Category Archives: Local business

Max’s Art Supplies Lives On — For One Day

When Max’s Art Supplies announced it was closing, Amy Kaplan shared the sadness of many. The Westport artist mourned not only the end of a special place, but the loss of a community.

Though Max’s is closing August 30, it will reopen on Friday, September 5 — for one night only.

Amy is organizing a special pop-up art show in the Post Road venue. Owner Shirley Mellor and longtime associate Nina Royce have given their blessings. Supporters include the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, John Hartwell and the Westport Democratic Town Committee, Rockwell Art and Framing, and Parkway Liquor.

From 6-9 p.m. that evening, a juried exhibit will feature some of the area’s most talented artists. The event is free, and open to the public.

Max's Art Supplies will open soon after it closes -- for a special, one-night only event.

Max’s Art Supplies will open soon after it closes — for a special, one-night only event.

“Max’s has been a pillar of the local art community,” Amy says. “I can’t think of a more fitting sendoff for Max’s than this show. It gives artists a chance to show and sell their work, and also reminisce about the role Max’s has played in their lives and development as artists.”

10% of the commission of any sales at the show will go to Max’s.

To help organize the show, submit works, or donate food and beverages, email, or call 203-247-3910.

Any Way You Slice It…

Whatever goes around, comes around.

And on Sunday, September 14, a couple of thousand folks will go around and around in Saugatuck.

That’s the date for Slice of Saugatuck. All afternoon long, for just $10 ($5 for kids 6-12), people will wander up Riverside Avenue, along Railroad Place, and out Saugatuck Avenue. Every restaurant offers food; others businesses hand out coupons, gifts or anything else they want. There is bands, street artists and a bouncy house. It’s the best street party since, well, Festival Italiano.

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The Slice of Saugatuck drew huge crowds in 2011 and 2012. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

It’s the 3rd “Slice” in 4 years, and that’s what the “goes around, comes around” line is all about.

RTM representative Matthew Mandell created the festival back in 2011. After 2 wildly successful years, he handed it off to the Chamber of Commerce. But the director did not see the benefit — for either the Chamber or the merchants — and last year the Slice was iced.

Now the Chamber of Commerce has a new executive director: Mandell. One of his 1st moves was to serve up the Slice.


Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

Saugatuck has always been about food. The Slice of Saugatuck festival is too.

“It’s a quadruple win for the town,” Mandell explains.

“One, it brings people to Saugatuck, and promotes the merchants and the area.

“Two, it’s a fantastic community event. It’s great for people-watching, and it brings everyone together.”

“Three, it raises money for the homeless and hungry. The Homes With Hope Gillespie Food Pantry received $5,000 from the 2012 proceeds, and once again they’re our beneficiary.

“Four, we hire Homes with Hope residents to work at the festival.”

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder's riverside dock.

Slice of Saugatuck is not just about food. In 2012, free kayaks brought plenty of people to Downunder’s riverside dock.

Mandell seems to have thought of everything. Including — 4 years ago — the perfect name.

“Saugatuck is shaped like a slice of pizza,” he says. (It is, if you consider its boundaries to be the train station at one end, and the intersection of Riverside and Saugatuck Avenues the other.)

For many years, of course, Saugatuck was a thriving Italian neighborhood. There are still restaurants like Tutti’s and Julian’s, and quasi-Italian spots like
Tarry Lodge and Rizzuto’s. Mario’s and Tarantino’s are long-time classics. Dunville’s, Mansion, Viva and the Duck are not Italian, but they’ve outlasted even some of the oldtimers.

Newcomers like The Whelk, Rainbow Thai and Saugatuck Sweets — plus merchants like Downunder — have brought new life to the old area. So there will be plenty more free food than pizza available at the Slice.

Though I’m betting those slices will go real fast.

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)


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.

