Down By The Riverside

Last week’s “06880” post on “Downtown Activism” really roiled the water.

More than 40 commenters waded into the long-running debate about downtown Westport’s charm (or decrepitude).  Some of the most interesting replies noted the decided lack of advantage we downtown property owners have taken in what really is a spectacular riverside setting.

San Antonio's riverside...

Parker Harding Plaza, for example, snags what could be a wonderful shopping/strolling/dining/hanging out district — think San Antonio’s River Walk — and uses it instead as a parking lot.

It’s not as if people have parked there since, like, colonial days.  Until the 1950s, the Saugatuck River lapped up against the backs of Main Street stores.  Today’s “plaza” is all landfill.

I won’t hold my breath waiting for a River Walk.  (I’m already holding it waiting for the Post Road/Main Street crosswalk to be striped.)

But the comments got me thinking about one of my (many) pet peeves:  Starbucks.

... and Westport's.

No, not the uber-ubiquitous chain itself.  (Though I still maintain that if a “tall”  is the smallest size offered, I am Yao Ming.)

My beef is that our downtown coffee shop is the most poorly designed of all 3,287,682,451 Starbuckses in the galaxy.

Who gets to look at the river?  Not the customers.  The workers baristas.  (Well, they would if we weren’t standing in the way.)

The seating area should face the river.  The serving area should be where the seats are now — that pitch-black, very unwelcoming section in the back.

Or so it seems.  I don’t sit there.  I’m afraid I’ll get mugged.

Which leads to today’s “06880” question:  What other places in Westport — downtown or elsewhere — need a makeover?

Click the “comments” tab.  All ideas will be collected, collated, tabulated, and passed along to the proper authorities.

Who will toss them into the Saugatuck River, never to be seen again.

52 responses to “Down By The Riverside

  1. Baron’s South vs. Winslow Park:
    – Let’s allow dog walkers, hikers, and anyone who wants to enjoy an interesting panorama to explore the beauty of Baron’s South.
    – I don’t know if we need senior housing, workforce house or a new Y. But, if we do, why not build them on the flat terrain on Winslow Park?

  2. Westport needs street vendors. Street vendors bring people which will bring people into the stores. It’s also not a bad idea to close Main Street to traffic (Think Burlington, VT). The area across the water behind the old The old Hotel that used to be Fairfield Furniture is so adorable with a beautiful walkway that I bet most people don’t even know about. There needs to be a permanent street festival there and the riverwalk near the library. Downtown Westport is beautiful but Westporters don’t partake to walk acoss the street and across the bridge and include that space because it will draw the eye across the water and make this area a real “waterfront”. I totally agree about Starbucks but there’s nothing to really look at now.. if there was some color and people walking around instead of the sterile view that is our zoning board’s dream manifest, We need street dining, a more colorful bridge, (think the Frog bridge in Torrington) There is so much we can do. What are we waiting for, none of this costs much and will revitalize downtown.

  3. oops..omitted after partake… Westporters don’t partake. They need the incentive to walk across the street and across the bridge..

  4. Chip Stephens

    Yes ! Redesign Parker Harding, make it a contest to see what kind of unique ideas could make the river more accessible and hide that God awful stinkin garbage island. Winner gets their name on the plan (oh joy!)
    But WESTPORT BEWARE ! There are plans being decided as you read this, to trash the beautiful Wake See And Dimes mansion next to the Y (where the old house across the street is being restored) and put up a 60 ft 6 story condo and parking STOP THE MADNESS ! And whilst we are on the subject will someone please tell me if we put up a 4 to 6 story parking garage downtown where will the traffic go besides nowhere ? The arteries to downtown are already choked on heavy shopping or festival days. You can put all the parking you want downtown but getting in and out, well we had not planned on that…… Slow down on development.. Preserve !

    • So, reading between the lines, what you are saying is that Ron Corwin and David Waldman are the same person? They sure seem to be pretty well aligned in what is “needed” in downtown. Wonder how that happens.

  5. First I want to say that years ago the Parker Harding parking lot had a flood. The river came up and washed out a lot of stores on the parking lot side! I still love the “idea” of waterside shopping! That said, when is the Walgreens across from the Shake Shack going to get a make-over?! I was just thinking about Sakura’s too ( 20 years the same)and the old Bank of Darien across from Pantagonia.

