Category Archives: Local business

Be Part Of Westport’s Photographic History!

In 1981, Max Kaplan had already owned his art supply store for 24 years.

Shirley Mellor had worked there for over a decade. She and Max had been married for 5.

That July, Westport photographer Nancy Wayman assembled Max, Shirley, the staff at Max’s Art Supplies, and 100 or so artists who made the store their own personal hangout.

The result was a photo that captured Westport: its arts colony sensibility, its mom-and-pop shops, its downtown funkitude.

The famous 1981 photo. Max Kaplan and Shirley Mellor are in the center of the front row.

The famous 1981 photo. Max wears a tie in the front row; Shirley Mellor is next to him, on the left.

A lot has changed in 34 years. Max and Nancy Wayman died. Max’s closed in August.

In a few days, the sign comes down for the final time.

But before it does, there’s time for one last group photo.

All Westporters — artists, loyal customers, friends, and folks with no artistic talent whatsoever — are invited to gather in front of Max’s this Saturday (May 30), at 5 p.m. There will be one last photo — and Shirley wants as many people as possible to squeeze in. (If you want in, be there by 4:30 — the shutter clicks at 5 sharp, and it will take a while to organize.)

If you don’t know where Max’s was: It stood directly across from the old Y.

And if that sentence doesn’t say something about the changing face of downtown Westport, I don’t know what does.

WSJ Trains Its Lens On Stacy Bass

It’s been a busy month for Stacy Bass.

First, Gardens at First Light — her book on 12 exceptional gardens — was published.

Now the Wall Street Journal has turned its lens on the talented photographer’s home.

Stacy and Howard Bass' home. (Photo/Stacy Bass for Wall Street Journal)

Stacy and Howard Bass’ home. (Photo/Stacy Bass for Wall Street Journal)

A real estate section “Inside Story” describes the waterside home’s initial attractions to Stacy and her husband Howard in 1996: the constantly changing landscape, and the fact that from the property they could see the home where her parents lived when her father died a year earlier.

It was a “nondescript,” 4,500-square-foot, 5-bedroom spec home. They offered $925,000, just below the asking price.

Since then they’ve done 4 renovations — including a gut one with Peter Cadoux Architects.

A 3rd-floor office is light, airy, and offers wonderful water views. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

A 3rd-floor office is light, airy, and offers wonderful water views. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

The WSJ piece offers details about every aspect — including, of course, Stacy’s 3 pocket gardens. Each features a unique sculpture, framed by boxwood hedges.

(To read the full story, click here. Hat tip: Jane Sherman)

Stacy Bass, in one of 3 pocket gardens. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)

Stacy Bass, in one of 3 pocket gardens. (Photo/Julie Bidwell for Wall Street Journal)


Nailing Some Westport Employers?

For a few years now, Westport’s nail salons have been “06880”‘s version of a big piñata. They just sit there — dozens of them* — waiting for me to whack away.

But the New York Times‘ recent expose of that city’s nail salon industry — detailing near-slave working conditions, exposure to dangerous chemicals and more — is no laughing matter.

Alert “06880” reader Mary Lynn Halland took note of the Times’ stories too. Turning to Westport, she writes:

I wonder if any of our nail salons will step up and announce that they 1) only employ licensed nail technicians; 2) pay minimum wage, plus overtime; 3) don’t charge employees for a job and/or training; 4) provide adequate ventilation, especially when working with acrylic nails, etc.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don't think she does.

No, Kaley Cuoco does not get her nails done in Westport. At least, I don’t think she does.

I have never had a manicure (or pedicure), so I am no expert on this. But I’m sure many “06880” readers are.

Did the Times story make you think twice about your Westport nail salon? Have you asked the owners about their practices? Would you? Should you? If so, can you share their replies with the “06880” community?

Please click “Comments” to add your thoughts.

Sure, manicures are important. But so are the lives of the women who provide them.

*See? I can’t help myself.

Where In Westport Would You…?

Susan Israel is a new “06880” reader. She does not live in Westport — but over the next month, she’ll pass through here a few times a week.

