Remarkable Graffiti

Sometime last night, this graffiti appeared on the side of the Talbots Petites store by the Parker Harding entrance:

But it was hardly vandalism.  In Westport, graffiti is elegant — and historic.

Featuring a replica of the dude who appeared on the logo of the Remarkable Book Shop, it honors Esther Kramer — the founder and longtime owner of the long-cherished store.  She died earlier this month, at 93.

From 1962 to 1994, the Remarkable Book Shop occupied a former private home at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding.

Painted pink, it was certainly distinctive.  Even more remarkable was what was inside.  Books on every topic imaginable — including cutting-edge topics like women’s rights — filled uneven shelves.  Overstuffed chairs invited browsers to sit, read and linger, long before Barnes & Noble turned that concept into corporate policy.

A cat curled in the corner.

The Remarkable Book Shop, back in the day. Note the dude on the logo next to the large window.

The floor was wooden, and uneven — something Esther and her staff never were.  They knew every customer — from Paul Newman and hotshot writers down to 3rd graders — by name.  Esther and her staff knew everyone’s tastes, and never hesitated to recommend a good read.

They knew what a local bookstore could — and should — be:  A community gathering place.  Warm, friendly, funky.  Something remarkable, which no one seemed to remark upon until it was gone.

Last night, someone remembered.  And made his or her mark in a way Esther no doubt would have loved.

(Fun fact:  “Remarkable” included Esther’s last name, Kramer, spelled backward.  A commemoration of her life will be held Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m. at the Westport Library.)

26 responses to “Remarkable Graffiti

  1. betsyphillips

    Hi–that story is touching! I moved to Westport a little over a year ago from NC and cannot tell you how many times I have (heard) of the little pink store on Main St. called the The Remarkable Bookstore–And, what a terrific honor that her legend lives on in the memories and souls of those who supported her small business downtown! I wish I had known her… And, how many years has it been? Amazing– the impact that ‘warm, friendly, funky’ family owned boutiques and stores have on a community… I am among a large group of Westporters who urge downtown landlords to rethink their rental strategy to something– more remarkable!!! : )

  2. Adam Stolpen

    Esther really was REMARKABLE. Her love of reading and cascading curiosity was contagious. My mother introduced me to The Remarkable, Esther and her cadre of amazingly well versed assistants (no one at Remarkable just sold books..they knew and loved them) when I was just a kid. It was a jumble of sloping floors, over stuffed shelves and chairs you could just flop into.
    If you picked out a book to look at someone would suggest another. If you sat in a chair and started to read Esther would come over and say “If you like that book you’re going to really love this one” and plop another volume in my lap. I could have a stack a foot tall next to me before too long. Sometimes I’d get my mother to buy one of the books for me. Other times I’d read for a while and then leave without buying anything. But then on the next time I would go in Esther would remember what I had left behind and ask if I enjoyed it, wanting to know what got my curiosity. She wanted to know what her customers’ were interested in. She did not just want to sell a book.
    When she heard that my mother had invented a new teaching game “The Rolling Reader” she insisted on her coming to the store and demonstrate it. The place was crowded with books, chairs, shelves and people..not like the wide mega-stores we have today. How we fitted in a table and my mother and me to demonstrate the game was a real magical performance. But we did and Saturday after Saturday I was there demonstrating to Westport moms and dads how they could teach Johnny how to read. Esther wanted us to do that because she had a real love of reading and recognized it was how to get minds moving. She really was REMARKABLE.

  3. Larry Perlstein

    During the winter, there was nothing better than finding a corner to sit and read. The place had great warmth.

  4. Richard Lawrence Stein

    It’s a shame that they changed the color of the building… What a great tribute and landmark reference if it were still pink

  5. The Remarkable bookstore was a source of never ending discovery and delight. It has been sorely missed. What a great little tribute.

  6. Oh my. Precious memories of the kind lady, Esther, who would allow kids to browse all through the store. There were such treasures there,..books, toys and curiosities galore. I brought my babies there too and bought copies of Pat the Bunny. Ahhh..! What a remarkable impression you made on this community… Esther…, thank you sweetie.

  7. Old, rememberable Westport = the Remarkable Book Store.
    New, forgettable Westport = Talbots Petites.
    Change is not necessarily good.

  8. I am told the graffiti artists made their mark right where the old logo hung on the building. Pure coincidence — or Esther’s “guiding hand”? Maybe even her editing skills, still at work.

    I am also told that the Talbots folks plan to keep the Remarkable tribute right where it is.

    And why not? After all, the Kramers still own the building!

  9. Me thinks that Miggs Burroughs is behind the happy graffiti.

    Sidney Kramer was the guiding force behind Save Westport Now. More than once, when he tried to save Westport from itself, developers would note in a disparaging tone that Main Street had a building that was bubblegum pink. They used it as a way to discredit him. I wonder if they are happy now that Main Street is all decked out in acceptable gray.

