Harold Levine: “You Might Say I’m A Dreamer…”

Alert “06880” reader/former advertising executive/94-year-old longtime Westporter Harold Levine writes:

I recently learned about the closing of Oscar’s Deli, probably the last of the old family-owned stores on Main Street. When Sue and I moved to Westport we frequently walked Main Street, chatted with friends and neighbors, visited Sally at Klein’s to learn about the latest records, and dropped in on the Kramers in their popular book store. We shopped at Gristedes and the local hardware store. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could bring that mood back to Westport?

Main Street, in the mom-and-pop shop days.

Main Street, in the mom-and-pop shop days.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our kids would meet in school children whose parents were nurses, electricians, plumbers, policemen, teachers and auto mechanics?

Wouldn’t it be nice if our children could become friends with black, Hispanic and Asian kids before they went to college? Wouldn’t it be nice if Baron’s South became Westport’s Central Park, where kids could play ball, ride a bike or go roller skating, and families could picnic on this beautiful spot?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a plan to provide an area in downtown for small, family-owned stores, and where we could  stroll and enjoy the riverfront?

I can hear my friends saying, “he’s a dreamer.” They are right. I have always been a dreamer.

Perhaps there are others in town who agree with me. Maybe they will start a small group that could meet and hopefully plant the seeds for making Westport a “friendlier and more welcoming community” over the next 25 years.

56 responses to “Harold Levine: “You Might Say I’m A Dreamer…”

  1. Robin Scarella

    Wow, i remember most all of that too Such a different town back then. Fell in love with the Remarkable Book Shop and think that is what convinced us to move there in 74. So much is gone forever. I was at a school on Thursday to meet the teacher of a little girl I tutor. When I saw my student we ran up to each other and hugged and kissed. I realized this was the first black child i had ever kissed. Why? how could that be and then I realized, I had never made the opportunity before this. Change is good.

  2. Rachel Zibelman

    I love this post! Couldn’t agree more!

  3. Jack Backiel

    I remember when you could be a Westport fireman, with a stay at home wife, have four kids, and own a house in Westport. In my opinion, when that scenario ended, Westport no longer was Westport to me!

  4. Anthony Palmer

    Westport was once that,so much as changed,gone are the three hardware stores,grocery store,Kleins,Mobil gas station and so many mom and pop places

  5. Bob Fatherley

    Dear Harold
    Dreams are what keep us alive. As we see in the Olympics…dreams have come alive for competitors who never thought it possible. I, too, grew up in a close knit community and the loss of PapaGeorge and his deli has really impacted me as well. It is hard to accept change and some is good and other not so good. Hope that your memories inspire others to entrepreneurship.
    Thank you for sharing your dreams…Julie Fatherley

  6. We are new to Westport (moved here just 2 years) but would love to join your community group. great post.

  7. Oh Harold, I surely do! I remember all of those stores and the walk down main street so different from the corporate chain stores there now. If I wanted anything from any of those stores I’d get it online. Main Street isn’t a fun visit any more, sorry. As far as the downtown development goes, it pushes me away farther. Sorry.

    • Jack Backiel

      Cristina, I come back to Ct a few times a year, and when I drive through Westport, its a little sad to see how it has changed. I could never move back to Westport. I’m glad I have the memories of the Westport in the 1950s (pre I-95,) and during the 1960s and 1970s.

  8. Carolanne Curry

    There is no better gift than capacity to live with our dream(s).
    To remain focused of what you want to attain?
    Perhaps you can use the message

    “WESTPORT: a community… not a commodity”

    Insert OLD SAUGATUCK and add the other words, and you have the slogan that delivered a powerful message to a developer. and a victory in a twelve year effort to Save Old Saugatuck.
    I’d be glad to join your effort.

  9. Sandra Johnson

    At least we who moved to WP many years ago (I moved there in 1976) do have all our memories!! Walking up and down Main St was just the greatest with the “mom and pop” stores and everyone knew each other, etc etc
    They call it progress, but sometimes one does wonder what kind of progress it is!! I, unfortunately, had to sell and move from WP a little over a year ago as being alone could no longer afford to live there. I do still subscribe to the WP News and go on the computer each day to see what’s going on (computers are a nice progress for people ;my age!)
    However, WP is still a very nice place to live, and I do miss being there.
    Can’t complain, however, as I now live in New Orleans near Tulane University – a very nice area My son has lived here for over 20 years.
    Hang on to all the great memories – and go to the library to read the history of the town. Old Saugatuck = another family oriented area with lots of memories for many people!

