Category Archives: Local business

Matt Debenham’s Clean Treats

Eli Debenham is a Staples High School sophomore. His dad, Matt — a fiction writer and teacher — recently branched out into the brownie-baking-and-selling business.

Not just any brownies.

Paleo brownies.

Matt Debenham

Matt Debenham

He got into it via his wife’s thyroid specialist. It took 5 months to come up with a recipe that didn’t taste like a caveman who’s been dead for 35,000 years.

Baking — and selling — brownies (paleo or obesity-o) online is not easy. Matt learned about commercial kitchens (he uses one in Saugatuck, at night). He learned about bar codes, labels, shipping, and thousands of other quasi-related-to-baking things.

But Clean Treats is up and running. So is the Clean Plate Club, a food blog for paleo eaters. (Gluten-free ones too.) It features recipes, links to kitchen equipment, and posts about visits to free-range, chemical-free farms.

Matt’s is an interesting story, about something that (of course) morphed from a sideline hobby into a full-fledged, taking-over-his-life business.

Yet many other Westporters have similar tales. Why is this one “06880-worthy”?

A Clean Treat brownie.

A Clean Treat brownie.

Well, it involves food, which everyone loves. Desserts, especially.

Matt’s doing all the right things, marketing-wise.

And Eli asked me to write about it. It’s his Christmas gift, from a son to his dad.

Merry Christmas, Matt! I’m sure Santa will love those Clean Treat brownies you leave out for him on Christmas Eve.

 

Downtown Merchants: It’s Not Easy Being Green (And Red)!

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association has followed the “06880” discussion about local holiday decorations with interest. Steve Desloge says:

As president of the DMA, and also president of Rockwell Art and Framing (with custom frame stores in Westport, Fairfield, New Canaan, Ridgefield, North Stamford and Wilton), I am very familiar with each town’s holiday decorations. I share everyone’s frustration with the lack of holiday decorations on Main Street.

I would like to explain some of the short-term challenges and long-term solutions that are in store for downtown Westport.

This past summer, approximately 8 new trees were planted on Main Street to replace the dead/damaged/dying trees that were previously removed. However, 4 of these trees did not take hold, and had to be replaced within the last 90 days. Per the Westport tree warden, no lighting is allowed in the trees this year for fear of damaging or killing such young, vulnerable trees.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

Tree care on Main Street, earlier this year.

In attempt to compensate for the loss of lights, the WDMA has decorated 11 light standards between the Post Road and Avery Place, plus 2 on the Post Road with holiday greens, trees and ribbons. However, there is no electricity available on the poles for decorative lighting.  We installed solar powered light strands; however, the lights just are not as bright as we expected, and thus very disappointing and very frustrating!

We have installed a 25-foot tree with lights on the river near the bridge. Geiger’s will be selling Christmas trees downtown, and a menorah has been placed in front of the old Y to bring some holiday atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the WDMA has no control over how or if member or non-member businesses decorate their premesis.  We have been informed that some previous decorations were “jury-rigged” with extension cords, wires and other unsafe practices.

Downtown holiday events have been scheduled for the 2 weekends prior to Christmas, including carolers, Santa Claus and free horse and buggy rides, all sponsored by the WDMA. The WDMA also provided a free community party on December 3 with live music, ice carvers, Santa, and free food and drinks from members Bobby Q’s, Blue Lemon, and Westport Pizza.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Santa was part of the Downtown Merchants Association holiday party, earlier this month.

Between February and May 2015 the town will install all new curbing and brick sidewalks between the Post Road and Avery Place. In addition, 28 new decorative light poles, similar to those in surrounding towns, will replace the current highway light standards. Each pole will have electrical outlets for holiday lighting, plus a banner on one side and a planter on the other. The WDMA annually plants and maintains the flowers in the existing baskets.

It is too early to understand if we can place lights in trees for next year, but we will certainly work with the town and the tree warden to evaluate all possibilities.  The town is working closely with the DMA. We are already talking about design ideas for next year that will be special and different.

We are working hard to improve all aspects of core downtown.  I invite you to view downtownwestportct.com, to get a good insight of how the Downtown Master Plan is developing. It is very exciting to see what is in store in the months and years to come.

