It Was Ever Thus

Alert “06880” reader Ann Sheffer sent this along, from the “Exit 18” Facebook page. Lise Krieger wrote it for the Westport News. It could have been written in 2014. But the dateline was more than 20 years ago: March of 1994.

With the imminent closing of The Remarkable Book Shop, downtown Westport, as many of us knew it, is taking its final, dying breath. What used to be a unique town, filled with mom and pop stores, unusual gift and clothing shops, and family restaurants, has succumbed to the latest American disease: “malling.”

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (Photo/Westporters.com)

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop. It was on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.  (Photo/Westporters.com)

Newcomers and younger folks love the new Westport – and why wouldn’t they? It has every chic clothing store chain that dress-alikes love to patronize. It has coffee bistros. It is expensive. Its parking lots are packed with Volvos, Jeeps, and Range Rovers. Westport is the place to shop and be seen. The mall transformation will be complete when a roof is erected over the entire area.

For comfort, I want to blame this affliction on somebody. Is it the fault of the chain store operators for wanting to increase their bottom line? Is it the fault of the consumers who desperately need to conform fashionably? Is it the fault of town government which allows the transformation? Or is it the fault of store owners who sell out?

I guess no one is to blame, really. Main Street towns all over America are dying because they can’t compete with the shopping malls sprouting like chicken pox throughout their areas. Westport is simply staying in the race.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

I grew up in Weston and spent much of my childhood on Main Street. I hardly go there anymore unless I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding bitter, I hate the crowds, I hate the stores, I hate the entire atmosphere. Yes, nostalgia can be a powerful emotional force. I don’t want to accept Westport the way it is today; I want to remember it the way it used to be.

When my brothers and I were young, my mother shopped for our clothing basics at Greenberg’s Department Store. My brothers got their formal clothes up the Post Road at Paul Zabin’s, and I was outfitted for my party duds at Trudy Gary’s….

Often my father took me to town on Saturdays to keep him company while doing errands. I loved to visit my neighbor, Mr. Messex, who worked at Hartman’s Hardware Store. The worn wooden floor was always neatly swept, and the tools, hardware and garden equipment were always in place. The store smelled faintly of fertilizers and insect repellents. If Hartman’s was out of something we needed, my dad would visit its competitor, Welch’s, up the street.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

My father bought his office supplies at Klein’s and was a regular patron of the record section before Sally moved to her own place. We often perused the bookshelves that sat atop crooked, wooden floors at Remarkable, and Dorain’s Drug Store, recently gone from Main Street, was the only place we knew for our pharmacy needs. My father knew the names of all of the people who worked in these stores, giving the Saturday trips to town a social air, as well.

Before fueling up at the gas station where The Limited now stands, dad would take me to Bill’s Smoke Shop for a treat. We sat at the counter and ate ice cream sundaes, and then I looked at the comic book racks while my father read the paper.

One of our regular dinner stops was Westlake, a dimly lit Chinese restaurant. If we were lucky, we were seated next to a window overlooking Needle Park. That was the name given to the hangout for hippies, and it was therefore assumed, drug-users. It was Westport’s answer to the ’60s counter-culture, and always made for interesting people watching….

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

Main Street 1976. West Lake (left) had just closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

There was a musical instrument store around the corner from Main, and when Baskin-Robbins went in across the street, a night at the movies took on new meaning. While my mother usually shopped for groceries at the less costly Stop and Shop, Westport Food Center and Gristede’s were there for forgotten items.

At night the greatest place to go for a bottle of wine and some live folk music was Grass Roots, which shared a wall with its rowdier counterpart, Ye Olde Bridge Grille. My parents often ate at Chez Pierre, while my friends and I stopped at competing pizza parlors, the Westport Pizzeria and S & M—both of which are still there, thank God….

One of the saddest deaths in Westport was the closing of the Ice Cream Parlor. The big pink palace was special for my brothers and me, a place where we bought bags full of penny candy from the turn of the century candy shop, ate hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the ornately decorated parlor, and watched old 5-cent movies on the machines that hovered in the corner of the room.

The Ice Cream Parlor was a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of establishment that gave Westport its character. But it’s gone and soon its pink sister, The Remarkable Book Store, will be gone too. While the new Westport generation will have its Gap, J. Crew, and Banana Republic memories, mine will be of two pink ladies and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops.

Ice Cream Parlor

The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road not far from Main Street.

 

48 responses to “It Was Ever Thus

  1. Maureen O'Driscoll

    My memories are the same. We walked to town regularly, living on Riverside Ave. Memories are quite powerful…..

