines are rolling off the truck. Next month, the pool will be filled.

On the evening of Thursday, August 28, a ribbon will be cut. The next day — at the usual bright-and-early start time of 5:30 a.m. — the Wilton Road building opens for business. Throughout that Labor Day weekend, the community is invited to use the new Y, for free.

The view of the new Y, from Mahackeno.

The new Y, as seen from Mahackeno.

It’s just 2 miles from the 90-year-old Bedford facility downtown. But measured another way, it’s a world apart.

The old Y — which includes the Weeks Pavilion, shoehorned in 36 years ago next to a former fire station — had 17 different elevations on the 1st floor alone. The Mahackeno building has 2 normal stories.

Westport Y CEO Rob Reeves stands proudly by the nearly completed front entrance.

Westport Y CEO Rob Reeves stands proudly by the nearly completed front entrance.

It’s also got:

  • The Gault Welcome Center, including tables and seats.
  • A 10-lane pool — with lanes wider than the current Y’s — and an adjacent 20-yard warm water/family therapy pool.
The pool is scheduled to be filled in mid-August.

The pool is scheduled to be filled in mid-August.

  • The Vince and Linda McMahon Gymnasium with 4 adjustable basketball hoops, and scoreboards. It’s also lined for badminton, pickleball and volleyball.
  • A cafe serving healthy food.
  • A “Fort Mack” play space featuring slides and other fun equipment, to be used when siblings are in the pool or parents are taking classes.
Youngsters admire the light and airy new Y.

Youngsters admire the light and airy new Y.

  • A cycling room, with 21 new bikes.
  • 3 studios for dance, cardio and Zumba classes, and small-group personal training.
  • Adult locker rooms with steam and saunas. There are youth lockers too, plus a special one for families and dependent adults.
  • A large cardio and weight room — the Robin Tauck Wellness Center — filled with all new equipment. Large windows look out onto woods and the Saugatuck River.
Cardio machines are delivered to the Robin Tauck Wellness Center.

Cardio machines are delivered to the Robin Tauck Wellness Center.

It’s a serene setting — if you ignore the traffic speeding by on the nearby Merritt. (Every part of the building is oriented away from that side.)

The Y has planted 300 trees. They’ve regraded some of the Mahackeno land — and upgraded much of what was in the old Y.

The road from downtown to Mahackeno is fairly straight. But the route the Y has traveled had countless twists and turns.

Next month, they’ll unveil a new map. They hope it will guide them for the next 90 years.

Y - rear view