Digging An ALS Challenge

You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the video craze in which someone pours (or has poured) ice water over his or her head, and challenges others do the same within 24 hours. If not, they make a donation to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Plenty of folks are doing it creatively, wetly and freezingly. The videos are clever and funny.

But you’d have to go a long way to top this, from Westporter Jake Sussman:

Jake dedicated his video — created with the help of Peter Greenberg, of Able Construction — to a contractor who died of ALS. Jake also donated $100 to the ALS Foundation.

He hopes his video goes viral. Feel free to pass it along — and take the Ice Bucket Challenge yourself, too!

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.)

Stew Leonard Jr. Dishes On Lobsters

When your name is Stew Leonard Jr., it’s hard to imagine you won’t be part of the family business.

But Stew — a Westport native — tells the New York Times that, had it not been for a chance encounter with an airplane seatmate, he might not have taken the path he did.

In an interview in today’s Business section “Frequent Flier” column, the president and CEO of “The Worlds [sic] Largest Dairy Store” says:

I never thought I’d wind up in the business. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and my dad asked me what I wanted as a graduation gift. I told him I wanted a ticket on Pan Am. I wanted to see the world.

I did, and actually during my see-the-world trip, the course of my life changed.

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.

Stew Leonard Jr. (right) and friend.

I was on a flight from Katmandu, Nepal, to New Delhi, and was seated next to a fellow in his 50s who was wearing all white. He even had on a turban. I thought he was very exotic. We started chatting. He told me he was the 16th generation to work in his family’s business. I told him that my father had a grocery store in Connecticut, and my dad wanted me to work with him, but I was set to do some training with a consulting firm and didn’t want to work in the food industry or the family business.

He was very kind, but he started asking me why I would want to take my energy away from my family. I told him I wanted to prove myself. He told me I already did. The gentleman was really nice, but kind of relentless. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about our conversation. When I got home, I did talk to my dad about joining the business, and here I am.

The interview centers on Stew’s frequent travels. Once, he says, he borrowed a private plane to fly 10 fish department managers to Prince Edward Island, for negotiations on lobster prices.

Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)

Stew Leonard and a lobsterman. (Photo/New York Times)

The flight saved them money, and a hotel room. But it backfired when the lobstermen couldn’t get over the fact that Stew arrived on a private plane.

“It was not one of my better decisions,” he tells the Times.

“I would have been better off flying commercial. In the long run, it would have been a lot cheaper.”

For the full “Frequent Flier” interview, click here.

“Suddenly, A Teardown Doesn’t Sound So Bad”

When it comes to real estate agents, the glass is never half, or even completely, full. It’s always overflowing.

A walk-in closet becomes a “unique home office.” The train tracks in your backyard are transformed into “walk to the station!” I actually saw an Old Hill Road property that touted “beach access.” Sure — buy your sticker, like everyone else.

But a recent mailing from KMS Partners caught my eye. The principals — experienced professionals all, and longtime Westport residents — did what realtors seldom do: They addressed a continuing land-use debate head on.

Impressed by their willingness to confront the issue of teardowns, I asked if I could reprint their message on “06880.” I warned them that our commenters can be a frothy bunch, and there might be some criticism.

Go ahead, KMS said. We welcome the discussion. So read what they had to say — and feel free to add comments at the end. Real names, please!

In any town in Fairfield County, the topic of new construction homes creates a lively discussion. At KMS Partners, we have found you either love it or hate it. But no matter what your opinion is, new construction is the hottest market niche in the majority of towns across Fairfield County.

Many buyers want new homes, like this one.

Many buyers want new homes, like this one.

What makes new construction so popular? Buyers’ behaviors, plain and simple. Today’s buyer wants ease of transition: the latest trends in amenities, the most efficient systems, design teams to help select decor and finishes, top-of-the-line appliances, builders’ warranties, smart home technology, low maintenance, fresh paint and gleaming finished floors — for starters.

What happened to the “fixer-upper buyers”? They are the minority these days.

