Friday Flashback #115

At first glance, Fred Cantor’s 1976 photo of downtown Westport seems timeless.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The facades on Post Road East look very familiar. More than 40 years later, little has changed.

But look closely. So much is different now.

Three spaces — all in a row — tell the story of downtown Westport, then and now.

Fine Arts Theaters I and II (and their companions, III on Jesup Road and IV a short way east) drew scores of people after dark. They came early for dinner. They had drinks afterward. They window-shopped. They made downtown a destination.

Next door, Fine Art Supplies — rechristened a few years later as Max’s — was much more than a place to pick up watercolors, easels and brushes. It was the center of Westport’s bustling, creative, supportive arts community. World-renowned artists shared stories and secrets. Aspiring painters and illustrators met mentors. Window displays proudly showed Westport’s talent to everyone passing by.

And next door to Max’s stood Schaefer’s Sporting Goods. It catered to an entirely different clientele: jocks. But high school students found a home here too. They bought soccer cleats, bats and skis, sure. But they also hung out. Tip and Charlie Schaefer told them stories, offered tips, and gave them their first jobs.

In short, there were reasons to go downtown. There were things to buy, places to feel comfortable in, people to meet.

All day long, and after dark.

If you’ve got memories of the Fine Arts Theater, Max’s, Schaefer’s — or any other place downtown — click “Comments” below.

53 responses to “Friday Flashback #115

  1. This was the year I graduated from Staples. Aside from Fine Arts Theaters, we also has the Post Cinema. We had bowling and mini golf. We had Arnie’s Arcade. And ironically, as teens, we moaned that there was nothing to do. We went from Friendly’s to the beach and back- or to a giant house party. I think there is something about the teenage mind that is just not able to appreciate certain things. I miss that scene in the photo!!! It brings back wonderful memories.

  2. When I moved to Westport in 1983, there were several moderately-priced restaurants downtown — Matthew’s (which became Glynn’s), Ships, Soup’s On, Atticus. And a little later, Onion Alley. They were a magnet, attracting people and contributing to the vitality of the area. Westport was jokingly referred to as “the watering hole of Fairfield County.”

    They’re all gone — Glynn’s is now a real estate office; Ships became Tiffany after Eddie Bauer was there for awhile; Soups’ On has seen several retail operations come and go; Atticus is now Eileen Fisher, and Onion Alley has been demolished. There is very little to attract people in the evenings, although the DMA is trying with their street fairs and festivals.

    Contrast this with downtown Fairfield, which is teeming with people every night of the week. What is Fairfield’s secret?

  3. I sorely miss these days. How often does Tiffany’s, Restoration Hardware, Brooks Brothers etc meet the daily needs of an average person? Along with some overpriced restaurants that treat customers like crap, we almost never find ourselves downtown anymore. Fairfield, Darien, New Canaan, even Greenwich have so many more options for real-life shopping and reasonable dining, I just don’t understand what Westport sees as its value proposition anymore beyond the school district and beach. The obsession with becoming a high-end outdoor mall has killed what made the downtown interesting.

  4. Cindy Kocsis Brown

    Back in the day, Schaefer’s created our excellent thick cotton monogrammed Powder Puff jerseys. I miss the shirt and Schaefer’s too. They were the original high school pride store,

  5. On the other end of Main Street stood the wonderfully funky and very pink Remarkable Bookstore and its appendage The Record Hunter. Remarkable was my first job in 1967 (janitor/bookkeeper). Jay Flaxman at Record Hunter was always glad to have us hang out in his store and listen to vinyl LP’s of the day.

  6. Dan: Thanks to 06880, I learned about the Ct Unclaimed Property Division. I checked the web site and found my name. I submitted a claim and just received a check for $483.51. Most of this came from Verizon which is very strange as we have always been AT&T customers. In any event I feel you deserve a finder’s fee. Please advise how I can donate.

    Jim Graves

    • Thanks, Jim – much appreciated! Maybe it came from some stocks you owned (perhaps in a fund), and a class action lawsuit?

      And thanks for thinking of me. Please click the “Donate” button on this website, or simply mail to me at 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Thanks again!

