Category Archives: Local business

When The Music Died

Sally’s Place — the last record store in Westport — closed 2 years ago. It marked the end of an era, for devoted fans like Keith Richards and all the rest of us regular Joes.

Once upon a time, record stores were stacked up here like 45s on a spindle.* Sally bought her beloved store after she left Klein’s. At one point, there were not 1 but 2 Sam Goody’ses within shouting distance of each other on the Post Road, a musical version of today’s nail spas or banks.**

The Record Hunter occupied space next to Remarkable Book Shop — the now-forlorn corner of Main Street abandoned by Talbots. Jay  Flaxman oversaw that store, allowing teenagers like me to hang out, discover Richie Havens and Phil Ochs, and very occasionally even buy something.

Long before my time there was Melody House. A Main Street fixture, it apparently featured “listening booths” that were quite the rage in the doo-wop days.

Jean Rabin

Jean Rabin

Overlooked in most memories is Record & Tape of Westport. Clunkily named, and a bit removed from downtown — located in Compo Shopping Center, where either Planet Pizza or the Verizon store is today — this was simply one more spot to buy (duh) records and tapes.

But it too was a great place, and a labor of love. Owner Jean Rabin presided joyfully over its narrow aisles. She knew each customer’s likes, and enjoyed recommending (in her gentle Southern accent) new artists based on those preferences. If you didn’t like something, she gave a full refund — no questions asked.

It must have been hard, running an independent record store in a town filled with others (and a couple of chains), but she never complained. She loved music, she loved the diverse group of customers who shopped there, and she loved Westport.

Though she lived in Trumbull, she spent time here even after closing her shop. This past summer, I saw her at Compo. We talked about many things — including music.

Jean Rabin died last week. She was 79 years old.

Years from now, I can’t imagine anyone writing such a fond remembrance of Pandora, Spotify or iTunes.

(Visitation is tomorrow [Thursday, October 8], 6-8 p.m. at Spear-Miller Funeral Home, 39 S. Benson Road, Fairfield. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at  Greens Farms Congregational Church. Donations may be made in Jean’s honor to the American Heart Association or Susan G. Komen for the Cure.)

*Kids: Ask your parents.

** Clever reference: One of the stores is actually, today, Patriot Bank.

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.


Sleeping With The Pope

As chairman of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Charlie Haberstroh takes his job seriously. So the other day he read a long Wall Street Journal story titled “The New Mattress Professionals.” Hey, beds are great spots for recreational activities, right?

Charlie plowed through tons of details about Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa. These startups are apparently turning the mattress industry upside down, with new marketing techniques. One of those is “celebrity endorsements or associations.”

Near the end, this caught Charlie’s eye:

Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company.

Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father…. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.

Today is Sunday. That’s a work day for the pope, so I couldn’t call the Vatican to ask how he slept.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That's the Saugatuck River behind him.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That’s the Saugatuck River behind him.

I had never heard of Saatva — let alone known that it’s headquartered right here in 06880.

I checked the company’s website to learn more about their Westport connection. I could not find much — beyond CEO Rudzin saying he likes to fish in the Saugatuck River — but I did find this:

Saatva is the fastest growing online mattress company in the country. Our honest passion for making each customer happy is the daily mantra. Our non commissioned, courteous and expert representatives give honest “no pressure” guidance. Our teams working in our 14 ‘partnering’ American factories are so proud to be building a luxury product that is healthy for the body and safe for the environment.

Additionally, we believe in building long term friendships with our delivery teams throughout our fulfillment centers. We love the culture that we’ve created as we are a wonderfully diverse and spirited group of employees who enjoy doing our part to keep America building.

So where is Saatva located?

There is no address on their website. BBB Business Review says they’re at 8 Wright Street. puts them at 25 Sylvan Lane South, Suite W.

I would have called headquarters to find out.

But it’s Sunday. Everyone is sleeping in.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.



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

Bad parking - Bank of America

Starbucks Solves Parking Problem!

Starbucks — the wildly popular coffee place near the diner, with the crazily limited parking lot — has come up with a creative solution to that problem.

They’re moving.

From here...

From here…

Word on the street Post Road has Starbucks moving a couple hundred yards east, to Arby’s. That’s the fast-food place next to Bank of America that no Westporter has ever set foot in.

Starbucks will gain more parking spaces. Plus a drive-through.

... to there.

… to there.

The good news: There will be no more parking issues at Starbucks.

The bad news:  This will be a serious blow to “06880.”

The good news:  There are plenty more places — and Westport drivers — to pick on.

7 “No Parking” Signs. 3 Cars. Just Another Entitled Day At Starbucks.

(Photo/Chris Grimm)

(Photo/Chris Grimm)


Hey, We’re Just Doing What The Sign Says!

Westport Cleaners

Summer Ends Suddenly At Compo Beach

Alert “06880” readers Steve and Linda Stein were walking at Compo Beach yesterday — the final Sunday of summer.

It was a beautiful day for strolling — but not for the huge shade tree at the jetty near Hillspoint Road.

(Photo/Steve Stein)

(Photo/Steve Stein)

An Eversource crew chopped it down. Apparently, it threatened the 2 power poles nearby.

One of Westport’s most iconic beach views sure looks a bit — um, different.

At The Hops

Doug Weber grew up in Wilton. But as a teenager in the 1970s he spent as much time as he could in Westport. Remarkable Book Shop, the pizzeria and library — all attracted him. (So did the seemingly endless stream of gorgeous girls.)

Doug Weber

Doug Weber

He grew up, got a job in media sales and married a woman named Carey. By 1994, they and their daughters Emily and Charlotte had outgrown their New York apartment. Like so many others, they looked in Westchester, and up and down the Connecticut coast, before deciding on Westport. They bought a house in foreclosure on Bridge Street.

So far, a pretty typical story.

Yet after 18 years of commuting, Weber wanted a new opportunity. But what?

Fascinated by 2 rising forces — the locavore movement, and the growth of craft beer — he created his own.

In June, Weber and a crew planted 5,000 hops, on 5 acres of land in Morris in Litchfield County. It’s the 1st step in his new venture: Pioneer Hops.

Connecticut brewers, it seems, are eager for local sourcing.

Pioneer Hops, in Morris.

Pioneer Hops, in Morris.

You and I may not think of the Land of Steady Habits as prime hop-growing territory. But before Prohibition, much of America’s hops were grown here. Today, 95% of America’s hops come from the Pacific Northwest, where there are fewer pests and diseases.

It takes 3-4 years for plants to mature. That’s when Weber hopes to sell them to Connecticut’s three dozen small breweries. In addition to selling craft beer through local retailers, many supply farm-to-table restaurants.

Weber looks forward to reviving our hops-farming tradition. (Which lives on in place names like Devil’s Hopyard, Hop Meadow and Hop Brook.)

Here’s hoping his business will be hopping.

Only 47 Days Until Halloween!

The 1st sign of the holiday this year, courtesy of Trader Joe’s:

Trader Joe's pumpkins