Susan is sharp. She quickly grasped that “06880” readers know everything — and love to share their knowledge. (Also, their opinions.)

She wants to stop on her way through, and explore Westport. Here’s what she’s looking for: “the coolest, most eclectic shops and cafes, points of interest and interesting pit stops.”

She’s a writer, so she also wants to know “where would you feel most comfortable working on your manuscript while sipping a latte?”

SoNo Bakery has quickly become downtown's go-to cafe.

SoNo Bakery has quickly become downtown’s go-to cafe.

And: “If you were into one-of-a-kind sporty clothes — nothing too expensive — where would you want to spend hours trying on stuff?

Plus: “What is the out-of-the-ordinary attraction that you would say is a must-see?”

Finally: “Where would you park your car?”

I had an easy answer for the “coolest, most eclectic shop”: Indulge by Mersene.

A customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

A customer browses (left), while Mersene makes sure all is well. Check out the Westport pillows!

But I promised Susan I’d crowd-source all her questions. So, guy and gals: Get to it. Click “Comments” to answer 1 (or all) of our soon-to-be-frequent-visitor’s questions.

PS: Don’t just provide a list. Tell her why you love these places!

Anthropologie Heads To Bedford Square; Tenant Signed For Kemper-Gunn Too

The first 40,000 square feet of Bedford Square has been leased.

AnthropologieAnthropologie — the women’s clothing store owned by Urban Outfitters, now located 2 miles east, next to Balducci’s — will move into the retail/ residential development downtown. Its specific location is the Bedford building and adjacent former firehouse, on the corner of Main Street, the Post Road and Church Lane.

The new Anthropologie will include a full restaurant, clothing, home and beauty stores, and BHLDN, Anthropologie’s wedding brand.

Serena and LilyMeanwhile, across Church Lane, Serena and Lily will move into the Kemper-Gunn house, newly relocated from Elm Street in the Baldwin parking lot. They sell home decor, custom bedding, nursery furniture, rugs and wallpaper. This will be their 3rd US store.

Still on the market: 30,000 square feet of space.

Bedford Square

A rendering of Church Lane, from the Bedford Square website.

50 Years Of Bill

In 1958 — when Ed and Norma Mitchell took a leap of faith and opened a tiny men’s clothing store — their younger son Bill was still in school.

He helped his parents when he could, and joined the store officially in 1965. Since then he’s served in nearly every capacity, from back room to public face. He’s a greeter, back-slapper, problem-solver, contribution-giver, let-me-introduce-you-er, and much more.

Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell

Several years ago he and his brother Jack handed the reins of Mitchells — and its “family” stores in Greenwich, Long Island and California — to the 3rd generation.

Bill and Jack still play important roles, of course. (Though Bill jokes, “I’m on a day-to-day contract.”)

This Saturday (May 16, all day) Mitchells of Westport celebrates Bill’s half-century with the store. Everyone is invited to stop by, say hi, shake his hand and share a story.

If all of Bill’s friends come, the line will stretch out the door, down the Post Road, and waaay past the original location downtown.

Bill (left) and Jack Mitchell on the sales floor, a few holiday seasons back.

Bill (left) and Jack Mitchell on the sales floor, a few holiday seasons back.

This Old House #13

Trust your instincts.

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten thought that last week’s “mystery house” was the current site of Dream Spa — the handsome building at the entrance to the Crate & Barrel shopping center, between Green’s Farms Elementary School and Fortuna’s.

Then he thought it wasn’t. But research by the inestimable Wendy Crowther and others convinced him he was right all along. (Click here to see a 1930s photo of the house, and comments.)

This week’s house is a great one.

This Old House May 13, 2015

We know exactly where this very handsome home once stood. According to a state database of WPA photos, the house — built around 1823, and owned originally by “Wheeler or Capt. Gresham Bradley” — was “formerly situated on the present site of the Fine Arts Theater in State Street.”

That’s great. But the Fine Arts Theatre opened around 1920 — more than a decade before the photo was taken. It closed in 1999, and is now Restoration Hardware. And State Street has been renamed the Post Road.