  7. Michael Calise

    Just Food. – Westport Food Center, Charles’s Marker, Gristede’s Market, First National Food Stores and on the West side of the bridge, Calise’s Food Market, Carusone’s Marker, West Branch Market, Aununcio’s Delicatessen

  8. Love this photo — love the New England red paint. Don’t see it as much these days. West Lake — Library next door — Remarkable.

  9. Rosemary Bentley Milligan

    Can someone explain why Westport doesn’t have a movie theater – a sure way to bring people to the downtown area.

  10. Notwithstanding the fact that my grade school girlfriend broke up with me in front of the Fine Arts Theater (at least she waited until after the movie) I sincerely miss the place. Ditto for Max’s. Although I recall getting frog marched to Schaefer’s as a child for boring school type stuff, I learned as an adult that this was a really good store. I still have winter gloves that I bought there decades ago.

  11. Also in this shot..Marvels bakery (remember those smells?) and The Ships Lantern owned by Pete and Jimmy Voulgarakis..All local folk..

  12. Alan Hamilton

    6 Years after this was taken I was waiting tables at Ships! Anyone for a MOM burger, shrimp supreme or a cup of seafood bisque?

  13. I remember (1964) going to the Saturday matinees at the Fine Arts Theater and then hanging out at Soda fountain at Thompson’s Pharmacy!

  14. Mickey Herbst

    So looking at the photo, and continuing down the Post Road (or East State Street as it was then called) was the Westport Smoke Shop where Bev and Terri dispensed candy as well, and then Quality Printing (my shop) followed by Frank and Ralph at Village Coiffures. I often wonder if they used blue dye or the ladies just came in that way. In any case, I can remember many evenings, after going home for dinner, coming back to the shop to catch up on some work, and envying the patrons waiting on line for the latest Star Wars movie. No doubt it was a different place, but no less beautiful today.

  15. Mary Beth Pelletier

    Westport during the familiar times recounted here was a great place to live, raise kids and be part of a diverse community. We still talk about the time Chris worked for Tip, when he was sent to set up a weight set at the home of its buyer — Paul Newman. Chris remarked, “you know mom, he’s just like regular people.” And indeed, folks then really were.

  16. Charles Taylor

    When we moved to W’port in 1958 the first movie I saw at the Fine Arts was Peyton Place.
    My buddies and I had many conversations relating to that film for months afterwards.

  17. Michael Calise

    No Wright Street Building!

    • Great catch Mike—you should be a photo analyst for the CIA. The trees towering over the the homes that used to be on Wright St. are what’s missing. Wasn’t Dr. Isenman’s ( sp?) house & home offfice one of the homes razed for that building? Also, note the clean smooth 1976 pavement of Post Road compared to today’s washboard road surface

  18. Werner Liepolt

    This photo and commentary is an adroit and subtle reminder of what brings folks downtown, gets them to stay for a while, and makes it vital.

    My need for a fine point pen at Max’s could turn into an hour’s leisurely stroll to Klein’s where I’d buy a Verve jazz vinyl, and then a chat with Estha at Remarkable where I’d buy a couple of paperbacks and run into some students who wanted to talk about Vonnegut’s latest. Then over to country tiles where I’d buy a vase for my wife (two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard) and connect with Tom and Kita Melah who helped choose the tiles I installed on our fireplace. Then as the years turned I’d be downtown for my kid’s swim meets and daycare.

    What brings families downtown now?

  19. Mary Ann Batsell

    I remember downtown, buying an eclair
    At Marvels bakery, shopping at Country Gal
    Going into Klein’s looking fir the perfect card or book or record in Sally’s corner, the Ships
    Lantern fir the best seafood chowder,
    Welch’s hardware, Part Barn abd my sister
    Worked at the Selective Eye, a really
    “Cool store” at the time!!! The Remarable
    Bookshop was an adventure as well as
    Filled with treasures that we could afford
    Best place for Christmas shopping on
    A limited budget! I really miss all those
    Wonderful places and their memories.
    I understand that times change, but
    It was fun downtown and I do hope they bring back the theaters, they were great, we
    Could take the bus or get a ride easy
    To go to a matinee!

