Image

We’re Getting 1-3 Inches Of Snow, Followed By Rain. Here’s The Scene At Trader Joe’s.

2 For The Weekend

Looking for something to do this weekend?

A couple of great ideas just crossed my desk popped up in my inbox.

The first is a world premiere. Westport-based Connecticut Theater Dance kicks off its 2018-19 season with the original ballet “Drosselmeyer: The Toymaker’s Story” at Fairfield University’s Quick Center on Saturday (7 p.m.).

Artistic director Michelle Sperry wrote the fictional story of how the legendary toymaker created the magical nutcracker. Renowned choreographer Rodney Rivera — with 13 professional dancers, and supporting roles from CTD students (including young Westporters) — brings the ballet to life.

Writing and producing a totally new ballet is never easy. It’s especially tough when you’re a true non-profit, with a 100% volunteer board.

Sperry did it in just 2 months. But it could not have happened without plenty of help from Westporters.

Local businesses contributed funds. The company raised money by organizing a Halloween costumefest, renting a movie theater for a private showing, creating and selling calendars, and (of course) running a bake sale. Sperry even secured a private bank loan to make up the shortfall.

The young dancers augmenting the professionals in “Drosselmeyer” include Westporters.

The CTD’s mission of promoting diversity produced housing challenges. Sperry opened her home to a dancer from El Salvador for 5 weeks. Resident choreographer Alejandro Ulloa hosted a Nicaraguan dancer. Choreographer Rodney Rivera –from Puerto Rico — was welcomed in by another CTD family.

Most sets were made in Sperry’s garage — including a train big enough for cast members to ride on. Local residents offered rocking horses, dolls and beer steins.

CTD families donated food, helped sew (staying up until 3 a.m.!), and done much, much more. They’re honored to support dancers who commute up to 2 hours each way.

This is a labor of love for everyone. It should be an inspiring evening. And hey — how often do you get to see a world premiere?

Click here for tickets, or call 203-254-4010.

Meanwhile, Joan Nevin raves about the Westport Country Playhouse’s production of “Thousand Pines.”

The longtime Westporter — who has no connection with the theater, other than as a patron — calls the current play “groundbreaking and heartbreaking.”

It was developed in the Playhouse’s New Works Circle last year — the first to come out of the program with a full production. 

Playwright Matthew Greene explores how families and communities try to cope after a school shooting, in “an incredibly moving, intelligent way.”

Five characters — playing roles in different families affected by the tragedy — are “brilliantly nuanced.” Nevin won’t give away the ending, but calls it “brilliant. The play comes full circle with a powerful, heart-wrenching understanding among members of the community.”

She says it connects to devastating current events “without political implications or easy answers, but with  emotional depth and power.”

“Thousand Pines” runs through this Saturday (November 17). For more information and tickets, click here.

 

Staples Girls Soccer, Field Hockey Head To State Finals

For the 2nd year in a row, the Staples High School girls soccer team will play in the state final.

And for the 2nd straight year, they face Ridgefield.

Coach Barry Beattie’s 5th-seeded Wreckers earned the right to avenge last year’s 2-1 defeat by knocking off #1 Glastonbury 1-0 Monday night. Both teams completed the regular season undefeated. Staples was 13-0-3; the upstaters, 15-0-1.

The Wreckers’ route to the LL (largest division) title match included victories over 3 Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference opponents: Fairfield Warde (2-1), New Canaan (2-1) and Trumbull (3-0).

Staples and Ridgefield tied 0-0 earlier this season. The championship game is set for Saturday, 1 p.m. at Fairfield Warde High School.

The Staples girls soccer team celebrates after beating Glastonbury.

But soccer is not the only girls team contending for a Connecticut crown this weekend. The defending state champion field hockey team — ranked 2nd in the L (largest division) #1 Cheshire on Saturday. They face off at Wethersfield High School, at 10 a.m.

Coach Ian Tapsall’s squad — who posted a perfect 16-0-0 regular season mark — advanced to the final with 3 wins: 3-0 against Glastonbury, 1-0 over Norwalk, and 2-1 in an overtime, penalty shot semifinal against Darien.

The Staples High School field hockey team.

Good luck to both teams. Win or lose, you’ve already done us all proud!

The Little Red House Lives!

It’s a constant Westport discussion: empty Main Street storefronts, the perceived loss of community character, the fate of downtown.

Recently, David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square on Church Lane, and the new retail/residential complex at the old Save the Children site on Wilton Road — cautioned in an “06880” post that pessimism can be self-fulfilling. He pointed out many positive occurrences downtown.

