In 1926, Christie Masiello opened a fruit and vegetable stand on Cross Highway. For nearly 7 decades she and her nephew Don were staples of that northern Westport neighborhood: a place to buy food (and gas). And — just as important — to meet.
The place went through some changes — it was briefly a dry cleaner — but when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, Christie’s regained its rightful place as a neighborhood store. And community center.
John added burritos, prepared foods and more to the menu. He rented space to Frosty Bear ice cream. There was a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings.
Nearby Staples High and Bedford Middle School students flocked there after class (sometimes during). Neighbors stopped in a couple of times a day, for whatever they needed. (Including cumin for a Christmakkah meal — click here for that great story.)
It was the only place around for builders, construction workers, tradesmen and delivery people too. They packed the parking lot at lunchtime.
Christie’s was also the go-to place during weather disasters. When hurricanes howled or blizzards blew, the store was the neighborhood port in a storm. John offered ice, water, food, cell charging — whatever anyone needed.
If his power was out too, it was still the place to gather, swap stories, and get energized for the cleanup ahead.
But all those will soon be memories. With sadness, John has announced that Christie’s is closing next month.
Rent and taxes are high, relative to sales and income that can be generated in his out-of-the-way place.
The lease was up in June. But John and Renee stayed on, to see if they could create a plan to make things work.
Christie’s is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited tables and chairs to seat approximately 9 patrons indoors.
The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter — in front of the fireplace — and on the porch in summer.
They hoped for limited dinner too, in the form of Friday Family Fun Nights (Saturdays too).
But before they could get approval from Planning & Zoning, they needed an okay from the Health Department.
Health officials said the septic system could not handle the additional stress. And — according to state regulations — the surrounding soils made expansion of the current system unfeasible. John and Renee had to operate as they currently do.
“Local officials were great,” John says. “They tried to work with us. But state laws prohibit expanding the septic system.”
So Christie’s will close soon after their last catering event: a Staples PTA holiday lunch for teachers.
That’s fitting. John has always been a huge supporter of Westport (and Fairfield) schools. He’s provided great food as cheaply as he can — sometimes at cost.
“Renee and I are thankful for all the great friends and supporters we’ve met,” John says. “I’ve watched a lot of kids grow up. It’s been amazing, and what I’ll miss the most.”
“Closing Christie’s is sad for me. But Renee is comforted that I will be able to devote more time to her growing food company.” White Oak Farm & Table sells non-GMO and organic shelf-stable food to stores nationwide.
Everyone who made Christie’s their home away from home is sad too.
Really, everyone in Westport should be.
A little bit of what made our town special will soon be gone.
Thanks, John and Renee, for 9 great years.
And Christie’s, for 92 of them.