  20. Mary Ann Batsell

    I really dislike auto check and their changes
    I am a very good speller so please forgive all the mistakes in my narrative, they are not

  21. Michael Don Sullivan

    Hello Dan! Miss the old days there in Westport! You mentioned Schaefer’s Sports.Were they the same family that had the liquor store across Main Street from Oscars?

  22. I miss the selective eye, rachna of India, remarkable bookshop, and marios!!!

  23. Patrick Laffaye

    What a fantastic photo! There is a lot going on there. The old public library, the abandoned furniture store, the huge vacant lot on Wright St. where I used to ride my bike and climb trees. You can see Taylor Place was once a two-way street. Shaefer’s excess storage room is on the 2nd floor behind the light pole. There is an dark alley that used to be a shortcut to Fine Arts III. I know that Post Cinema definitely was not around in ’76 and the same may be true about Fine Arts IV. There was also a government annex (police?) just to the left of the theaters.

  24. Dan,

    I sincerely appreciate you using your public role for community good. Our downtown success is achievable; we only need cheerleaders who appreciate what we have and you are one of them. Thank you.


  25. Dan, it was a pleasant surprise seeing my vintage photo featured in the Friday Flashback. (And who could have envisioned back in 1976 that my photo would appear more than 40 years later in a blog entitled “06880”?)

    Naturally I have lots of different memories associated with the establishments in the scene above. But one that exemplifies a synergy of downtown places: for whatever reason, I have a clear memory of seeing “To Sir With Love” in the late summer of ‘67—between the end of camp and the start of school—with Andy Lewis. In addition to really enjoying the film, I loved the title song; I couldn’t get it out of my head after it was performed in part or in its entirety probably a half dozen times throughout the movie. So I ended up buying the 45—I’m almost positive at the record department at Klein’s.

    And I still have that 45, which I still enjoy listening to—on a turntable my wife and I bought in the store that ultimately took over the space occupied by the Fine Arts Movie Theater.

  26. I want to make clear that I saw “To Sir With Love” at the Fine Arts.

    • Peter Gambaccini

      Schaefer’s was where I bought my first pair of “running shoes” for $6 in 1965. They were made by Converse and were pretty rudimentary. I have vivid memories of seeing “A Hard Day’s Night” at Fine Arts with my two best friends from Staples. When I came back to town after college in ’74 and ’75, Ship’s Lantern was favored by young local teachers on late Friday afternoons and was a hangout for a group of creative and media types, all of whom seemed to defer to WNEW-FM dj Dave Herman.

    • Saw Jaws at the fine arts Theater. Took my little sister….not a good idea!! I ended up sitting outside the theater with a terrified sister!!!

  27. The caption of the photo vexes me bigly….”nothing much has changed”???
    EVERYTHING has changed….and not for the better.

  28. Late in the 1930’s/early 1940’s we rented at 573 Imperial Ave. The number has changed but it was at the corner of Wakeman Place. Our Mother gave us 11 cents; 10 for the movie and 1 for candy. We walked to Fine Arts, bought our candy and went to the movie on Saturdays. One week we bought our candy and then went to the movie, only to find out the price went up to 11 cents. The cashier took pity on us and let us in, if we promised to bring an extra penny the following week. In the late 40’s I used to ride my bike from 1 Charcoal Hill, where my father built our house, to Max’s very early on Sunday mornings to sort newspapers. Residents reserved their paper and we had to be careful that all the parts were there before they came to pick them up.

    • Good to see you are still around Karl.
      Westport today doesn’t seem to be even related to the Westport we grew up in. Good memories of a wonderful small Connecticut town.

      Stay well.

  29. Liz Doyle Boyd

    A penny for a Mary Jane!! Anyone know who that woman was at the candy counter of Fine Arts??

  30. Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

    I saw this yesterday but did not have time to respond. Most of my memories and changes that have occurred are mentioned. The first movie I ever remember seeing at the Fine Arts was The Wizard of OZ. My brother Corky and I were allowed to attend by ourselves. Corky, any who remember him will remember him as strong and courageous, was petrified when the witch would appear. We had to walk out to the concession area during the witch scenes . Much later, one night when I took the train home after work from NYC Corky picked me up and we went to see another movie at the Fine Arts. I am pretty sure I remember that Jane Fonda was in it.
    Last memory to share is Colgan’s Drug Store. We would walk down from either Bedford Jr. High or the old Staples to catch the city bus home. If we had the dime necessary we could buy a Cherry Coke at the counter before boarding for home.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      I checked my self on line. The 1965 Jane Fonda movie was Cat Ballou . At my age it is nice to have the memory kick in correctly……I just did not use it above because I spelled it incorrectly and consequently backed the reference out.

