Category Archives: Local business

Pulling Into An Actual Parking Spot Is So Overrated

For most Westporters, yesterday evening was a chance to relax just a little bit longer, after a wonderful Independence Day weekend.

One driver though was apparently so stressed, he or she could not be bothered to use a parking space — even though most were empty, in the Saugatuck Craft Butchery/Garelick & Herbs parking lot.

Yes, this is an actual parking job. No, there was no one in the car.

(Photo/Jamie Braun)

(Photo/Jamie Walsh)

Did the driver have an immediate need for ice cream at Saugatuck Sweets? A drink at the Whelk?

Most times, these “entitled parking” photos evoke at least one defender, who points out a legalistic or otherwise morally suspect reason the driver may have parked as he or she did.

No one can dream up an excuse for this one.

New Driving School Offers Compelling Videos, Cool Simulators And Fresh-Baked Cookies

Across America, high school is marked by certain rites of passage. Some — like Homecoming — are fun. Others (zits) are not.

Then there is driver’s ed.

For decades, it has not changed. Bored instructors cover boring material like braking distances. “Road hours” progress from parking lot practice, to real roads, to highways. Then comes the license, and — 5 or 6 hours later — the first accident.

Just about everything else in education has evolved. Whiteboards replaced blackboards. Kids no longer pass balled-up notes in class; they now send Snapchats. The cafeteria serves sushi, not Sloppy Joes.

Yet driver’s ed remains stalled in the hand-crank era.

A Weston couple, Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler — importantly for this piece, parents of 4 teenage drivers — hope to change all that.

Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler, with a Fresh Green Light car.

Steve Mochel and Laura Shuler, with a Fresh Green Light car.

They left careers in corporate marketing, and founded Fresh Green Light. The company’s mission is to “reinvent the way teenagers learn to drive,” making it “safer, simpler and more fun.”

Their 1st driving school was in Rye, New York. After expanding to 5 towns in Connecticut and 1 in Illinois, they’ve opened a new outlet just a short drive from home: 1362 Post Road East in Westport.

A press release promised “a more modern driver’s education experience that’s more engaging, convenient and more effective for teens and parents today.” Before wadding it up deleting it, I wrote back: “Prove it.”

Mochel and Shuler replied quickly.

They’re “more modern,” they say, because Fresh Green Light uses tablet computers in hybrid cars, providing parents with feedback on their fledgling drivers’ progress. The company also offers tips on what to practice together.

The fleet.

The fleet.

FGL also uses in-car cameras to record lessons, and “coach” their instructors. (Who, by the way, “have experience and passion as teachers, coaches, counselors and tutors.” No more “stereotypical driving instructors.”)

Fresh Green Light says it’s the 1st school in the US to have all instructors trained and certified to work with ADHD students.

They “constantly update the curriculum with video and new clips of current event topics related to driving.” For example, the recent Texas floods demonstrated how to drive in severe rain. Out, apparently, are those memorable training films featuring head-on wrecks and decapitations.

Classrooms have “the latest technology programs and devices for students, in addition to being visually appealing beyond the typical driver’s ed classroom.” Some include simulators that allow students to experience “the real-world outcomes of dangerous driving behaviors without putting them or anyone at risk.”

(To be fair, I’m not sure that traditional driving schools actually do put people at risk.)

A typical non-Fresh Green Light driver's ed scene.

A typical non-Fresh Green Light driver’s ed scene.

All classrooms have flat-screen TVs for videos and “interactive PowerPoint presentations.” Because nothing says engaged learning like PowerPoint!

Oh, yeah: FGL also offers “the best home-baked cookies during class breaks!” Take that, traditional driving schools!

The company surveys graduates 6, 12 and 18 months later. Their students have “75% fewer accidents” than the national average.

Fresh Green Light also features “convenient home pick-up and drop-off, and online scheduling.”

The company has drawn notice from CNN, NBC Nightly News, Money Magazine and Crain’s New York Business, as an innovative small business.

I must admit, I’ve never gotten a press release from a driving school before.

Well, maybe I did. But it probably was so boring, I slept right through it.

Just like most kids at traditional driving schools.