  6. Veterans Green is fronted on Main Street by a very ugly chain link fence. it needs to be removed/replaced. Free the park!

    BTW – plans are nice to have, but the P&Z and the downtown real estate developers are not waiting for any new ideas. They are executing against a vision that benefits the few at the expense of all Westport residents. Don’t get distracted by dreams of perfect plans – the developers don’t.

  7. What about that mini area way up north of Main Street? Bogie’s Restaurant, hardware store, etc. Kinda drab if you ask me.

  8. Diane Lowman

    Totally agree! It’s a shame that we have such beautiful waterfront all through town and so little access to it. And the Starbucks downtown is one of the moat poorly designed I’ve been in and I’ve been in more than I can count!

  9. I say pull the whole galaxy-wide chain, melt it and recycle it into some sort of molten liquid that’s bound to taste better than that vile, bitter excuse for coffee they sell. Starbucks is the George Steinbrenner of so-called coffee manufacturers, whose motto oughta be “Let’s see how much we can get away with charging for a fancy-labeled, status-centered cup of dung.” Bravo for your opinions, Yao!

  10. Instead of building a 6 story anything, Westport should take the lead in grabbing some of its excess housing from the banks and turn them into housing for the elderly and disabled (not low income or homeless) Redo them in sustainable materials. And be a pilot program for my We shouldn’t be building ANY more housing (other than replacing knock downs)

    AND.. For Baron’s South? What about something cool and different like replicating a part of Westport’s past,… bring a few horses up there, make some paths.. build a small antique cabin using the same construction methods used in the old days…(dismantled homes are in storage and can be bought for a song) that are in storage and a cabin or two and have plays about CT history on a stage and small booths for artisans, crafters. Have a mini Sturbridge village only accessible on foot or by horse and carriage. We’re Westport… we should be a special place.. for US.. not just for tourists wanting to shop.

  11. We should KEEP that house up there because the one time I looked through the window there, I could see it’s a great example of art deco interior.

  12. I tried to search for the fine gentleman Parker Harding must have been, but Google and Wiki failed me. So can we officially rename it Harder Parking Plaza? That’s been the common nickname for decades.
    And as the original Mayor Daley said: (paraphrased) “We are not here to prevent disorder, we’re here to preserve disorder.”
    Or to continue Woog’s musical references: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
    If I had a choice, I’d choose change to correct a problem, and risk a disappointing solution (unexpected consequences), over choosing to keep a bad situation. But then, I’m an engineer, I try to fix things. And I’m not an elected official. As shown above, trying to get Westporters to agree on anything is next to impossible – which is part of the fun.

    • They were two people. Emerson Parker was a selectman, and Evan Harding (Daybreak Nursery) helped design it. I could be wrong, but that’s the way I’ve heard it.

      • Perhaps a better choice of names might include Harder Parking?

      • The Dude Abides

        That is correct. It is all landfill and installed after the big hurricane of 1953 that flooded much of downtown. The river used to come right up to the back of where stores are now. Evan did all the grunt work. Parker got his name on it.

  13. This thread has reproduced the banter of the first episode “Downtown Activism”. Everyone wants “improvement”, their way. Big surprise. “Let’s spend someone else’s money to make my dream come true.” It has a very familiar ring to it.

  14. I love San Antonio and the River Walk.

    It is so beautiful.

    • The Dude Abides

      I woudln’t say it is beautiful unless you have had at least three drinks. But it is nice and you can take the river boats down the river with good restaurants and outdoor concerts going on all year round. It has made San Antonio, formerly known only for its depressing and diminutive Alamo, a thriving tourist attraction.

  15. Has anyone noticed that the interior of the other local Starbucks (Post Road & Cedar, the one without a river view) has been redesigned? Well, a bit. There is new seating and a rearrangement that makes the area behind the counter more visible. So they do make changes it seems.

  16. The chain link fence around Luciano Park. What a mess! Just take it down….

    • We get our fences from the same folks who designed the hideous extruded park benches around town.