    • Jack Backiel

      My aunt, who was born in my grandfather’s farm house on Old Road, in 1917, will be 99 years old this month! She’s one of the few still alive, who actually was born in Westport. On August 23rd, she’ll be 99. Now, she has stories about Westport that are interesting.

      • Robin Scarella

        We lived at 88 old road from 74 to 86 and then Moss Ledge off long lots. So sad to see the way it has gone. My 3000 sq ft house tear down for 9000. 7 bathrooms. Really!!!

  10. Marcia Wright

    As a retired Westport Public School teacher who gave my all for over three decades in the community, I, too, miss what once was. Unfortunately for the Westport community, much has been lost with the closing of places like the Remarkable Book Shop and Oscars Deli.

  11. Dorian Barth

    Sounds great! Count me in!

  12. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    How many “old-timers” know that the place on Main Street that was home to Bobby Q’s restaurant was an alley? How many know that this alley led to a dark and trash-filled “street” behind the Main Street stores. In the tenements there lived Westport’s Colored families (decades later they would be known as African-Americans.) In my graduating class of 1953 we had two Negro students, one male, one female. Our class had no Hispanic students, nor Asian, or Indian students. In the Westport of my day, if your parents did not belong to Longshore, you didn’t exist in the social order that was Westport. We may never return to the hazy-gauzy world that Mr. Levine remembers. And that may be because we don’t have the time –or take the time — to pause, or the courtesy to look up from our “devices” to see who’s coming the other way, and smile. O Well?

  13. Lovely post.
    Lovely memories.
    Still a lovely town.
    Still happy to visit as often as I can.
    Although, without Oscar’s I do feel like I’ve lost my favorite place to eat.

  14. Linda (Pomerantz) Novis

    These are all great comments.I so agree with Cristina Negrin,here…(if my memory serves me right,I think she was in my Weston Jr. High class?(or Weston High School,1967-1971?)..
    Wondering what year this photo here of Main Street was taken? (The stores all
    look So familiar…:-)

  15. Bonnie Bradley

    Every nostalgic comment here is spot on the old Westport so many of us knew & loved, still love. Thanks to all for sharing your memories. And, Jack Backiel’s comment about the firemen is so true. It reminds me that
    every policeman seemed to know every kid by name so if you did anything wrong your father would get a call. Seriously, we behaved ourselves!

    I too left Westport – where my family had lived for over 200 years – mostly because I could no longer afford to live there… and that was in 1999. All three houses I lived in have been torn down or built-over as McMansions.
    I think I was subconsciously aware then that my Westport was already gone. I shut the door and never looked back…. until I discovered Dan’s great blog and all the good people who inhabit it. Thanks Dan, you’re a Westport treasure!

    • Bonnie, That was a fantastic comment you made, and the fireman and his family were real people I knew in the 1960s! They lived on Bauer Place. My family came to Westport in 1903 and my father was born in the farmhouse in 1918 and never lived more than two miles away from where he was born. The intimacy is what is missing nowadays in Westport! We knew basically everyone in town, or they knew us. That intimacy is gone forever!

  16. Bart Shuldman

    I will stand up for the wonderful Westport we have today. First let me say my children made friends with children with diverse ethnicities–but please add those with India and Pakistan backgrounds. I must say your do not know.

    Let me also say my children went to school with others whose parent was a teacher or educator. How dare you say they have not. But they also went to school with children whose have a mother who is a successful in either business or other role. Your ‘old’ world probably had nothing like that.

    And Westport has many family owned enterprises. The fact they are not downtown means nothing–the town has many including restaurants and clothing stores. Today cars can take them to locations that do not have to be ‘downtown’.

    And today Westport has a beautiful remodeled Levitt Pavilion, a beach that is fantastic with better walkways and a golf course for the residents that is now managed by a company that knows how keep it beautiful.

    I also ask whether it was your generation that helped to drive the Y out of downtown. We lost a lot when the Y was refused Barons South. The excuse that the property could not handle development was turned upside down when some wanted to build housing. But it was the last generation that blew it.

    Westport is both beautiful and amazing. Our schools the best in the nation and Staples fantastic. The changes to Staplee have made it the envy of many towns across CT.

    Somehow you need to stop living in the past. You will realize that change has produced a great place called Westport. The changes over the years now provide a great environment and exposure for our children. The changes have brought wonderful new families to Westport, with diverse backgrounds from many areas of the world, that show our children that the American Dream still exists.

  17. This is a post about nostalgia and change, not blame, Mr. Shuldman.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Nancy. How do you go away? Must be a lousy life in Canada. You have to know you add no value to any discussion. Sad.

      • At least, I respect your comments.