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season from the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

Grilled Cheese Eatery Bites The Dust

Java lasted 11 months in Westport.

The Grilled Cheese Eatery wasn’t even here that long.

The restaurant — which never quite figured out whether it was a kids’ spot or upscale, or eat-in or takeout — has been replaced by a large “For Lease” sign.

Grilled Cheese Eatery

“Prime Retail” is optimistic. It’s a tough spot: Minimal parking, in a small strip mall, on a 1-way section of the Post Road.

Even the very popular Great Cakes next door had a tough go.

On the other hand, there seems to be an endless supply of nail salons ready to file in to any open space.

Despite What It Looks Like, Compo Acres IS Open For Business This Holiday Season

Compo Acres 1

You just have to park in the back.

Well, the waaaaay back.

Compo Acres 2

 

Lights Float Across Main Street

iFloat is a downtown oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation.

iFloat logoLast year, owner David Conneely thought of putting up decorations to brighten the drab Main Street scene. But he was too busy —  that’s what happens when you run a business that helps people slow down — so it never happened.

This year, he lit some candles. He wasn’t satisfied, but it was a start.

Yesterday, he read an “06880” post about another dismal, decorations-less downtown holiday season.

This morning — as in, 2 a.m. — David was hard at work adding color to the iFloat windows above Oscar’s.

iFloat lights 1

He’s proud of his work. And, he notes, he bought the lights locally. So he looks forward to bringing his receipt to the Spotted Horse, for a free dessert.

The view from inside.

The view from inside, looking toward Tavern on Main.


 

Westport Inn Proposal: Traffic And Safety Trump All

There are over 125 miles of roads in Westport. But through November 28 of this year, 6.4% of all reported traffic incidents happened on one small stretch of the Post Road: between Maple and Bulkley Avenues.

That’s the area with no traffic lights, and a couple of dangerous crosswalks. Four pedestrians have been killed there since 2008.

It’s also the spot where a developer hopes to tear down the Westport Inn, and replace it with a 200-unit apartment complex.

The heavily trafficked stretch of Post Road East near the Westport Inn. Sasco Creek Village is on the right; Lansdowne Condos (not shown) are on the left. (Photo/Google Street View)

The heavily trafficked stretch of Post Road East near the Westport Inn. Sasco Creek Village is on the right; Lansdowne Condos (not shown) are on the left. (Photo/Google Street View)

“This is not a NIMBY issue,” says a neighbor opposing the proposal. Jan Winston is president of the Lansdowne Condominium complex, across the street and a few yards east of the site.

Winston — a 28-year resident of the condos — points out that directly across from Lansdowne is the former “trailer park.” Now called Sasco Creek Village, it is being modernized — and enlarged. When completed next year, there will be 93 units of affordable housing, up from the current 72.

“There hasn’t been a peep from us” about the increased housing across the street, Winston says. “Many residents of Lansdowne fully support” affordable housing.

However, he notes, part of the what is driving the Westport Inn proposal is Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Statute. Known as “8-30G,” it allows developers to add “affordable units” that override local zoning regulations, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable.

“You can’t put another 200 units there,” says longtime Lansdowne resident Mike Turin. “The number of cars accessing and exiting the Post Road in that area will be overwhelming.”

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

Winston and Turin know there is plenty of opposition to the new plan, for many reasons. Westporters are concerned about the impact on schools, wetlands, sewers and the height of the proposed complex. Winston also acknowledges that Westport is far from the state’s 10% affordable housing mandate.

However, he says, “this particular development — with 373 parking spaces for 200 units — is not the way to get there. It terrifies us.”

He foresees tremendous traffic issues. It’s simply too dense for the 2.4-acre property. Lansdowne, he  notes, has 90 units on 34 acres.

So where could the next affordable housing complex in Westport be built?

“I have no clue,” Winston admits. “I don’t pretend to be a surrogate for the P&Z.

“I just want to know 2 things. What are the rules — not only for affordable housing, but safety on this really dangerous stretch of road? And how does the town get to the right goal?”

 

 

Bagels And Nails

The transformation from International House of Pancakes to Westport Pancake House was easy.

But pancake sales flattened. Westport’s most famous triangle-roofed building stayed vacant for 3 years.

Westport IHOP

A new tenant arrives soon. Thaeroa Nails and Spa will fill a crying need for one more nail salon in town.

