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.
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.
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.”
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.