Local preservationists/alert “06880” readers Wendy Crowther and Morley Boyd agree that good things are happening by the banks of the Saugatuck. They offer this story as proof.

In December 2016, the “Little Red House” faced demolition. A new mixed retail and residential project was planned for 201 Main Street/15 Belden Place — the spot opposite Le Rouge by Aarti and Ron’s Barber Shop, occupied by an aging storefront and some riverfront residences.

The Little Red House in 2016. (Westport Historic Resources Inventory, courtesy of Wendy Crowther)

Immediately, “06880” readers expressed strong opinions about the loss of a familiar part of the downtown landscape. Perched on the edge of the Saugatuck River, the circa 1920 Colonial Revival style structure could never be mistaken for distinguished architecture.

But that wasn’t the point. It was a picturesque little house which, despite flooding and development pressures, had endured. With the passage of time, the structure simply became a small part of what so many felt made Westport special.

Westporter Peter Nisenson, of PEN Builders, saw the many comments on “06880.” As the property’s new owner, he quickly reconsidered his company’s plans to demolish the antique waterside structure.

Nisenson realized that the house could actually become an attractive, valuable part of his larger redevelopment project.

After obtaining a record-setting 15 variances (thank you, Zoning Board of Appeals!), the Little Red House has been flood-proofed and refurbished.

Today, it’s almost near completion.

The Little Red House today. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Now divided into 2 light-filled apartments – each with its own porch and astonishing 180 degree views of the Saugatuck River – the structure retains all its beautiful wooden beams.

As a special nod to its place in the hearts of Westporters, the house’s original red paint has been color matched.

So here’s our takeaway: Whether it’s a quirky iron bridge, a beloved local bar or simply a picturesque waterfront dwelling, residents need to speak up when our non-renewable resources become endangered.

In this case, a savvy local developer responded to community input. He harnessed the peculiar power that authentic and familiar things seem to have over us.

As a result, his project is enhanced. And the public has the satisfaction of knowing that the Little Red House will contribute to the aesthetic value of Westport’s riverfront for generations to come.

How’s that for a positive downtown story?!

Morley Boyd and Peter Nisenson, in the refurbished house. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Pic Of The Day #576

Compo Beach pavilion (Photo/Michael Tomashefsky)

Mystery Object #12

Westport leads the nation in nail salons per capita.*

But our obsession with nails is not new.

Back in the 1890s, Westporters may not have had 27,915 salons to choose from. But they did have Victorian Nail Buffers.

The wooden blocks were finished with felt, covered with leather chamois, then topped with a sterling silver filigreed handle. They gave nails pleasing shines.

Victorian nail buffer

I didn’t know any of this. Neither did you (I’m sure).

But Laura Mozier knew what a Victorian Nail Buffer was. That’s why she’s the winner in the most recent Westport Historical Society Mystery Object contest.

It’s part of their ongoing “Westport in 100 Objects” exhibit. Every 2 weeks, the WHS displays something new. If you stop in and identify it, you — like Laura — can win something from the gift shop.

There are plenty of good items to choose from. Though they don’t carry gift certificates to nail salons.

*#FakeNews. But close.

Remembering Dale Wehmhoff

The Town of Westport lost a hard worker, and the sports world lost an avid competitor, when Dale Wehmhoff died last week.

The 1979 Staples High School graduate was 57.

Dale’s family moved to Westport when he was 6 years old. He played basketball, baseball and ice hockey.

Dale Wehmhoff

The ice was his particular passion. He became an assistant coach at Staples at age 18. A few years later as head coach, he took Norwalk High to the state final. He later coached again at Staples, as well as with youth and junior teams.

Dale was an avid softball player too. He played on local teams, and traveled around the country to tournaments.

Dale spent 31 years with Westport’s Department of Public Works. He also managed his own landscaping business, employing many friends and high school students.

Dale’s father Ralph was well known in Westport. After his death, Dale took over his popular role as “Santa” in the holiday season. He spread warmth and happiness to less fortunate area residents.

Dale was especially proud of his children’s success. His daughter Kelcie is head cheerleading coach at Brien McMahon High School, and in youth sports. His son Kyle is assistant hockey coach for the Connecticut Junior Whalers.

In addition to his children, Dale is survived by his wife Cheryl Anderson; his mother Marlene of Westport; his sister Marilyn Gula of Delray Beach, Florida; his brother Wayne of Westport, and several nieces and nephews.

Calling hours are this Sunday (November 18, 2 to 6 p.m., Harding Funeral Home, Westport). Services take place on Monday (November 19, 11 a.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church).

In lieu of flowers, scholarship donations can be made to Kelcie or Kyle Wehmhoff, c/o Wells Fargo Advisors, 450 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.