  17. What about that ugly low blue building on Riverside Avenue bordering the river? I can’t remember the name of it. The building looks like a bomb shelter and it blocks the view of the water. You have to get into its parking lot to see the river and the parking lot is, well, a parking lot.

  18. I think the beauty of downtown is parking next to the river. I dont have time to walk around by the river but if getting coffee, pizza or going to Oscar’s its so nice to pull into Parker Harding and drive along the river. Westport is not a city, its a small town. Too bad main street is for tourists now. I also think preservation is the key. City development is for Stamford or Bridgeport. We get downtown by car, ususally. We already have a river walk. There definatly are parking issues downtown but taking away Parker Harding wont solve them at all. Closing off Main Street will be just weird. Sure Santa Monica has the promenade but what we have here is just a small country town. The Barron’s south idea is also quite stupid why not put it on the post road why develop the beautiful park. A medical facilty does not need to be in the woods. I think all the ideas are totally zany

    • With your attitude, you would probably have told Herb Baldwin to blow off Longshore. Preservation is not the key to vision. Austin has a slogan: Keep Austin weird. Westport could use a little of that these days. Downtown has become a cumbersome cluster of clones. Yawn.

      • You cant just have vision. Vision is a big thing. Vision is not about zoning regulations, its about an idea that is just so right no one could possibly argue with it.
        I had an idea for parking a tall ship right in front of Jesup Green. You could see the mast as you approach downtown. There is a lot of history in Westport, I hope we dont pave over it with more commercialism. People would bring there kids to see the tall ship. All anybody can talk about is parking meters and movie theaters, boring…..

        • HUH? Vision certainly involves debate and dissent. Longshore is a prime example of that. And vision does involve zoning, public and private investment and loads of other factors. I actually like the idea of a tall ship but you should know that more old foggies visit the Constellation in Baltimore harbor more than young kids. History v. commercialism was decided in the ’70’s when Stauffer Chemical came to town. Now there are more commuters to Westport than to NYC. But I believe a transformation is order for downtown. If you want to reminisce about how great the Remarkable Book Store was . . . you will be living in the past and be lost in the shuffle.

          • Stauffer is a great example, they kept the field, also they paid for something or another cant remember. I can remember going to see the cows, those were the days. Bottom line: either westport embraces the fact that downtown is for out of towners or we continue to pretend that most of the people that go there are westporters. If the vision is based on a phoney notion it will fail. People are having a hard time getting real about these things. I was talking to a High School kid and he told me ” Downtown is very un-cool” a lot of westporters are repulsed by it, they just wont go there, so lets not kid ourselves and either become a full on tourist trap or try to preserve its charm, cant have both successfully.

            • Yeah, Stauffer kept the property taxes lower but opened up the floodgates for companies from NYC. The choice of commercialization was made decades ago. If you want the gas station, Bill Smoke’s Shop and Klein’s back, that ship has sailed and quite honestly, it was hardly charming. Downtown now is Corporate America, full throttle. And big business does not care about its residents. They are interested in the bottom line and if that means luring in whomever, they will do so. You sound like a Tea Partier when you infer you want to take downtown “back.” The very last tidbit of attraction to ole downtown is the YMCA and that is moving soon. Big money will determine what the future holds. You act like we have a choice. Westport sold its soul long ago.
              P.S. I am not sure any teenager in Fairfield County thinks their downtown is cool.

              • So much heavy breathing on the part of some. I think you have grasp the economic realities correctly, but I am not sure I would frame the choices in the same way. With respect to Longshore, I think it was a agreat purchase because it benefits me, and you. As I mentioned to you once, what a great venue for two “rich” guys to tee it up. My thanks to Herb Baldwin.

            • The Dude Abides

              If you want to see a town that has “kept its charm” avoiding “tourists,” visit Darien. Their downtown is a dump, their beaches crap and three very snooty country clubs. But they like it that way because they keep out the “New Yorkers.” You want that?

      • There would be houses on Longshore now if this P&Z was running things back then. Here’s a slogan – improve Westport for all Westporters – not just for downtown real estate owners. Otherwise… please do no harm.

  19. Mansion Clam House parking lot has the BEST view of the river… such a shame! Why can’t they do a patio of some sort!!!!