It may be Westport’s biggest. It will definitely be the most difficult to pronounce.

Meanwhile, 20 yards away, Bagel Maven is set to reopen early this coming week. It’s not official — a note on the door (underneath a fan letter) says to check the Facebook page “Friends of Bagel Maven Alex” — but a reliable source advises all those friends that the long renovation is almost over.

Bagel Maven returns

Alex will be happy to slice your bagel. No reason to hurt those nails.

It Was Ever Thus

Alert “06880” reader Ann Sheffer sent this along, from the “Exit 18″ Facebook page. Lise Krieger wrote it for the Westport News. It could have been written in 2014. But the dateline was more than 20 years ago: March of 1994.

With the imminent closing of The Remarkable Book Shop, downtown Westport, as many of us knew it, is taking its final, dying breath. What used to be a unique town, filled with mom and pop stores, unusual gift and clothing shops, and family restaurants, has succumbed to the latest American disease: “malling.”

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (Photo/Westporters.com)

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop. It was on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.  (Photo/Westporters.com)

Newcomers and younger folks love the new Westport – and why wouldn’t they? It has every chic clothing store chain that dress-alikes love to patronize. It has coffee bistros. It is expensive. Its parking lots are packed with Volvos, Jeeps, and Range Rovers. Westport is the place to shop and be seen. The mall transformation will be complete when a roof is erected over the entire area.

For comfort, I want to blame this affliction on somebody. Is it the fault of the chain store operators for wanting to increase their bottom line? Is it the fault of the consumers who desperately need to conform fashionably? Is it the fault of town government which allows the transformation? Or is it the fault of store owners who sell out?

I guess no one is to blame, really. Main Street towns all over America are dying because they can’t compete with the shopping malls sprouting like chicken pox throughout their areas. Westport is simply staying in the race.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

I grew up in Weston and spent much of my childhood on Main Street. I hardly go there anymore unless I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding bitter, I hate the crowds, I hate the stores, I hate the entire atmosphere. Yes, nostalgia can be a powerful emotional force. I don’t want to accept Westport the way it is today; I want to remember it the way it used to be.

When my brothers and I were young, my mother shopped for our clothing basics at Greenberg’s Department Store. My brothers got their formal clothes up the Post Road at Paul Zabin’s, and I was outfitted for my party duds at Trudy Gary’s….

Often my father took me to town on Saturdays to keep him company while doing errands. I loved to visit my neighbor, Mr. Messex, who worked at Hartman’s Hardware Store. The worn wooden floor was always neatly swept, and the tools, hardware and garden equipment were always in place. The store smelled faintly of fertilizers and insect repellents. If Hartman’s was out of something we needed, my dad would visit its competitor, Welch’s, up the street.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

My father bought his office supplies at Klein’s and was a regular patron of the record section before Sally moved to her own place. We often perused the bookshelves that sat atop crooked, wooden floors at Remarkable, and Dorain’s Drug Store, recently gone from Main Street, was the only place we knew for our pharmacy needs. My father knew the names of all of the people who worked in these stores, giving the Saturday trips to town a social air, as well.

Before fueling up at the gas station where The Limited now stands, dad would take me to Bill’s Smoke Shop for a treat. We sat at the counter and ate ice cream sundaes, and then I looked at the comic book racks while my father read the paper.

One of our regular dinner stops was Westlake, a dimly lit Chinese restaurant. If we were lucky, we were seated next to a window overlooking Needle Park. That was the name given to the hangout for hippies, and it was therefore assumed, drug-users. It was Westport’s answer to the ’60s counter-culture, and always made for interesting people watching….

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

Main Street 1976. West Lake (left) had just closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

There was a musical instrument store around the corner from Main, and when Baskin-Robbins went in across the street, a night at the movies took on new meaning. While my mother usually shopped for groceries at the less costly Stop and Shop, Westport Food Center and Gristede’s were there for forgotten items.

At night the greatest place to go for a bottle of wine and some live folk music was Grass Roots, which shared a wall with its rowdier counterpart, Ye Olde Bridge Grille. My parents often ate at Chez Pierre, while my friends and I stopped at competing pizza parlors, the Westport Pizzeria and S & M—both of which are still there, thank God….