With all this demand for new homes, across various price points, builders naturally search out properties to meet the demands of their clients. The result is increased competition for land. That drives up land values, to the point where land is sometimes more valuable than the house the land sits on.

A charming 50-year-old colonial, lovingly lived in yet in need of updates,will not attract an end-user buyer as much as a builder (assuming the land is suitable for a new construction home). Yep, your house could be worth more as a teardown.

Some houses -- like this at the beach -- are worth more as a teardown.

Some houses — like this at the beach — are worth more as a teardown.

While these are broad statements, it is best to consult an experienced agent to ascertain the full potential of your property.

For those who loathe another “teardown of the day,” consider this scenario. An agent or builder approaches a homeowner with a legitimate offer to purchase the property. Cash, “as is” or with minimal contingencies, closing at your convenience and an attractive purchase price for the property.

The house is tired, in need of repairs and not appealing to buyers today. This is your nest egg. You are ready to move on to the next chapter of your life. It’s an easy sale. Suddenly a “teardown” doesn’t sound so bad.

But what about the character of our towns? And who will be able to afford to live here? There must be some balance to this phenomenon.

The oldest home in Westport -- located on Long Lots Road -- took years to restore. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

The oldest home in Westport — located on Long Lots Road — took years to restore. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

We agree. We work with clients who have strong opinions on all these points. For our sellers, we honestly advise how they can maximize the potential of their property. Not every “resale house” is a teardown. To the surprise of many of our resale clients, their homes are attractive to today’s buyers.

For our buyer clients who do want new construction, we are always in search of land and will navigate them through this process. When builders ask our opinions, we are not shy to express them.

We love our towns and the characteristics unique to them. We encourage builders to strike the balance of new and New England when creating their projects. We also encourage our new construction buyers to do the same. We would love to hear your opinion on this topic.

Christie’s Cross Highway Vermont Vibe

I’m away from “06880” for a few days — literally, though not cyberhoodically.

I’m in 05676. That’s Vermont. The Staples boys soccer team is on its annual summer trip. A ropes course, running up and down mountains, paintball — you know, the usual stuff.

I love Westport. I also love Vermont. They’re very different, of course. But, a couple of days before I left, I realized that there’s a little bit of Vermont in one tiny corner of Westport.

It’s Christie’s Country Store.

Everything about it — including the name, which it’s kept since 1926 — oozes a simpler way of life. (Though the food — in a nod to modern-day tastes — is not stuck in the Jazz Age.) And there’s a great ice cream stand next door. (Right next to a great auto repair shop.)

All day long, real people wander in. Local kids ride bikes. Neighbors meet neighbors. Contractors, lawn maintenance guys, repairmen, delivery folks — all stop by.

The view of Christie's porch...

The view of Christie’s porch…

Most customers are regulars. They banter with the staff.

They hang out at large tables inside. Or eat on the porch.

And there — watching what passes for the world going by on Cross Highway — is the real Vermont vibe.

It’s quiet. It’s green. It’s serene.

Occasionally, cars go past. A guy on a bike, or a woman walking a dog. But they’re all at the right speed.

...and the view from it.

…and the view from it.

I eat in peace. I’ll soon have Westport places to go, Westport things to do.

But for a while, at least, I have Vermont.

Who You Gonna Call?

Bob Rogers — president of Coastal Tree Experts — has a well-deserved reputation for excellent work, and concern for Westport. Recently, for example, he donated Coastal’s services to Earthplace, for some very important work.

But Bob cares about far more than just customers and their trees.

Recently, he and his company saved not 1, but 2, cats stuck in trees. One was up there for 13 days; the other, 8.

Checking out the scene.

Checking out the scene.

Bob says that he is not in the business of cat rescuing.

But if the job needs to be done, he’s happy to do it.

Just before the rescue, after 8 days in a tree.

Just before the rescue, after 8 days in a tree.

John Weymouth rescues Foo-Foo on Side Hill Road:

(Hat tip to Betsy Pollak)