Main Street Merchant: “Being Here Is A Dream”

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.

Savvy + Grace is on Main Street, underneath Tavern on Main.

“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.

Annette Norton takes a break at another locally owned business: Aux Delices.

“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.”

13 responses to “Main Street Merchant: “Being Here Is A Dream”

  1. Aarti Khosla (Le Rouge by Aarti)

    Thanks Dan for the mention, I also believe in the revival of downtown but all the stores closing isn’t conducive to staying hopeful

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. I wholeheartedly echo Annette’s sentiments. As an off Main Street retailer, upstairs in Sconset Square, I knew I was in for a challenge. One of the most interesting things I can share is how many of my customers are not from Westport. From all over Fairfield county and Westchester, people find my shop, love what they find, have a great experience, and leave asking me to move to their town. Being a retailer is a 24/7, so come say hi Westport – we are here!

  3. I wish you every success😊 hopefully
    the town will turn around and be
    the great town is was in the past!
    Very sad to see what is and has
    happened to Main Street which once
    had Everything!!! It was Great!

  4. I love Annette’s attitude and perspective. I am looking forward to checking out her store for my next gift purchase- or when I am downtown. So happy she is here in Westport! And Dan this was a great article to write because you are highlighting a wonderful local business – thank you

  5. Alan Phillips

    Main Street will resurrect. “The rent was too damn high”. Rents will abate and create new opportunities for retailers /entrepreneurs. It’s a great space in a great town.

  6. Thanks, Annette, for the kind shout out to the Bee! I’ve lived here for 30 years and miss other tiny shops like Touch of Europe, Clementine’s and Soup’s On! Little spots with special and unique products and delicious meals give our great downtown character and the chance to make friends for life out of patrons. Keep it up!!! Spring is almost here 🙂

  7. Amy Schneider

    Savvy + Grace is my go-to place for gifts for others or for myself! I love talking to Annette. She is so friendly and has given me great advice on all kinds of things unrelated to the store. She is my comfort food without the calories.

  8. Sal Liccione

    I love her store and she and brownstone and tavern on main and 190 main st and joe pizza is relly rely good we have a great main st go stop on main st stop at there stores and rye deli yes I agree with Annette and brownstone as someone who lives on church lane were all like a little family Downtown

  9. Marcy Sansolo

    this store is such a great addition to main street. annette goes out of her way to make shoppers feel welcome, and she and her staff have the ability to make the smallest gift look like a masterpiece. i wish her the greatest of luck.

  10. Bravo Annette I’ll second that

  11. Bart Shuldman

    So much talk but no action. How many Westporters complain but never shop in town? How many Westporters actually support our stores and restaurants? Here is thebso called ‘mom and pop’ and she basically says Westporters do not go to her store.

    If everyone was committed to supporting our town stores they would not be closing. If everyone in Westport supported the restaurants they would not be closing.

    Of course, just my opinion.

  12. Annette, we are thrilled to have Savvy + Grace on Main Street, and I love your positive and inviting outlook. That energy is exactly what will bring return customers to your wonderful space! As a customer myself, I can confirm that it is impossible to walk out empty handed, and your store easily becomes a “go-to” for great gifts to give others, and yourself. We also appreciate the shout out to some of our other favorite local and boutique stores like Le Rouge, Bespoke Designs and Savannah Bee, and we consider ourselves lucky to have Julie from Savannah Bee as a member of the WDMA board. With all of the challenges that face the retail environment today we feel so fortunate to have fun and unique destination stores in our downtown, as well as many of our chain stores (and their wonderful employees) that are incredibly active in the community such as Marine Layer, Nic + Zoe, Vineyard Vines and Athleta to name a few. Truly, we have so many amazing restaurants and shops it’s impossible to mention all of them in one post.
    While a transition period can come with uncertainty, it often precedes positive changes, and I believe that downtown Westport is evolving at just the right time with appeal to both residents and visitors. There are numerous associations, businesses and advocates committed to enhancing downtown, and so many exciting changes on the horizon including an exceptional Library transformation that is unmatched in the surrounding area, that I feel confident people will remember and appreciate what a special place our downtown is. The best path to promote change and positivity from a community level is to come out and support each other and our local merchants who every day give the Westport community something to be proud of.
    And thanks always to Dan for reminding us of the many businesses and people that we may sometimes overlook.