 

Unsung Hero #74

Pamela Einarsen moved to Westport 26 years ago. She was pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Paul raised 2 boys here.

A former oncology nurse, Pam switched careers in 1998. She started a photography business in her home. With Paul by her side, and sons Connor and Carson as assistants, it’s grown to 2 studios. Clients adore her wonderful eye and attention to detail, and return year after year.

Pamela Einarsen loves photographing children and families. 

As she did in her oncology work, Pam connects with people. She learns their stories, then tells them through photographs. She is creative, warm and loving.

Pam Einarsen is also giving. Every year, she donates her time and talents to worthy organizations and causes: A Better Chance of Westport. Staples Tuition Grants. Al’s Angels. The Westport Library. Near & Far Aid. Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.

Pam has photographed many local favorites, like Paul Newman, Michel Nischan, Maxine Bleiweis and Bill Derry. Her A-list of celebrities includes Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie and Deepak Chopra.

For the Westport Library’s “I Geek…” series, Pamela Einarsen photographed Miggs Burroughs wearing a t-shirt with the Westport flag he designed. 

Fellow photographer Katherine Bruan — who nominated Pam as this week’s Unsung Hero — says, “I’ve never met anyone who enjoys her work more. Every new client brings a new experience and a new story. Pam comes back from her shoots exhilarated, every single time. She appreciates life, and loves connecting with people so she can document their stories.

“Pam uses her photography to help people chronicle their lives and experiences. She captures the moments that matter, and sees everyone as beautiful and necesssary. Her photographs are priceless. It’s a gift to love your work as much as she does.”

For her 20 years photographing Westporters — and giving back to us all, through so much superb pro bono work — Pam Einarsen is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Picture that!

Pamela Einarsen

Christie’s Closes Soon. Another Westport Institution Is Gone.

In 1926, Christie Masiello opened a fruit and vegetable stand on Cross Highway. For nearly 7 decades she and her nephew Don were staples of that northern Westport neighborhood: a place to buy food (and gas). And — just as important — to meet.

The place went through some changes — it was briefly a dry cleaner — but when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, Christie’s regained its rightful place as a neighborhood store. And community center.

John added burritos, prepared foods and more to the menu. He rented space to Frosty Bear ice cream. There was a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.

Nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle School students flocked there after class (sometimes during). Neighbors stopped in a couple of times a day, for whatever they needed. (Including cumin for a Christmakkah meal — click here for that great story.)

It was the only place around for builders, construction workers, tradesmen and delivery people too. They packed the parking lot at lunchtime.

Christie’s was also the go-to place during weather disasters. When hurricanes howled or blizzards blew, the store was the neighborhood port in a storm. John offered ice, water, food, cell charging — whatever anyone needed.

If his power was out too, it was still the place to gather, swap stories, and get energized for the cleanup ahead.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

But all those will soon be memories. With sadness, John has announced that Christie’s is closing next month.

Rent and taxes are high, relative to sales and income that can be generated in his out-of-the-way place.

The lease was up in June. But John and Renee stayed on, to see if they could create a plan to make things work.

Christie’s is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited tables and chairs to seat approximately 9 patrons indoors.

The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter — in front of the fireplace — and on the porch in summer.

Christie’s handsome front porch.

They hoped for limited dinner too, in the form of Friday Family Fun Nights  (Saturdays too).

But before they could get approval from Planning & Zoning, they needed an okay from the Health Department.

Health officials said the septic system could not handle the additional stress. And — according to state regulations — the surrounding soils made expansion of the current system unfeasible. John and Renee had to operate as they currently do.

“Local officials were great,” John says. “They tried to work with us. But state laws prohibit expanding the septic system.”

So Christie’s will close soon after their last catering event: a Staples PTA holiday lunch for teachers.

That’s fitting. John has always been a huge supporter of Westport (and Fairfield) schools. He’s provided great food as cheaply as he can — sometimes at cost.

Four middle schoolers hung out the other day at Christie’s — near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

“Renee and I are thankful for all the great friends and supporters we’ve met,” John says. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. It’s been amazing, and what I’ll miss the most.”

“Closing Christie’s is sad for me. But Renee is comforted that I will be able to devote more time to her growing food company.” White Oak Farm & Table sells non-GMO and organic shelf-stable food to stores nationwide.

Everyone who made Christie’s their home away from home is sad too.

Really, everyone in Westport should be.

A little bit of what made our town special will soon be gone.

Thanks, John and Renee, for 9 great years.

And Christie’s, for 92 of them.

Pic Of The Day #575

Man builds; nature laughs — the new sidewalk on Avery Place (Photo/Bob Mitchell)