Category Archives: People

Wait Wait … It’s Paula Poundstone

Homelessness isn’t funny. But Paula Poundstone is.

So — to raise funds for their amazing work providing food, emergency shelter, permanent housing and supportive services for folks down on their luck — Homes With Hope‘s annual benefit features one of American’s funniest comedians.

Poundstone — an NPR regular on “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” and an heir to the Joan Rivers tradition — comes to the Westport Country Playhouse on Saturday, November 8 (8:30 p.m.). She headlined a similar event 4 years ago, one of Homes With Hope’s most successful benefits ever.

Poundstone vaguely remembers that one. “Westport is fancy. And it’s got a Stew Leonard’s, right?” she asked the other morning.

Paula Poundstone

Paula Poundstone

A Massachusetts native who now lives in California, Poundstone can be forgiven for her slightly fuzzy knowledge of our town. She’s on the road almost non-stop. For example, immediately after her Westport gig, she’s in New York City. Then it’s out to Gillette, Wyoming — and back the next night in New London, Connecticut.

What’s up with that?

“My travel is creative,” Poundstone says. “But this is such a fun job. I’m the luckiest person in the world to do what I do.”

So does she tell the same jokes in Connecticut as in Wyoming?

No — because no 2 shows are ever alike. She plays off the audience. Of course, she notes, “the people in the room each night are my fans, so there’s a little homogeneity to the place.”

But, Poundstone adds, “I do have Republican fans. We’re supposed to mix.”

As for the incongruity of a comedy show for a homeless benefit, she says, “One of the best things nature gives us is a brain that uses humor as a healing mechanism. Laughter is a great way to deal with things. This is a night for a great cause. People get the benefit of laughter, and an organization gets the benefit of their money.”

Since I had one of my favorite comedians on the phone — and am a big “Wait Wait” fan — I asked about the NPR show. She’s been on with an amazing variety of guests: a Supreme Court justice, Sen. Barack Obama, Linda Ronstadt, Tom Hanks.

Paula Poundstone on NPR

I wondered how long it takes to distill the hour that’s aired.

“Really long,” she admits. “I think there’s a computer program that cuts out my voice most of the time.”

Paula Poundstone may be one of America’s most popular comedians, but she’s also just a mother of 3. Her youngest is 16.

“Anyone who’s labored through being a parent of teenagers should definitely come” to the Homes With Hope benefit, she says.

“Comedy about my kids is a cathartic release. People hear about everything I go through and say, ‘you’re raising my kid.'”

She’ll really enjoy listening to what it’s like to raise a kid in Westport.

Wait wait — until November 8. And tell Paula Poundstone about it then.

(The Homes With Hope show begins at 6:30 p.m. with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. For ticket information, click on www.HomesWithHopect.org.)

Homes With Hope

 

 

 

Arm In Arm For ALS

Last Sunday, Sherwood Island State Park hosted an ALS Walk. Among the thousands of participants, 70 formed a special team.

Dottie Kyle’s husband Bob is a 1964 graduate of Staples High School. She has ALS — Lou Gehrig’s Disease — and the “Go Dottie Go!” team came from around the country to support her.

David Knapp is a longtime friend of the Kyle family, who lives near them in North Carolina. On his way to Westport, he realized  he had forgotten to raise any money for the event.

He quickly emailed some close friends. He promised that if he could raise $1,000 within the next 24 hours, he’d wear a tutu at the Walk.

He did, and he did. Here he is, with Dottie:

David Knapp and Dottie Kyle

Dottie is no slouch either. Since August of last year, her ALS has progressed from her chest and throat muscles to her legs.

But she wanted to be involved with her support group, so on Sunday Bobby pushed her in a wheelchair.

Twenty feet from the finish line she raised herself out of her chair, grabbed the arms of her daughter Krissy and son Brian, and walked over the finish line.

Dottie Krissy and Brian Kyle

They don’t call it the ALS “Walk” for nothing.

 

 

A Ghoulish Scene At Compo

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Tooling Around The Farm

Today was fantastic for anything outdoors related. If a realtor couldn’t sell a house with today’s spectacular weather and fall foliage, she should find another line of work.

Meanwhile, down on the (Wakeman Town) Farm, volunteers were out in force. They helped harvest fall vegetables, and prepare for the arrival of sheep and alpacas (!).

The crew was helped by the Tauck family’s “Trip’n trailer.” It hauls tools to national, state and local parks, to help with events like this.