  2. That was my westport as well. Let’s not forget the sport mart and the liquor locker.

  3. Sandra Wagenfeld

    Thanks for these memories, Ann. I moved here in 1988, and not that much had changed. Remarkable was still there, as was Swezey’s jewelry store, Westport Hardware. I miss these businesses and people that gave the town character.

  4. Anonymous Commenter

    Dan, Let us know if for one year you would suspend your prohibition on Anonymous Comments in exchange for a donation to the blog. This is a great blog, you do a lot of work on it, and we realize that anonymous comments make more work for you. Happy Holidays, Anonymous

    • Wow — tempting but…

      Moving away from anonymous comments has been met with (near) unanimous praise. The level of discourse — and the quality of insights — has risen dramatically. A few people would like to go back to the old ways, but — despite my initial reservations, and the more work it makes for me (policing every comment), I’m not one of them.

      I’m not sure of the link between anonymous comments and donations to the blog. I am happy to accept contributions at any time — and if you don’t want your name known, you can send it through PayPal via the “Donate” button on my home page (here’s how to do it anonymously: http://www.ludawgs.com/showthread.php?46-How-to-Make-Your-PayPal-Information-Anonymous) or by anonymous money order to Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880.

      Occasionally, I do allow anonymous comments to remain posted, of course. Like this one.

      Happy holidays!

  5. Thank-you for these beautiful memories. You brought my growing-up years alive. This article will be saved with my treasured photos. This Westport of old has a very special place in my heart.

  6. Lesley Hodgkinson Anderson

    Wonderful memories! I moved to Westport in 1953 and got my very first job at Isabel Elands. It was a fancy lingerie shop and at Xmas men would come in and buy presents for their wives. So I was a gift wrapper! It was fun and today I can wrap most anything in a minute flat!
    Westport was special and just walking downtown after school and hanging out at Colgan’s for a cherry coke with friends was the best part of the day!
    Now kids are loaded down with “activities “. Times change.

  7. I moved here in 1983, and many of the places mentioned in the article were already gone. One of the store owner complained to me about “the raping of Westport,” but I still thought it was a charming small town. So little of that remains. Change is inevitable, but not all change is good.

  8. I miss the Remarkable Bookshop, Kleins and The Ice Cream Parlor too. My Dad had an account at the Mobil station downtown, they’d fill up the car, check the oil, clean the windshield and let us leave the car there for an hour while we did our errands. How about the Selective Eye and Country Gal? Lise and I graduated from Weston High School the same year, so we have the same sweet memories! Today I live near downtown Westport and walk the dog through town twice a day, as much as it has changed it remains the same for me I still love it all!

  9. linda(pomerantz) novis

    This (& these wonderful old photos!) brought back (so many) similar wonderful ‘Westport -Main Street’ memories in my mind- (my family,growing up in Weston,1960’s..As my (late)parents always said:’Main Street truly ‘real charm’ back then-Westport a great town to grow up in’.
    Many thanks!

  10. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    It was a special place.

  11. Mr. Jackson at Welch’s Hardware lent my then ten-year-old son fifty cents so he could get home on the Minnybus

    Imagine that now?

  12. Cindy Land Humphries

    I have so many of the same memories but I need to add Ed Mitchell’s on Saturdays with my dad where I could sit and drink hot chocolate while my dad shopped.

  13. Nancy Powers Conklin

    I have all those same memories and more.

  14. Jill Nash von Schmidt

    I also remember Marvel’s bakery on the Post Road at the end of Main Street. What a great place for a youngster to visit & imagine tasting all the goodies in the bakery case. On the other end of Main Street was Achorn’s Pharmacy where we knew everyone and there were always fun things to look at… My mom’s rule was, “Look with your eyes, not with your hands”, which is why whenever I walked into a store with her (even up to last year), my hands automatically went behind my back!

    Thanks so much for the memories. 😊

  15. Nostalgia is fine, but West Lake was terrible.

  16. Sad to say what is left with Main Street could get worse. A major mall developer is planning on building a new mall at the open space before Exit 14 off 95. If youbtravelnsouth it is on the left side where the space is open.

    Our decisions could drive the remaining stores to leave once the mall is opened.

