L’Chaim, Chabad!

In early 2012, “06880” reported that the former Three Bears would turn into a Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. It would be used for prayer services, educational programs and other meetings.

The 9,180-square foot property sat on 2.73 acres, at the corner of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike. It was a historic site.

Three Bears Inn, in its heyday. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

That’s where the Three Bears — with 6 fireplaces — operated from 1900 until 2009. It reopened for about 5 seconds as Tiburon restaurant, but the property was soon abandoned. Weeds sprouted on the once-stately site — parts of which still stood from its days as a stagecoach stop, 200 years earlier.

The story noted that complaints had been made by a neighbor about work being done without permits, and bright security lights infringing on neighbors.

Other concerns included traffic, wetland impacts, and exterior alterations to a historic building.

The interior of the Three Bears, from its glory days. (Postcard/Cardcow.com)

That story ran when I still permitted anonymous comments. It drew the most responses ever: 217. (The record still stands.)

They ranged far and wide. Readers waded in on Chabad’s mission, good works, and religious tolerance/intolerance in general; zoning issues like the permit process, residential neighborhoods, traffic, historic structures — even the pros and cons of anonymous comments.

What a difference 6 years makes.

As Chabad of Westport prepares for its grand opening celebration May 3 — including a ribbon-cutting ceremony with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — the neighborhood has changed hardly at all.

The Chabad of Westport exterior, on Newtown Turnpike.

The exterior of the Three Bears has been preserved. Some of the interior wood beams and other features remain too. More than 10,000 square feet have been added, but it’s in the back, barely visible to anyone. It’s all done in traditional New England style, with a barn-type feel.

Even the parking lot has been redesigned, eliminating a dangerous entrance near Wilton Road.

The renovated space — designed by Robert Storm Architecture, and carried out by Able Construction — includes seating for 300, in a light-filled multi-function synagogue; 8 classrooms for Hebrew school; event spaces, with a special area for teenagers; a large library, and a state-of-the-art commercial kosher kitchen.

The synagogue in the back includes plenty of light.

Eight apartments above can be used by visiting lecturers, and Orthodox observers attending events on the Sabbath who are too far away to walk home. (The apartments — completely renovated — were once leased to 3 Bears dishwashers.)

A large mural gives energy to the teenagers’ space.

The building process has reinforced for local Chabad leaders the importance of its site. Over the centuries, the property has been not only a restaurant, inn and stagecoach stop, but also (possibly) a house of ill repute, says congregant Denise Torve.

To honor its history, Rabbi Yehuda Kantor and Torve are seeking artifacts to display, and memories to showcase. Photos and recollections can be sent to DeniseTorve@aol.com.

An old sign hangs proudly in the new library.

Chabad has come a long way from the days when members met in the basement of the rabbi’s home, and rented the Westport Woman’s Club for High Holy Days services.

Of course, zoning issues continue to provoke intense Westport controversy. Only the location changes.

(Chabad of Westport’s grand opening celebration is set for Thursday, May 3, 6 p.m. at 79 Newtown Turnpike. It includes a ribbon cutting, mezuzah affixing, ushering in of the Torahs, buffet dinner, music and dancing. The entire community is invited.)

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Levitt Pavilion, before the crowds (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Photo Challenge #173

What a difference a comma makes.

Vanessa Bradford’s answer to last week’s photo challenge was: “Mansion Clam House dummy.”*

No, she was not referring to me. She was correctly identifying the subject of Peter Barlow’s photo: the jolly fisherman who for decades sat on the back roof of that popular Saugatuck restaurant. (Now it’s Parker Mansion — and the mannequin is gone.)

She was not the only one who quickly remembered the yellow-slicker clad guy. Others were Fred Cantor, Audrey Hertzel, Molly Alger, Michael Mombello, Andrew Colabella, Dan Herman, Jeff Giannone, Shirlee Gordon, Seth Braunstein, Fred Rubin, Elayne Landau, Diane Silfen, Jana Moorman, Michael Calise, Jacques Voris, Susan Feliciano, Bobbie Herman, Jamie Roth, Ken Palumbo and Amelie Babkie. (Click here for the photo.)

This week’s photo challenge might be harder. Then again, “06880” readers have their eyes open all over town. As always, if you know where in Westport you’d see this scene, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

*The most famous example of the importance of commas: “Lets eat Grandma.”

Matt Storch Gets Chopped

Matt Storch is a hometown hero.

The 1995 Staples High School graduate has won raves from area diners with restaurants like Match in South Norwalk, and Saugatuck’s new Match Burger Lobster.

Now the rest of the country can see the chef’s magic too.

This Tuesday (April 24), he’s featured on the Food Network’s Chopped. The battle begins at 10 p.m.

But you don’t have to watch it alone, curled up with a gallon of ice cream in front of the TV.

Match in SoNo is hosting a viewing party. A late-night happy hour begins at 9 p.m. At 10, they’ll show the show on a big-screen TV.

The show was taped a while ago. Of course, Matt is not allowed to tell anyone how he did.

But win or lose, Westport knows the rest of the country is no match for Matt Storch.