Tauck tools 1

In the spirit of volunteerism, Robin Tauck says that if you’ve got a group project and need shovels, rakes, trowels and wheelbarrows, just call 203-227-0677.

The tools are free. The experience is priceless.

TEA Talk Time

You’ve heard of TED Talks. The 18-minute, internet-addictive presentations cover a broad range of topics. Originally, TED stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Get ready for Westport’s version: TEA Talk. This Sunday (October 26, 2 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) the Westport Arts Advisory Committee is sponsoring 3 20-minute conversations. Because this is Westport, the focus is on Thinkers, Educators and Artists.

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

And because this is Westport, the TEA Talk features a combination of rising young talent, and well-established thinkers, educators and artists.

Gina Rattan — a Staples grad who’s working now on the live broadcast of NBC’s “Peter Pan,” and is the resident director of the Broadway musical “Matilda The Musical” — will discuss the impact of technology on Broadway with Carole Schweid.

She directs the “Play With Your Food” series, and was an original Broadway cast member of “A Chorus Line.” This segment will include video clips of some wizardry behind Broadway shows.

Nick DeBerardino — another Staples grad and Rhodes Scholar pursuing a master’s in music at Yale, and the co-founder of Princeton’s Undergraduate Composers Collective — will explore the integration of recent technology into music composition and performance.

Nick DeBerardino

Nick DeBerardino

He’ll chat with Richard Epstein, professional bassoonist and host for 38 years of WPKN’s “Sometimes Classical.”

The program kicks off with Bill Derry — head of innovation at the Westport Library — discussing and demonstrating 3D printing’s application to the visual arts. Joining him is Thomas Bernstein, a photographer and sculptor best known for his “Dancing Leaves” series.

Both Gina and Nick will be presented with “Horizon Awards,” as up-and-coming artists (and movers and shakers).

The TEA Talk is followed by a reception, across the street at the Westport Historical Society. They’ll serve hors d’oeuvres — and tea.

(Both events are free, and open to the public. For more information, click on www.westportarts.org)

 

Steve Silver: Compo Acres Is Open For Business!

There’s never a good time for a commercial property owner to do a major renovation.

But there is a worst time: the holiday shopping season.

Steve Silver has lived or worked here his entire life. He and his sister Sue have a combined 70 years’ experience with Silver of Westport, the store their father founded in 1951. It’s the oldest continually operating store in town.

Their lease in Compo Acres Shopping Center has 16 years to go. Since April, though, they’ve been looking for someone to join them, or take over their luggage and gifts store. Nearing retirement, they want fresh ideas (and legs).

April is when construction began on the center. Steve says their landlord — Equity One — “seems to be doing everything possible to make our business fail.”

The company — which owns 2 other shopping centers in town — has simultaneously blasted and reshaped the back hill into level parking spaces; installed new sidewalks  and curbs around the building, and gutted 2 stores for new tenants.

The front of Compo Acres Shopping Center...

The front of Compo Acres Shopping Center…

The results will be nice, but timing is everything. Compo Acres has been a mess for 7 months. And Equity One plans to continue work straight through Christmas.

The Silvers — and several other tenants — asked for a break from November 1 through December 25. That’s the period when most businesses make most of their money. The landlord said no.

“We all love what we do here,” Steve says. “Our staff has stayed with us for over 15 years. Endless numbers of young people pass through here every Christmas, helping us. Many of them come back to visit, and remember their experience.”

Silver of Westport has supported nearly every charity that knocks on their door. That’s what locally owned businesses do. Steve himself was a 33-year United Way volunteer, and chaired 2 preschools.

“I always hear about mom-and-pop businesses failing,” Steve says. “I want people to know that it is landlords you have to look at — well, at least Equity One. And if nothing happens here, Equity One — which has already forced out businesses at Fresh Market center — needs to know how much Westporters care about their hometown.”

...and the rear.

…and the rear.

In 1963, Silver’s burned to the ground. Townspeople, fellow merchants — and a caring landlord — helped Steve and Sue’s father get back on his feet.

Silver’s asks area shoppers to help them and their retail neighbors out this holiday season. Ignore the parking mess. Ignore the scaffolding that makes it seem like the shopping center is closed.

Instead, help support the many local businesses that make Westport what it is.

And, if you’d like, contact Equity One to ask for a holiday season without hassles. Project coordinator is Michael Lai (mlai@equityone.net); leasing agent is Eliot Fierberg (efierberg@equityone.net), and COO is Michael Makinen (mmakinen@equityone.net).