  17. It still a special place. .. a lot of eyesores have been cleaned up. Saugatuck is hot and gorgeous. While there is a pang of missing those mom and pop stores, the ones I knew would have been gone anyway. (By the way, did you know Ann Taylor was started by Westporters and Westport was their first or second store?.. so Ann Taylor is a mom and pop) I just did the history of the Coleytown Road area (which was and still is a cool little village with key components still there) People were worried back in 1919 about developers, and the only reason why Coleytown is as beautiful as it is, was through the efforts of monied people who took control. I am pretty sure that’s what’s happening today. I don’t know of too many people who have complained about the Urban Outfitters area of town. It’s absolutely gorgeous and I am sure Waldman’s new complex will be stunning. The only thing that’s constant is change. But just like the generation before mine, I will have my memories. Let’s Keep taking pictures!! And let’s preserve worthy historic structures because they are the closest thing to living history that we’ve got. (but that’s another blog entry for another day)

  18. Dan, huge thanks for re-posting article. As Ann says, the original Westport was such a wonderful alchemy of art, culture, character and mom-and-pop stores!!! I wish that I could have witnessed more of this era. When Steve and I first started visiting in in 1990, The Remarkable Book Shop was still here, and it was one of the reasons we fell in love with the town. When we moved here permanently in 1998, things had begun to change for the worse. But we hold on to history, living in and maintaining our 1845 Greek Revivial house in the center of town. We spent time with Shirley at Max’s art shop, and Sally at her record shop while Emma was growing up, and tried to give her the feeling of belonging to a real community.

    We are thankful for at least a few new shops in town though. Java has some character, and shows potential as a gathering place. And though not on main street, Bill Taibbe of Le Farm, The Whelk and Kawa-Ni is a dedicated person creating good things for Westporters. We of course, we treasure being able to walk to the library, and the Levitt Pavillion. It’s not even close to what it used to be, but it is still magical in its own way.

  19. Eric William Buchroeder 'SHS '70

    MPG, you are a part of Old Westport that’s still there. Hope exists.

  20. Meredith Klein-Hertzel

    My family owned Klein’s and as someone who grew up in ‘Mom + Pop’ Westport, I couldn’t agree with article more. I grew up in a Westport where I would go and spend quality time with my family, at our family business, with customers who were like family to us. A Westport where labels and brand names didn’t matter. It breaks my heart to see Westport in this new light, but when I would discuss it with my grandfather (Stanley Klein), he would tell me, “Sweetheart, it’s just how it goes. Small businesses can’t compete anymore”. I try to keep that in mind and remind myself that if it didn’t make him upset, I have to try and find the good in the situation as well.

  21. What a treat to read about the Westport of my memories. I remember being dropped off at the YMCA on Saturday mornings for a triple treat — arts & crafts, swimming and gym time, then walking across the street to the smoke shop to buy candy, which was “lunch” at the Fine Arts movie theater. All gone now. And from what I hear, now no one would just drop their grade school child off for a day of activity. It was a great place to grow up.

  22. Souvenir, souvenir, Que me veux tu?

  23. Karen Bulakites Gibbens

    I did not ngrow up in westport per say, but I did go there there alot, I am very proud to say I was one of Bill Bulakites granddaughters, And like all of you I too have fond memories of Main St. On the weekends when I would go and see my father, we would spend time at Compo Beach in the summer, In the winter bowling at the old Westport Lanes, and then going to the Ice Cream Parlor, Sundays after mass going to Bill’s for hamburgers, I can still see my late uncle Donald cooking my breakfast and my late dad George sitting in the window at the register, Thank You for the memories,

  24. Tricky yet highly relevant post for me to weigh in on, but here’s something to consider: the Westport I recall fondly from my youth, with Sport Mart and Westport Pizzeria on Main Street and Ships restaurant at the head, would be challenged as “new Westport” by someone who grew up here in the early 60s’, when Sport Mart was located in Sconset Square, Westport Pizzeria had yet to open, and Ship’s Corner was occupied by Colgan’s(?). I do mourn the loss of locally-owned stores on Main Street, but we still familiar faces working in the stores that are found there now.

    As for the memories MY kids will have of growing up in Westport, I suspect theirs will be quite similar to those recounted in the 1994 article: we stop in to Coffe An’ most every weekend for some breakfast or a donut and I am greeted warmly by everyone there, we can’t help then visit Crossroads Hardware where once again I know everyone there by name, we stop in to Westport Pizzeria most every Saturday night where Mel, Jamie and Jacques (among others) know us by name, we’ll drop in to Saugatuck Sweets (think the Ice Cream Parlor, brought forward to 2014 and located on the Saugatuck River) at some point where, you guessed it, they know us and we know them by name.

    The character and charm of Westport’s gathering areas is important and we should strive to maintain it, but I’d suggest that charm and character is alive and well still. And, I’d suggest that, more than which stores occupy Main Street during any given decade, it’s the people that make this town what it is.

  25. I loved this blog- so many memories. Don’t forget the counter at Dorains where my mom bought me a BLT or where my father bought me a chocolate shake. The Westport you describe is still well in my mind since I moved away from Westport in 1971 to New York, then. Minnesota and now California. I hope you and other like-minded persons work to retain Westport’s unique home-town character.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  26. Maureen Gupton Violano

    Thanks so much for the memories…..I have so many of the same, I will always love the Westport of my youth.