 

 

The Way We Were

For some reason, people have started emailing me great photos of the Westport of yore.

I know plenty of “06880” readers like them. Longtime residents, expats, even recent arrivals appreciate seeing where what’s changed in our town — and what hasn’t. (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge it.)

So, without further ado:

A dealer called simply “Foreign Cars” did business on the Post Road near the Southport line, just past Barker’s (or, as we know it today, Super Stop & Shop).

Foreign cars - 1950s - Post Road
This looks familiar: near the train station. In the 1950s, it was Frank Reber and Charlie Cole’s Imported Cars. This photo, and the one above, came from Hemmings Daily, thanks to David Pettee.

Frank Reber and Charlie Coles Imported Cars

A few years earlier, this was the scene around the corner, at the train station. There’s Black Horse Liquors on the corner. The newsstand was Baer’s.

Train station 1950s - courtesy Debbie Rosenfield
Here’s the eastbound view. Both photos are courtesy of Debbie Rosenfield.

Train station 1950s eastbound - courtesy Debbie Rosenfield
This 1949 view of downtown comes (as do all the photos below it) from the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, via Brian Pettee. Colgan’s Pharmacy was where Tiffany sits today. Across Taylor Place was the trolley-shaped diner. Opposite that — hidden by trees — was the small park behind the old Westport Library. And that car in the middle of the intersection? It was turning onto the Post Road from Main Street, which had 2-way traffic.

Downtown 1948 - copyright Thomas J. Dodd Research Center UConn
Main Street Mobil occupied the current site of Vineyard Vines. In the distance you can see what for many years was Westport Pizzeria.

Main Street Mobil station 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn
Back when the Merritt Parkway was for motoring, this was the signage (watch out for those jagged edges!).

Merritt Parkway exit 41 sign - 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn
And when you came off Exit 41, this is what you saw. Underneath the “Westport” arrow, the sign says “State Police 3 mi.” The barracks were located on the Post Road where Walgreens is now — opposite the diner. Pretty close to I-95 — though in 1949, the “Connecticut Turnpike” had not yet been built.

Merritt Parkway exit 41 - 1949 - copyright Thomas J Dodd Research Center UConn

An Ace Customer At Crossroads Hardware

If you’ve lived in Westport for more than 12 seconds, you know that Crossroads Ace Hardware is the place — for any home-related item you could imagine, for fantastic personal service, and for that sit-around-the-potbelly-stove community feeling you can’t get anywhere else.

Ace HardwareIf you don’t know and love Jimmy Izzo, his father AJ and the rest of the Ace crew, you should crawl back into your cave.

But if you’re like me, you’ve probably driven by at night after they’ve closed and thought, “Wow, they leave a lot of stuff outside. They must really trust people.”

They do. And here’s why.

Yesterday morning, Jimmy went to open up. Under the door, he found a handwritten slip of paper.

Overnight, a customer had helped himself to some bamboo sticks, copper pipe and plastic tomato stakes.

Jimmy Izzo - Ace Hardware

The customer listed all those items on that sheet of paper. He also slipped a check under the door for the total amount.

Plus tax.

“People are good,” Jimmy says.

Well, yeah. Because, Jimmy, you’re good to them.

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done!

Experts have long believed that Westport had reached its maximum NS/WR threshold.

You know: Nail Salon/Westport Resident ratio.

But in a development that has stunned everyone — from commercial real estate agents and Post Road motorists to Westport women with nails — one more salon has arrived.

This one is in the shopping center opposite Fresh Market, bracketed by Sam Sloat Coins and Wish List.

Luxe nail salon

Particularly riveting is the fact that the cleverly named “Luxe Nail Spa” sits inches away from a long-established nail salon next to Bagel Maven — and a new mega-salon that took over the Westport Pancake House.

I won’t even mention it’s across the street from a frozen yogurt shop.

(Hat tip: Wendy Cusick)

Noorism

Noor Zakka’s grandparents have been in Westport for 40 years. This town has long been a weekend getaway for her.

Three years ago she, her husband and their 2 young boys moved here full time.