Mark Potts’ Westport: Then And Now

Staples Class of 1974 graduate Mark Potts has spent 20 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. He co-founded WashingtonPost.com, Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland, and is a consultant with clients like the Los Angeles TimesVariety and Silicon Valley startups.

He’s lived far from Westport for many years — right now he’s in Lawrence, Kansas — but his heart remains here. Whenever he’s “home” he checks out Main Street, Compo, the neighborhoods (and Westport Pizzeria, “the best in the world”).

Recently, he inserted old photos of Westport into current scenes from Google Street View (or in one case, a New Yorker cover).

The result is a striking look at how Westport has — and has not — changed over the decades. For example, in 1970 a massive crowd — many of the them Staples students — gathered on the Post Road outside the steps of the Y as part of a nationwide “Moratorium” protest against the Vietnam War:

Mark Potts - 1

Long before those anti-war days, the building at the corner of the Post Road and Taylor Place was a drugstore  –first Colgan’s, then Thompson’s — with a real soda fountain. Today it’s Tiffany:

Mark Potts - 2

The view below is from the opposite direction, in the early 20th century. The Westport Hotel occupied the corner of the Post Road (State Street) and Main Street. Disturbed at the drinking and pool-playing going on there, Edward T. Bedford built a YMCA on the site to give teenage boys a proper place to play:

Mark Potts - 3

Before Main Street morphed into a chain mall, it was filled with mom-and-pop shops like Country Gal, and the locally owned Klein’s department store:

Mark Potts - 4

Before Parker Harding Plaza was built in the mid-1950s, the back sides of Main Street stores backed right up to the Saugatuck River. Some discharged their waste right into the water:

Mark Potts - 5

Much earlier than that, tall ships sailed up the Saugatuck to trade at Riverside Avenue wharves:

Mark Potts - 6

The 3-story National Hall building (also seen above) has stood since the mid-1800s. It’s been a bank, meeting place, site of the 1st Staples High School, a furniture store, a boutique hotel and a restaurant, among other uses:

Mark Potts - 8

For decades, the Clam Box served as the place to meet for good food (and, for local politicians, to make deals). Before becoming Bertucci’s, it was Tanglewoods:

Mark Potts - 9

In 1973, the New Yorker featured the Compo Beach pavilion on its cover. It hasn’t changed much, other than the addition of a nearby playground in the mid-1980s:

Mark Potts - 7

So, has Westport changed a lot over the years? You bet.

And has it remained the same: Of course.

Pete Aitkin Buys A New Black Duck

If you know the Black Duck — and who doesn’t? — you know the popular riverfront barge/bar/restaurant/hangout shares a name with the Black Duck racing boat.

Owner Pete Aitkin just received his latest toy: a custom-built 30-foot twin 300-horse Merc speedboat.

Last night, the Duck docked at the Duck.

This morning, Pete pulled it out of the water at Compo. He’ll store it till next year.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitken at the helm.

The Black Duck, with Pete Aitkin at the helm.

The Black Duck — food version — put Westport on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” map.

The maritime Black Duck did the same for offshore boat racing.

Tutti’s, Tarantino’s, Tarry Lodge: Top that!

(Hat tip: Randy Chiristophersen)

Dave Elgart: “Southern Hospitality Exists In Westport”

Most Fridays starting at age 7, Dave Elgart took a taxi — by himself — to Grand Central. He’d buy a ticket, and board a train. His father — divorced from Dave’s mother — would meet him in Westport. They’d spend the weekend here; then Dave would return — alone — to New York.

The routine continued from 1955 to 1962. That year Dave’s dad moved away. Soon, Dave’s mother moved to West Virginia.

Dave joined the Navy, earned a master’s, became a partner his 1st year at Bear Stearns, and moved way up the financial services ladder.

But — more than 50 years later — the pull of Westport is strong. A couple of weekends ago, Dave found himself at an industry conference in Greenwich.

David and Barbara Elgart.

David and Barbara Elgart.

He lives in Atlanta now. Except for a trip to a Turtles concert at the Westport Country Playhouse, he had not returned. His wife Barbara had never even been to New England.

So they drove up the Merritt, to revisit the town of his youth.

One of the first places Dave wanted to see was a store his father had once co-owned. Called the House of Buys, it sat next to a gas station he remembered was owned by Joe DeMattia.