So where was this house when the photo was taken?

Hopefully it has not been torn down in the interim.

If you know its whereabouts, click “Comments” below. The WHS is seeking info on this and other “mystery houses,” in preparation for an upcoming exhibit on the changing face of Westport.

Bonus photo: Here is what the Fine Arts Theatre looked like, a decade or 2 after it opened.

Fine Arts theatre black and white

Babatunde: Behind The Subway Counter

Westport is filled with spectacularly interesting people. So many folks here have transformative back stories, and do intriguing things.

We find them in typical places: schools, the train, the beach, cultural events.

But they’re also in places we might not expect. Like behind the Subway counter.

The hat says “Victor.” His real name is Babatunde Aborisabe. He’s happy to hear either one. In fact, he’s pretty happy always.

His smile and enthusiasm might be unexpected. His father died before Babatunde was born. His mother had a very limited education.

But school teachers in his native Lagos, Nigeria encouraged him. They gave him confidence. He joined the Debate Club, and learned how to organize his thoughts.

He was named a class leader. That’s an important responsibility. In Nigeria if a class is rowdy or inattentive, the class leader is punished.

Babatunde read a lot — about leadership, business and more. Ben Carson — the neurosurgeon and author — became a great inspiration. Babatunde devoured books like Think Big, The Big Picture and Take the Risk.

Heeding Carson’s call to be the best at whatever you do, Babatunde went to college for science and engineering. He worked in food and drug quality management for the government. He continued to develop intellectually.

Babatunde Aborisabe

Babatunde Aborisabe

Then he took a huge risk: He came to America to earn his master’s. In 2013 Babatunde enrolled in the University of Bridgeport’s technology management program. Very soon, he became a team leader.

He’s found his professors to be very approachable. “Here you are allowed to disagree, and challenge opinions,” he says with joy.

“I love it,” he says of college specifically, and the US in general. “The opportunities are wide for anyone who works hard. But I know that I am the only one responsible for what happens to my life.”

Babatunde has gotten involved with 2 churches in Bridgeport — including one with Nigerian roots.

He graduates next semester. He’s exploring Ph.D. programs.

In the meantime, to earn money, he is a shift leader at Subway in Westport. He makes sandwiches with a smile, for customers who have no clue about his story.

“People want to be treated well,” he says of his job. “I like doing that.”

Remember the names: Babatunde “Victor” Aborisabe. You will hear about him in years to come.

(Hat tip: Amy Scarella)

Geiger’s: Going, Going, Gone…

The deconstruction of Geiger’s barn was going well — board by board, piece by piece.

But a couple of days ago, a bulldozer rumbled in, and finished the job.

Now the barn is gone. So is the main building.

Geigers Collage 2

Two acres of flat land sit on the corner of the Post Road and North Morningside. Soon to come: a commercial/residential complex with 12 residential rental units — 2 of them classified as “affordable” — plus a retail building.

And a bank.

Hey, Your Lawn Chair Is Blocking My Starbucks!

The parking situation at Starbucks is well known. If had a nickel for every photo I ran of entitled drivers in that lot, I might be able to afford a Venti iced skinny hazelnut macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, light ice, no whip.

When the Brook Cafe was across Cedar Street, folks parked there. No problem; peak times for coffee-lovers and gay bar-goers never overlapped.

Then the building was torn down. A new one rose in its place. A few parking spots were created on the east side. Starbucks users grabbed them.

That was fine when the building was empty. But now it’s home to, and the owners have decided, logically enough, that they’re not responsible for Starbucks’ overflow parking.

They put up signs. Those had the same effect as the ones reading “No Parking,” “Handicapped Parking Only” and “Hey Dipshits: Stop Parking In the Exit Lane” in the Starbucks lot.

Here’s’s latest solution:

Patio - Starbucks

The lawn chairs invite lounging. I’d stay off of them, though.

In their quest for coffee, Starbucks patrons might easily decide those spots are still up for grabs.

(Hat tip and photo credit: Allison Adler)