  10. A second guess

    Howard Munce would also be a good guess for the happy graffiti artist.

  11. Fred Cantor

    I still think it would be a win-win situation if Talbots painted that corner building pink.

  12. My first writing award came through a contest held jointly by Remarkable Book Shop and New York Times. Now having read your description of her I understand why I received that award. It definitely would have spoken to her as a person interested in women’s rights and writing. She made quite a big deal out of it for me and especially when I faced criticism for what I had written. Needless to say: a very special place and person.

  13. It was meeting Esther Kramer as a customer that made me decide that I had to work in her store. I joined the staff in 1973-74 and became part of its enchanted legacy. We loved working at Remarkable. The clientele was dazzling but it actually helped me put childlike ideas of “famous” “celebrity” “rich” into perspective. I met wonderful people and remain friends with many of them and their children. Remarkable was my mentor, my training ground. My co-worker, Helen O’Kelly asked me once if I knew the Strand in New York City. I said that I did not. She said, “I can just see you working there.” I have been with Strand now almost 34 years. During my first Christmas away from Westport, Esther Kramer came to see me at the Strand. She actually spoke to Fred Bass directly, to make sure, from her lips, that he knew what/who he had in me. ( I was both flattered and dismayed.)
    There was no one else like Esther, and Sidney loved her like they had just hooked up. I always found that so charming.

  14. Dan, great post – thanks for sharing it!!! Westport needs unique stores back in down town – like Remarkable, Kleins (great record selections), Selctive Eye (where as teenagers all the girls bought their Gunny Sack dresses from).

    Miss the old Wspt – not the same with all the “mall” stores now 😦

  15. They were all REMARKABLE! I worked there the late 80’s
    and was so fortunate to know & work with Esta, Rita,Jeanne & others. I often think of the wonderful time I had and all the wonderful books I had access to. My daughter lives in Westport now and everytime I see “Remarkable” it always brings back fond memories.

  16. Remarkable bookstore was a big part of growing up in Westport-it made the town unique-and remarkable! I loved that store and still can picture roaming around all the book filled spaces. There was always something new to discover- and what a wonderful atmosphere-just the way all bookstores should be! We lost a lot when the shop closed. I think it’s terrific that the “dude” has magically appeared in tribute to the shop and Mrs. Kramer!

  17. Who doesn’t remember Remarkable and how unique a place it was? Trying to climb up and around the stairs to see every cool thing you could. I have one treasure from there and it’s not even a book. It’s a stuffed rabbit with a crazy face I couldn’t resist. It slept with both my kids in their cribs – kind of my testament to what I loved and a connection to my past.

  18. One great thing about working at Remarkable was when the large shipment of items to be sold at the store would arrive from one Esther’s trips to foreign countries. We would sit around and Esther would unpack each item with a magnificent story on what she was doing before she found the item; how she found the item; a description of the store or bazaar where she purchased the item; anyone she ran into on the way to where she bought the item; and with Esther trying to remember how much she paid for the item.

    Thank you Esther. You will be missed. Rest in peace.

  19. Oh, why can’t we have a wonderful book store again in this town? I know all about the economics that argue against such a concept but I know I am not the only one who wants to go to a place like The Remarkable Bookstore. If there were a cafe that subsidized part of the cost-and we could use a decent cafe in this town, too-I bet the place would be jammed and people would be willing to pay just a little more for a well curated selection of books to have the community feeling that such a place would engender (think the Crawford Doyle bookshop on Mad. at 81st St.). I know in some places the town owns properties and rents them at very reduced rates in order that activities that benefit all of its residents may flourish (book stores, cafes, etc.). One can dream…

  20. The demand for books in the future will not likely be sufficient to support the number of bookstores that exist currently. Technological innovations are shifting the demand to digital version of books. Book stores are soon to be quaint reminders of the past.

    • Yes, like good manners, caring for your neighbor, respect for your fellow citizen, courtesy behind the wheel and all the other aspects of civilized behavior that initially brought the intellectually curious to this town of onion fields.

    • Yes, like good manners, caring for your neighbor, respect for your fellow citizen, rules of the road and all the other aspects of civilized behavior that initially brought the intellectually curious to this town of onion fields.

      • The most important attribute of the bygone behavior you lament was a willingness to butt out. That too has vanished; meddling is now the norm. As to the intellectually curious; I have lived in Westport for over 30 years, and haven’t seen much of them.

  21. I remeber well winning a reading contest in 2nd grade at Bedford Elemntary School for reading the most books over the course of the entire year. The prize was a $5 gift certificate to Remarkable where I could buy – not borrow from the library – books of my choice! We now have a wonderful painting of the Remarkable, painted by another town legend Tony Marino, hanging in our family room.

    • Tony Marino — another great Westporter — died recently too. THANKS for the memories, Dan.

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