Last fall, when Annette Norton opened Savvy + Grace — a cool, funky place with unique gift items at all prices points underneath Tavern on Main — it was a dream come true.
She’d been in retail all her life. (Her great-grandmother opened a store in Scarsdale in the early 1900s.) She was aware of — and ready for — the challenges of internet shopping.
Annette loved Westport. She’d been coming here since she was a girl. “It’s one of the most beautiful towns anywhere,” she says. “To be here is a dream.”
The reality of owning a Main Street store is different than the dream. Shoppers do buy a lot online. Foot traffic is not always great. There are empty storefronts near hers.
But Savvy + Grace has developed a devoted following.
And Annette remains one of downtown Westport’s biggest boosters.
“Part of me is disheartened,” she says. “It seems like a lot of Westporters don’t appreciate what they have here.
“But I’ve met so many phenomenal people. Our customers are great.”
She’s been heartened by the welcome she’s received online — on Facebook groups like Westport Front Porch and What Up Westport — and by word of mouth.
“In all my years of retail, I’ve never seen such warm shout-outs,” Annette says. “People have gone out of their way to make me feel good.”
Her message is clear: Westporters should not give up on Main Street.
“I hear the negatives: It’s all chain stores. Landlords charge too much. The parking is bad. The prices are too high,” Annette says.
And, of course: “There’s no reason for mothers to come, since the Y left.”
Annette has a solution to that last issue. “What about dance studios or tutoring centers in empty spaces?” she asks. “Mothers go anywhere their kids want. When their kids do things downtown, the moms could have a great time.”
She’d like to see a drugstore downtown (there used to be several).
As for parking, she envisions stickers that allow residents free parking, with metered parking for others.
“Give downtown a chance — you’ll be surprised!” she urges Westporters. “It’s not all big chains. There’s great honey at Savannah Bee Company, amazing chocolate at Le Rouge, and local clothing stores. All of them do special orders. They do whatever they can to make you happy. They’re all happy to be in this beautiful town.”
“This is such a great area. It’s unique. It’s viable,” Annette continues. “As retailers move out, there are opportunities for all of us to get better.”
Savvy + Grace is doing its part. Customer service — including gift wrapping, and the chance to pick up classy last-minute hostess and party items — is something online retailers can’t do.
So how is business? “I think it’s going to be great,” she says. “People who come in do come back. I just need more of them to come in.”
She bats away the notion that landlords are only trying to maximize profits.
“My landlord doesn’t want his places empty,” she says. “He meets with all of us in the building. He wants to keep us here.”
She returns to the idea that Westporters don’t appreciate downtown.
“I see people in my store from Maryland, Texas, all over. They’ve heard about Westport, and its beauty, and they want to see. But some days I get no one from Westport at all.” So out-of-towners buy her Westport-themed merchandise, like key rings and pillows.
“I’m so proud to be here,” she notes. “We all need to put our heads together, to get stronger as a downtown.”
Annette says, “I’ve traveled a lot. This is where I wanted my store to be. And I still do. I really, really believe in Westport.”