One of the saddest deaths in Westport was the closing of the Ice Cream Parlor. The big pink palace was special for my brothers and me, a place where we bought bags full of penny candy from the turn of the century candy shop, ate hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the ornately decorated parlor, and watched old 5-cent movies on the machines that hovered in the corner of the room.

The Ice Cream Parlor was a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of establishment that gave Westport its character. But it’s gone and soon its pink sister, The Remarkable Book Store, will be gone too. While the new Westport generation will have its Gap, J. Crew, and Banana Republic memories, mine will be of two pink ladies and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops.

Ice Cream Parlor

The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road not far from Main Street.

 

Remembering Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer would have been 100 years old on January 21.

He didn’t make it. He died earlier today, 64 years after moving to Westport.

But that’s one of the few things he did not accomplish in a long, productive and well-lived life.

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer was a major player in the publishing world. An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — the original paperback house, founded during World War II when newsprint was scarce — he was better known locally as the owner of The Remarkable Bookshop.

For more than 30 years the pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza was beloved for its floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with new releases, poetry, cookbooks, obscure volumes and funky gifts; its cozy rooms, well-worn couches and sloping floors, and the encyclopedic knowledge of everyone who worked there.

Sidney’s wife Esther managed the store. She died in April 2011, at 93.

Remarkable made national headlines in 1978 when it refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography because — in Kramer’s words — “we thought he was a rascal.” The store owner noted that it was not a freedom of speech issue. He even walked patrons down the street to Klein’s, which sold the book.

In 2001 — in recognition of the service Remarkable Book Shop provided — Sidney and Esther Kramer received Westport’s Arts Award.

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

But Remarkable — whose perfect name, serendipitously, includes “Kramer” spelled backwards — was not Sidney Kramer’s major contribution to Westport.

In 1981 he helped found Save Westport Now. Originally organized to prevent an enormous office building from replacing a century-old Victorian house on Gorham Island — diagonally across the parking lot from Remarkable —  Save Westport Now soon evolved into a 3rd political party.

It lost the Gorham Island war. But it won a battle along the way: The green-tinted office was originally planned to be much higher than it is now.

For the next 3 decades, Kramer and other activists monitored the Planning and Zoning Commission. They were particularly involved in issues like parking and the height of new buildings.

Save Westport Now said:

Mr. Kramer was never reticent in voicing his opinions about the manner in which over-reaching development would damage the character of his town. His analyses were not only respected, but often resulted in better outcomes. Although he relied on the members of his organization to help fulfill the SWN mission it was he, well into his 90s, who stood at Town Hall and spoke. And we all listened, learned and benefited.

Save Westport Now

Kramer was born in the Bronx in 1915. His parents emigrated to the US from Vilna and Minsk, in the 1890s. After graduating from NYU and Brooklyn Law School, Kramer served as counsel, accountant and eventually part owner of Penguin Books.

After Bantam he worked with other publishing companies, and was president of New American Library. In 1961 he founded Mews Books Ltd., a literary agency representing authors like Richard Scarry and Hardie Gramatky.

Sidney Kramer is survived by his son Mark of Newton, Massachusetts, the founding director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University and the author of many works of narrative non-fiction; his daughter Wendy Posner of Chicago; 4 grandchildren — and a very grateful Westport.

A memorial service is set for Saturday, January 24 (11:30 a.m., Westport Library). It’s 3 days after what would have been his 100th birthday.

 

 

It’s Official! Holiday Season Is Here!

Well, as official as something like this can be.

This evening, First Selectman Jim Marpe lit the Christmas tree at Town Hall. Then hundreds of Westporters trooped around the corner to Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

There — in one of Westport’s newest traditions — the Orphenians sang. A band played. Soup, chili, pizza and wine were served. Nearly 2 dozen non-profits handed out flyers and candy.

And, of course, Santa Claus came to town.

CHT Xmas 1

A small portion of the large crowd in Branson Hall.

A small portion of the large crowd in Branson Hall.

The 1st Night folks had a cake.

The 1st Night folks had a cake.

State Senator Toni Boucher and Oscar's owner Lee Papageorge enjoy the evening.

State Senator Toni Boucher and Oscar’s owner Lee Papageorge enjoyed the evening.