  31. I remember schaefer’s Sporting goods store with reverence. Tip and Charlie Schaffer were wonderful supporters of all the children in Westport. I remembe getting my first professional quality baseball glove from the store. Tip hand selected the glove and told me to go out back to try it out! Who does that today?? He gave me the best job a teenager could have. Selling tennis racquet’s to Robert Redford! The memories go on! Thank you for this great picture of a town I will always love!!!

  32. Tip and Charlie Schaefer were the best! I remember my dad taking me down town to go Schaffer’s. I needed a new baseball glove. Tip went upstairs to his storage area and came down with The wholly grail! He tossed it to me and gave me a ball. Told me to go out to play catch with my brother to try it out. Who does that today??? I used that glove (Wilson A2002) all the way through collage! I also had the best job a teenage jock could have! I got to sell tennis racquets to Robert Redford, and many others! Charlie Schaefer tought me haw to string baseball glove like a pro!
    Thanks for the great picture of a town I will never forget!

  33. Sadly, I must report that a fixture of the Westport Movie theater scene recently passed away. Steve Swatt was the manager of Fine Arts 1, 2, & 3 at varying times during his career and through the different ownerships of the theaters (Nutmeg, CinemaNational, etc.). Many a Staples student, including myself, earned their first paycheck under Steve’s tutelage. He was an amazing guy and a fixture in Westport until those theaters closed.

  34. Susan Schaefer

    Of course I remember Schaefer’s Sporting Goods.

    • Becky Schaefer

      lol mom.

      When I was growing up in the 80s, kids that I barely knew used to ask me if I was related to Tip Schaefer of Schaefer Sporting Goods (yes – great-uncle). They were angling for a discount, and I always shrugged and said they could mention me if they thought it would help. Apparently so many kids said they knew me that Tip and Charlie made me a “saleswoman of the year” trophy.

  35. Also unseen on the photo is The Club Grill Diner, corner Taylor Place and East State across from
    Colgans Pharmacy, a Papageorge eatery prior to Oscar’s Deli . . .both wonderful places to eat and meet. in the late fifties/early sixties there weren’t that many attorneys in Westport but a number of them would lunch at the Diner . . .Steve Tate, Ned Dimes, Eddie Garlick, Ben Gunn, Eddie Capasse, Walter Andrews and occasionally the revered Harry Sherwood. there were others as well. I worked with Ben Gunn and was privy to this
    wonderful group.

  36. When I was 7, I went with my friend James Glendinning to see a science fiction movie called “The First Man Into Space”, or something like that, at Fine Arts. Scared the hell out of me. This would have been around 1959.

  37. Schaefer’s: I’ll never forget the day I was finally able to go in and order my Staples varsity soccer jacket. I had seen the jackets in there over years growing up, aspiring one day to earn my own. As soon as I made the team, Schaefer’s was my first stop.

  38. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    Sorry, group. Been out of town. #1 wife forced us to spend us to spend 17 days on tour in New Zealand and Australia.(Yeh; mmmhmm?) I remember going to the Fine Arts as an urchin from Weston in the late 1940s. A buck would buy a ticket with enough left over for candy bars at a sweet shop next door. Movie, cartoon, newsreel, another chapter in a series like “Don Winslow of the Navy” (It got me to enlist after high school.) What I couldn’t figger out was where did the movie actors go after the movie was over? I’d hang around to see if they came out a side door, or somethin.’
    The Club Grill . . .yes, known to high schoolers of the1950s as “Jack’s.” (There was no actual Jack, but that’s where we all hung out. A cup of coffee was “admission” to the pinball machine, and if the player was careful to lift the front legs off the floor to send the ball back up the course, you could play on and on, and . . .
    And speaking of (the above) Colgan’s was where I purchased my first, um, well, you know what teen-age boys needed to be Way Kool in school.