Matt Storch is ready to rumble.

Electric Car Club Charges Ahead

Westporters own 266 electric vehicles. That’s the 3rd highest number in Connecticut. Greenwich leads, with 511.

But — at 1% of our total registered vehicles — we do rank first in the largest number of EVs per capita. That’s 3.5 times the statewide average.

Those are a few of the interesting facts to come from the Connecticut EV Club. That’s the new name for the Westport Electric Car Club. As EV popularity rises — there are 35% more plug-in vehicles in the state than a year ago — the local organization is growing too.

Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles at an Electric Car rally. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P85D model. On the right is former Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.

Bruce Becker is taking over from founder and longtime president Leo Cirino.

Other changes include partnerships with groups like the Acadia Center and Lime Rock Historic Festival, plus conversations with state transportation and energy officials.

One upcoming initiative: lobbying legislators to change the law prohibiting Tesla from selling directly to customers. (Connecticut allows cars to be purchased only through independent dealerships. Tesla sells direct from the manufacturer.)

State residents have reserved over 3,000 Model 3s — Tesla’s highly anticipated $35,000 vehicle. Club officer Barry Kresch estimates that 250 to 300 of those are in Westport.

So — despite the club’s name change —  our town will continue to have an outsize influence on statewide EV policy and affairs. “This is an environmental-thinking place,” Kresch says. “Its leaders are very green-conscious.”

And, he says, with 20 or so public charging stations — including both train stations, the library and Staples High School — Westport’s commitment to electric vehicles remains strong.

(For more information on the Connecticut EV Club click here.)

Electric vehicles lined up by the Staples charging stations (from left): Chevy Bolt, Tesla S, VW, Tesla X, Nissan Leaf.

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Splash of color on Saugatuck Shores (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Daffodil Mile In Bloom

It’s been a long, hard winter. Sometimes this feels not like April 21, but January 111th.

Don’t tell that to the daffodils. Willowbrook’s famed “Daffodil Mile” is now in full bloom.

That’s great news for the thousands of drivers who pass the Main Street cemetery every day — and the many more bikers, joggers and walkers who wait patiently for the display.

Over the past 10 years, families and friends of Willowbrook’s “residents” (aka dead people) have donated 35,000 bulbs. Each year the line of yellow flowers grows.

Next year, 10,000 more bulbs will be planted.

And in the coming months, cemetery trustees will release details on a new cherry blossom mall.

PS: The cool weather is good for one thing. This year, the daffodils will bloom longer than usual.

(For more information, click here for the Willowbrook Cemetery website.)

If You Make It, They Will Come

The 7th annual Westport Maker Faire is underway.

Over 12,000 people will wander all around downtown, from now through 4 p.m.

From Jesup Green to Toquet, Branson and Town Halls — plus the Baldwin parking lot and Seabury Center — they’ll watch (and participate) in hundreds of activities.

Robots, Vorpal the Hexapod, Myrmidon Dagorhir the medieval re-enactors, TecKnow smart homes, nerf guns, food trucks, gubernatorial candidates — they and much, much, much, much more are there for the gawking.

Get in touch with your inner geek. Go!

Action figure meets EMTs, as a mannequin on a gurney hangs out.

Making art at the Maker Faire. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

I went to the Maker Faire, and all I got was this photo with some medieval jousters. (Photo/Terry Brannigan)

Shadow puppets intrigue these youngsters. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

The band Verbatim — with Eamonn Brannigan, TJ Brannigan and Claire Halman — play at Bedford Square.

First Selectman Jim Marpe visits an exhibit. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

What’s a fair without a clown?

Michael Connors Finds A Career

Michael Connors has had several careers.

Michael Connors

The Staples High School football player did not go to college. Instead, after graduating in 1999 he traded commodities, helped run Juba’s coffee shop, and got involved in skincare. Eleven years ago, he started an excavation constructing firm.

He began selling his own equipment online. Then he sold lamps, and a dining room table. 

The process attracted him. Last May, 2 Westport women offered him a partnership with their consignment shop.

It did not work out. But he loved the space.

Six months later, with construction work slow, his phone rang. The consignment space — on Taylor Place, across from Tiffany — was available.

Which is how Connors became the new owner of a consignment boutique, known simply as Taylor Place.

He enjoys helping people who have no idea what to do with items they own (or have inherited). He loves the challenge of “seeing pieces with character and craftsmanship find new homes.”

And he appreciates the chance to meet interesting people: artists, designers, anyone who wanders in the door. “This is never boring,” Connors says.

His shop is small. So he’s selective about the pieces he chooses — furniture, home decor, lighting, art and accessories — and how he displays them. He uses his walls to display the works of one artist at a time.

As a merchant on Taylor Place, Connors can apply for a permit to use Jesup Green for events. He anticipates a show with a bounce house, antique cars — the sort of stuff that makes Westport fun.

And that can’t fit inside 24 Taylor Place, the newest venture for a man who has finally found his true calling.

 

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Spring comes — slowly but surely — to Town Hall (Photo/Dan Woog)