The reasons — the greenery and schools — are common. But what Noor has done since arriving here is not.

An FIT graduate in fashion design, she worked in the industry in New York. But, Noor says, she sometimes felt as if she was not accomplishing anything good.

She wanted to create something beautiful — but also give back to the world.

The result is Noorism, a sustainable fashion company.

Noor Zakka sports one of Noorism's summer hats.

Noor Zakka sports one of Noorism’s summer hats.

“We feel that clothes can be well-made, look amazing, be eco-friendly, and leave as little impact on the earth as possible,” Noor says.

Noorism designs, creates and manufactures small collections locally.

Noor wants her products to last. She wants buyers to know exactly where, how and by whom her goods are made.

Her fabrics are sourced from orders that other companies did not use, or are upcycled from used garments. Recycled fabrics and materials are key.

For every item sold, Noorism gives $5 to Charity:Water, a non-profit that provides clean, safe drinking water to developing nations. “The fashion industry consumes a lot of water, and wastes a lot,” she explains.

Her 1st collection is upcycled denim summer hats.

Noorims's summer hat line.

Noorims’s summer hat line.

They’re not cheap: $145. But, Noor says, it takes a couple of hours to turn an old pair of jeans into a sun hat.

“It is kind of a luxury product,” she admits. “But it’s special. Plus, it’s made in America.”

Downtown Changing Daily

With Bedford Square construction kicking into high gear, Westporters are treated to scenes we’ve never seen.

Like this view of Bobby Q’s patio, from Elm Street:

Bobby Q patio

Meanwhile, across the way in the Baldwin parking lot, workers are busily converting the Kemper-Gunn House into the home of Serena & Lily:

Kemper Gunn house

Want a different view? Developer David Waldman offers 2 drone videos of downtown.

The first (click here) shows the Bedford Square project and environs. The second (click here) is a broader perspective, including the Saugatuck River and former Save the Children property — the next property set for redevelopment.

A view of downtown, from David Waldman's drone.

A view of downtown, from David Waldman’s drone.

Robeks Runs Out Of Juice

With its fellow Compo Acres tenants, Robeks endured weeks months years of construction.

Robeks logoFinally, it’s over.

But so is Robeks.

Today, the smoothie shop stands empty.

Don’t count on traffic to ease up for long in the notoriously difficult parking lot, though.

Chipotle opens soon.

“It’s Baaaaaack”: The Back Story

Equity One’s offices were closed this weekend, when Westporters first noticed the reappearance of the “paint palette” sign at Compo Acres Shopping Center.

But this morning, a spokesman for the shopping center’s owner provided some background information:

When Equity One became aware that their property manager had discarded
the sign, they set aside funds to replace it. They contacted the Westport Arts Center, which recommended Duvian Montoya.

Working from less-than-clear Google Street View images, he recreated it almost perfectly.

The spokesman said, “It is a shame the original sign was lost. But we are glad we could restore something similar in its place, which hopefully will remain for a long time.”

The new sign ...

The new sign …

... and a view of the original, which Duvian Montoya worked from.

… and a view of the original, which Duvian Montoya worked from.

It’s Baaaaaack!

Antonia Landgraf is many things. She’s

  • New to town
  • An alert “06880” reader
  • And a very alert Westporter.

Tonight, Antonia emailed me:

Is this the sign everybody was in an uproar about when it was removed? It was leaning against a tree today on the corner of South Compo and the Post Road.

Compo Acres palette

Yes! It is!

As “06880” reported nearly 2 years ago, the “paint palette” sign — a fixture at Compo Acres Shopping Center since it was built in the 1950s — disappeared when Equity One bought the property.

Another alert reader — Suzanne Sherman Propp — tracked down the man responsible for the center: Northeast regional manager Glenn Wilson. He sent a curt reply: “We had that replaced and I believe it was thrown out.”

Now, however — without fanfare — it’s back. It’s almost exactly where it sat, for decades. And — judging from the undated photo below — it’s almost certainly the original sign:

The Compo Acres paint palette is gone.

Score one for Equity One.

Now, if they can bring back Silver’s, Carousel Toy Store, Franklin Simon and the luncheonette…