        • Well, I don’t respect Bart’s comment. It’s nasty, period. Harold is an amazing man — a friend, tireless community volunteer and amazing example of vitality at age 94.

  18. Q

    – Nancy


  19. Roger Kaufman

    Hi Harold, Great idea… Let me know when we can start!! Roger Kaufman Westporter (since 1949)

    Sent from my iPhone


  20. I will keep the Westport of old alive in my dreams. So many good memories. The last time I visited Westport, I had a big SUV ‘pushing’ me to go faster through Harder-Parking Plaza. That was my last visit to Westport. It’s not ‘my’ Westport anymore. And, most of the character is gone with all the ‘tear-downs’ being replaced by ugly McMansions. I prefer to see it in my mind, rather than the reality.

    • Wow, Janice Beecher! I have so many memories of you — especially driving your brother Michael and me to the beach every day when we were maybe 8 years old. Hope all is well wherever you are these days!

  21. Mary Gail (Horelick) Gristina

    I responded to the piece on the closing of oscar’s Deli (my grandfather rented to the original Oscar (Oscar Sisken, when it was located at #115 Main Street) I love Harold Levine’s piece, and picture. My grandfather, Thomas Horelick, (arrived in Westport 1908 from Russia) and father actually lived on Main Street and rented some small stores. Yes, there were some social issues, like the alley area with African-American families, and maybe even more we weren’t aware of, that took place in much of America. However, as a native Westporter, I do feel the sense of community and interaction between many sectors (classes?) of Westporters is missing today – and certainly the small businesses where “everyone knows your name”. Personally, I sometimes had breakfast with the daughter of an ambassador (where I learned about napkin rings) and was driven to school in a limo, then went to the “trailer park” after school to play with friends. And, of course, society in general has changed all over America. BTW – my grandfather rented to one of those black women down the street (for doing wash) and then my grandmother worked for her! So, yes, my memories of “old Westport” may not be accurate, but sure seem a lot friendlier and respectful of others on the community than what I experience today.
    BTW -Mr. Backiel, didn’t you have the bowling alley?

    • The family owned Westport Lanes, which sold in 1983. We had the golf range next door, and there were batting cages too behind the Stage Door Restaurant, which we also owned. Many have commented to me about the fond memories from there.

  22. I recently made a trip back to Westport where I lived for 40 years. I could not find it. So sad.

  23. I too remember so many small interesting businesses and restaurants that made Westport so special back in the late 60s: Bills Smoke Shop( which was a coffee shop where you could get a hamburger and a coke for 50 cents); Pal Joey’s , The Selective Eye, American Hand, Country Gal, The Gallery Shop ( combining art exhibits and women’s clothing, The Artists’ Pub Wouldn’t it be great if we had more small small friendly places.

  24. Bart Shuldman – No need to be nasty and insulting!

    • Bart Shuldman

      Please Rosemary tell me where I was insulting (other than my response to Nancy).

      I did find this post tough to read given it was insulting regarding my children’s friends parents and also the statement of the ethnicities of some of their friends.

      So please, other than my response to Nancy who decided to start the issue, let me know where you believe I was insulting.

      I understand that some people who lived here many years ago find Westport has changed. I get that ‘their’ Westport is not what Westport is today. But i do not accept when they say, or insinuate, that Westport is somehow bad. Or that the parents of my children’s friends are somehow not the parents they should be. Or that somehow a parent that might be a businessman or businesswoman is not the same as an electrician. And I feel it insulting to say my children were not exposed to different ethnicities-when they have. I feel that is insulting to those families that live in Westport.

      So I decided to defend the Westport of today.

      Westport might not be perfect but is is one helluva place to live. It is vibrant and engaging and a place that is setting its own history-not living in the past. And I do laugh when some that criticize the current Westport are those that left and moved out.

      Like I said-I think Westport is a great place, that has experienced change like every town and city. And being here for many many years, I can easily say it is a town with so many wonderful people.

      • Jack Backiel

        Bart, There seems to be a unanimity amongst people who lived in Westport forty, fifty and sixty years ago. If you’re a recent arrival to town, you really can’t appreciate why the others feel as they do. But the fact that there’s unanimity should carry some weight!

        • Bart Shuldman

          Jack. Thanks for your response. Just so you know I have been living in Westport for over 20 years.

          I understand this town has changed. I would have enjoyed being here back in the 70’s as Dan has written, when all the musicians played and used Westport as their summer residents. Wow. That must have been great.

          My response has focused more about the post regarding friends and the children and the parents who now live here. I do not think it reflects the wonderful people who are here.