The House of Buys lasted only a few years. The spot is now occupied by Torno Hardware. DeMattia’s service station was in business much longer — until just a year or so ago. It’s now being renovated into a Wheels store, next to Target Training.

As a teenager, Dave bought his first suit at a new men’s shop called Ed Mitchell’s. That tiny spot — now a People’s bank near Planet Pizza — has grown into the the luxury Mitchells of Westport store. Dave found Jack, Ed’s son.

The original Ed Mitchell's, on the corner of the Post Road (State Street) and North Compo Road.

The original Ed Mitchell’s, on the corner of the Post Road (State Street) and North Compo Road.

They talked for a long time. “He was a font of history,” Dave says. “And the store is amazing. They fawn over you, even if you don’t buy anything.”

Dave’s visit here was filled with similar propitious encounters. “The people could not have been nicer,” he says. “Everywhere we turned, they were so wonderful and kind. Southern hospitality definitely exists in Westport.”

Some places remain the same. The railroad station — where he spent so much time — looks no different (though the pot-bellied stove is gone).

Other places have changed. The state police barracks near the Sherwood Island Connector is now a Walgreens. There was no sign of a doctor he remembered, named Eldridge.

But the new Westport is as welcoming as Dave remembered the old. They ate dinner at Arezzo, where the owner “couldn’t have been nicer.”

Even Westport’s infamous drivers are “no crazier than in Atlanta,” Dave says.

“The roads aren’t great” here, he notes. But they’re “charming.” In fact, he calls the entire town “bucolic.”

Despite new construction, Westport looked "bucolic" to Dave Elgart.

Despite new construction, Westport looked “bucolic” to Dave Elgart.

Westport was “gorgeous,” Dave adds. “It’s even more beautiful than I remember it. It’s so much fun.”

Dave’s visit was so great, he and his wife will return this spring — with friends. They’ll tour the area, and take the train to New York to see a show.

It will be a reverse route than the one Dave was so used to taking, more than half a century ago. Of course, Metro-North has replaced the New York, New Haven & Hartford.

But sometimes, it seems, you can go home again.

Bagel Maven Bounces Back

Living in Cos Cob, Phil Nourie and his wife loved walking to their neighborhood bagel shop on weekends. So they were delighted when — moving to Westport — they discovered Bagel Maven on a weekend stroll.

After their son was born in 2009, owner Alex Perdomo delivered bagels and coffee to their home.

That’s the kind of guy Alex is. And it’s the kind of place Bagel Maven was.

But in mid-September, Alex told Phil that he might have to close. He’d missed a rent payment last winter. He took 4 months to pay back, and his landlord was unwilling to take another risk.

Phil — whose day job is in PR and marketing, with plenty of experience in crisis management — offered to help.

He advised Alex not to disparage the landlord — not that Alex would have. He knew he’d made a mistake, and that commercial real estate is a business too.

Alex Permodo on September 30. Despite closing that day, he managed a smile.

Alex Perdomo on September 30. Despite closing that day, he managed a smile.

Phil suggested Alex give away bagels on his last day. “You don’t know what can happen,” Phil said. “You never want to burn bridges.”

“06880” broke the story on Bagel Maven’s closing. WestportNow and News12 followed up.

Phil created a Facebook page and Twitter account. Strangers emailed, asking how they could help.

The Sunday after he closed, Alex met with Phil and another patron. They talked about the possibility of wholesaling, or finding new space in Westport.

Bagel Maven logoAlex was receptive. But research showed those options were not viable.

Phil suggested Alex talk to his landlord.

The conversation went well. Alex was forthright about his past error, and his current situation. The landlord — who had seen the press stories and social media activity — realized Bagel Maven was not just another shop.

Alex got a new lease. The landlord agreed to pay for painting.

Two patrons offered to pay for renovations. Alex and some friends have already taken apart the floor. The oven will be upgraded, and the interior opened up so customers can see the bagels being made. They’ll smell them, too.

Alex and some friends have already started renovating the interior.

Alex and some friends have begun renovating the interior.

The target date for reopening is November 8.

Phil calls this one of the most gratifying projects he’s worked on.

“It’s a great story about how people can come together, and do more than anyone thought possible,” he says.

“And it’s been done without any sense of outrage. This is a story of reality — of mistakes, and what can come out of them.”

Phil adds, “I got way into this — far more than I thought. But I couldn’t just walk away.”

Soon — thanks to Phil Nourie, and a community-wide effort — all of us can walk back into Bagel Maven.