  20. The Peters Bridge market plaza, sooooo old! Yeah there is a Dunkin’ donuts and a bistro there, why not update it to make it look a little nicer. While I am on the subject. . . do we REALLY need another cleaners when there is one 50 feet away? My idea is to knock out the cleaners, and put Mansion in there and build a large patio behind the building so you can have a bistro, clam house and a Dunkin all overlooking the water.

  21. While we’re all complaining, I think the ugliest building in Westport is Restoration Hardware. That color could not be any worse.

  22. As I read these posts it becomes easy to hope that none of the “visions” come to pass. If it makes people happy to share their fantasy here great, but let’s not confuse one person’s longings for a clear improvement to downtown Westport. There is no single outcome that will benefit ALL Westporters, and thank goodness for that.

    • The Dude Abides

      That is not true. The acquisition of Longshore certainly benefited not only all the residents but also the outside public who uses the clubhouse, restaurant and now the golf course. That was Herb Baldwin’s dream and I am not sure why the transformation of downtown can not be framed in the same vision.

      • Dude – congestion in downtown Westport suggests that whomever is coming downtown (local or not), we don’t need to muck up the zoning to attract more. Every suggestion coming from the “vision” folks seems to be about accommodating increases in traffic & visitors – and also conveniently increasing the real estate values of a handful of property owners – not preserving the character of what he have (and have lost).

        The loss of “needle park” and the new crosswalk downtown are perfect examples of the improper focus the current P&Z has with regards to Wesport Center.

        • The Dude Abides

          I agree with you. But that is not the course that the powers to be decided decades past or are contemplating now. They want people to come to Westport and spend money with the pretense that it will keep property taxes down and be used by all. My thought that if it is going to happen anyway, we might as well voice our opinion on its transformation. P&Z sold out to the developers decades ago. Why do you think we have a deer problem???

      • It certainly benefitted those who play golf more than those who do not.

        • I don’t play golf, and I don’t go to Longshore much. But I benefit from the fact that there’s a golf course, tennis courts, pool, marina, inn and restaurant for my fellow Westporters to enjoy — and by the fact that back in 1960, the 188 acres were not turned into a housing development with hundreds of homes. Imagine what Westport would be like now if that had happened.

        • Not really. If you sail or swim or play tennis or ice skate in the winter or merely want to take a bike ride around a semi-safe track, Longshore is the place. Great place for a wedding as well.

  23. Geoff Ferguson

    The ugliest building of Westport is ….. (opening envelope) … that office building on Charles Street. The one across the street from Tarry Lodge.


  24. the town has not been very smart. that huge office building that overlooks downtown westport, taking down the 2 historic mansions we had left in town, putting a commercial building on gorham island. we have the opportunity to make westport a beautiful town again and to preserve its history without being silly about it. how tall is the great eyedea and so is reserving history at sarah’s cell

  25. Sorry…so I preserving history at barons south

  26. Does anyone know what’s the story with the row of seemingly abandoned decrepit homes on the Post Road West, between Cross & Lincoln? (same side of the street as KHS) The roofing is rotted on all of them (4-5 homes), overgrowth crawling up the homes, and gutters filled with grown weeds. We walk that way to town often, and am shocked that they are left to linger in such a state.

  27. I know about those homes on Post Road West. They used to belong to my uncle. My cousins sold the units and the surrounding vacant land to the conservative Jewish synagogue. They are responsible for the condition. They also own, I think.. the big 8 unit building across the street that is for sale and it’s falling apart as well. I also want to apologize for my typos, I had no business trying to comment via smart phone. This isn’t a small town anymore. It was small when Compo Shopping center was the only other shopping center on the Post road which is now littered with strip centers just like a real city now. It’s probably not a bad thing. Revitalizing downtown might encourage people to use busses. I am not completely serious about no traffic on Main Street but I think that’s the only pipe dream. Our kids don’t really hang out downtown like we did. I actually Christmas shopped in downtown Westport and now I wouldn’t even think about it. Being online is more fun than going downtown. We desperately need to preserve our history in a more demonstrative way since we got rid of our best buildings. A recreated village on Baron’s South would only be partial pennance.

  28. I didn’t mean to be anonymous.. I am shutting up now.