  27. I have to say the comments here have surprised me. I thought they would focus on the fact that a 1994 article is so relevant today. But most people haven’t mentioned that at all. Go figure…

  28. It’s quite a compliment to Westport that one can think of the place from 1994 (or 1976!) like it was just yesterday.

  29. Downtown Westport was the best. I used to hitchhike from Weston. Mel & Joe, Mr. Sandwich, Bridge Grille, Needle Park, Bill’s Smoke Shop, Fine Arts theaters. Loved it. Later I had David Shaw (owner of Dorain’s) as a client. Great guy!

  30. Charles Halper

    We remember all that Ann talked about very well, since we are residing in Westport since 1960. The town has changed for sure. –Roe and Chuck Halper

  31. Eric 'Rick' Solway

    I worked after school at The Remarkable Book Store from 5/64 to 6/66 when it was managed by Barbara Sterns. Did you know it got its name because Kramer spelled backwards is ‘Remark’? Two Main Street store owners were our neighbors on St. John Place: The Grubers of Greenberg’s Department Store and Miss Marvel of Marvel’s Bakery. Many fond memories and lots of stories to swap. An idyllic time.

  32. Janet Gladstein

    We moved to Westport in 1956 from Stamford. I was 7 years old. My dad had a store in Stamford, “The Linen Closet” but when Bloomingdales opened he saw the writing on the wall. He and my mom decided that it was time to move the business elsewhere and zeroed in on Westport, a small little “village” at the time. I remember Main St being built and have vivid memories of opening day at my dad’s store at #103 Main St., right next to Ann Taylor. Although I was schooled in one of the finest school systems and went on to graduate from UConn, I believe my greatest life long education was derived from my experience in my dad’s shope Main St. Hanging out there (my second home) and being in the company of his cronies working in the various Mom and Pop stores on the block, I learned many life lessons. My dad retired and sold his business in 1982 when he moved to FL. Since then things have never been the same.. His shop changed names and venues many times over but the fond memories of the old Westport will stay with me forever.

  33. Well stated, Janet. My mother was a big fan of your dad and his store.

  34. Yikes I feel old. I remember main street before harder parking plaza, the Arrow when it was at “the arrow.” My first drag race was on the newly built, but not yet open, Connecticut Thruway. Jerry Burnham and I were launch boys at the old Cedar Point. It was a wonderful place to grow up. Adults knew me and my parents and I always felt safe.

  35. The memories of downtown Westport are wonderful but how many people remember that the original Ice Cream Parlor was where Tavern on Main is now. And going to Colgans for an ice cream soda was always top of the list…..after we stopped in to say Hi to Tip Schaefer.

    • Thanks, Jim — but wasn’t the original Ice Cream Parlor next to Tavern on Main (not the actual restaurant itself)? Then it moved to where Cohen’s Optical is now (the end of the strip mall with Gold’s), before finally ending up at its 3rd location that the “06880” photo shows..

  36. I grew up going to Carmine’s Westport Smoke Shoppe right next to Schaeffers Sporting Goods. I loved the candy, the pinball machines (yes, pinball machines) and the people who owned it. Carmine Luciano, his wife Rita (who was a Calise – one of the good ones) and their son Anthony. How I miss the real Westport.

  37. Loved this post especially the photos. Such warm memories of the old Westport. Nothing anywhere will be as it was. Westport lives on in my mind as I grow older – and it’s well loved. The only thing I ever remember eating at Westlake were the crunchy noodles dipped in duck sauce before the meal, spareribs, egg rolls and white rice. So whether it was good or not?? can’t really say as I was a child and loved those few menu items only but I loved the feeling. I did love Golden House too but my parents were loyal to Westlake. No one mentions Morris’s Luncheonette next to Franklin Simons. I loved that place and Morris and his wife — we ate there every Sunday after church.

  38. No Dan. It was where Tavern on Main is and expanded to the patio and the space next door. Had dinner last night with a number of Staples 68 grads and we all remember the first location. The candy counter was where the bar is now. Does anyone remember what was at where 323 (the old Bogey’s was)? I wont the bet.

    • Thanks for the memories! We moved here in 1964 and were often told “You should have seen Westport 10 years ago! It’s changed so much”. Some time before Oliver’s, Bogey’s, 323…. I remember a fish market at that spot.

  39. Karen Gilbertie Roche

    So many great memories! Being born and raised in a great town like Westport was special! West lake with my dad, looking thru records at Kliens, country gal and selective eye! Remarkabl book shop pink ice cream parlor – newbies just don’t get it! Karen SHS 1979,