          But change is difficult-and life changes. People move out and new people move in. Sandwich shops are replaced by salad take out places as the healthy craze takes hold. The Y building falls apart and moves from downtown. And now great looking new buildings take its place.

          My point is the Westport that some from the past loved has changed. But those living here now call it home and as I do, love the Westport of today. It will be our memories. And that is good.

          Hope you understand.

          • Jack Backiel

            Bart, Thanks for the clarification.

            • Bart Shuldman

              Thanks Jack.

              One day I will be forced to move out of Westport as the state continues to falter and taxes rise (including the death tax). Many baby boomers will leave and new people move into Westport.

              At that point it will be their town. They will join the BofE and BofF and P&Z. And they will make decisions as to what they want Westport to be. They will begin defining their past-their memories.

              And I will come back and remember the Westport that I knew. My past-my memory. And it will be all good despite whatever changes are made. As I will know the experiences and the friends and the town we all called home for so many years. And I will not criticize nor complain. As it has become someone else’s town. And they made their memories.

      • You have insulted a 94 year old Westporter along with his generation for simply remembering a bright time in their lives, and having the courage to note what would have been better then and now.
        Perhaps re-read Mr. Levine’s post more carefully. Then re-read your comment about how a generation “blew it'”.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Nancy-your life in Canada must be real sad.

          As for Westport losing the Y downtown, I stick to my comment that someone blew it. For those like me that used the Y and then frequented the stores and restaurants either before or after, know the impact it has had on our downtown. It was a tragic loss not to use Barons South. Just think of the combined facility with the senior center.

          But how would you know given you left Westport. Wow–how bad is your life in Canada given how much time you spend on 06880 posting many ridiculous remarks.

          • Again, I have read and respect your comment.
            I wish you would take the time to read and reflect on the subject of this post. It is a universal theme. Where did you grow up? What place do you remember most?

            • By the way, I didn’t leave Westport. My parents divorced and left Westport, and so I had to also.

  25. Bart Shuldman – I don’t think I need to explain my comment to you, I think you know exactly what I was talking about. As for Westport – it had a history which has been obscured and a personality which has been lost. If you have lived in Westport since approx. 1996 you could not possibly know what I’m talking about.

  26. Sally Kellogg Deegan

    Even though I wasn’t born in Westport, both my parents were and every Sunday we would drive down to Westport to see the relatives. I married in 1946 and became a resident. Many memories – I took the minutes of the meetings for the development of Parker Harding. Another memory was when my husband and I discovered our children – instead of going in to Sunday School at Christ & Holy Trinity — they would wait for us to go into the church and they headed to Bill’s Smoke Shop to read the “funny books. When you have very few tomorrows left, you enjoy looking back on the Westport yesterdays. And thank you Dan Woog for making a lot of it possible.

    • Jack Backiel

      Dan Woog for President

      • Jack,

        What did I ever do to you to deserve this?! 🙂

        • Dan, Can you think of a better alternative to lead the country? I’ll be writing in your name for President, and I encourage everyone else to follow suit! Your new blog will be 20500 , after you’re elected. After you move into the White House, we’ll almost be neighbors since I’m temporarily 25 miles from DC, in Maryland

  27. Bart Shuldman – to be more specific, I was referring to ALL of your comments in reply to Nancy Hunter – telling her that her life in Canada must be “sad” and saying her comments are “ridiculous”. That’s what I call nasty and insulting. Also just plain mean!

  28. Bonnie Bradley

    JACK, one of my sons wasn’t very athletic but he loved bowling at your
    Westport Lanes. In about 7th or 8th grade he was in some sort of a league
    there. One Saturday morning I dropped him off to participate, knowing
    that he’d be safe & fine in your employees’ care. Meanwhile a big nor’easter was coming up the coast. Weather info wasn’t then anywhere
    as available or accurate as it is today. Driving to pick him up a couple of
    hours later, in the pouring rain, I had no idea of the severity of the storm.
    Coming home to the beach area I saw that Bradley Street was already
    flooded!! So I drove on to the Minuteman to make the left turn. Knee
    deep water there too! So I took the bit in my teeth and drove right over the
    Webb’s lawn. Sorry, folks, it was me. We finally had to abandon the car
    at the beginning of Owenoke and walk in over-the-knees water the rest of the way home. But, worth it because of the joy my son felt at his great
    bowling score that day.

  29. Kempton Coady


    This was the last article I received on 8/13/16? I just went and tried to re-subscribe. The response said I was already a member and need not re-subscribe. But as of August 2016 I have not received any interesting news. I will send another donation in if you can help me figure out “How to receive the very interesting articles?”