Main Street At An Inflection Point: An “06880” Call To Action

A recent “06880” post on the future of Main Street got readers thinking.

65 people commented. Thoughtfully, insightfully and civilly, they offered suggestions.

Your flood of reactions got me thinking.

As a native Westporter — someone who remembers the Remarkable Book Shop, Klein’s department store, the African Room, World Affairs Center, movie theaters, Mark’s Place music club, Oscar’s, Dorain’s Drug Store — I know the kind of life that can pulse on Main Street.

A classic 1960s Main Street photo.

But I also realize that we can’t simply wish for that kind of street again. The world is far different today.

For a long time, I thought a few tweaks would bring downtown back to life. I nodded as stakeholders assured me that once the flood-proofing and renovation projects were done, and empty storefronts filled up again, all would be well again.

After reading the comments, and talking to a broad array of sharp, committed Westporters, I no longer believe that’s true.

Main Street is no longer — and perhaps never again will be — our “main street.” It’s simply a short stretch off the Post Road near the Saugatuck River. It’s lined with commercial buildings, connecting one side of town with another.

To think of it as our “main street” is to live in the 20th century — or even the 19th.

Main Street — particularly the business district — is not very long. You can barely see it here, in Larry Untermeyer’s aerial shot.

But boy, does it have potential.

The problem is, “potential” implies re-imagining the future. And re-designing the present.

We can’t simply tweak the Post Road. We need to (almost) blow it up, and start again.

The possibilities are endless.

Main Street could be a car-less, pedestrian-friendly piazza/promenade lined with trees, tables and benches; upscale and family restaurants and cafes, including outside dining (with space heaters for winter); food carts and artists’ kiosks; independent businesses like a general store, bookstore and ice cream shop (joining the special Savvy + Grace-type places already there).

It could be filled with cultural and arts events; food festivals, and something at Christmas; music on weekends, plus waterfront access, with paddleboat and kayak rentals. In the winter, we could flood part of it for a skating rink.

And more: The Farmers’ Market could relocate there. We could add offices for non-profits, and co-working spaces. Apartments could be build on 2nd and 3rd floors.

This was Main Street, during the 2014 Art About Town festival.

Downtown is at an inflection point.

The decisions we make now are as important as the ones we made 70 years ago. That’s when town officials decided — and citizens agreed — to fill in the Saugatuck River, behind the stores on the west side of Main Street.

The result — a parking lot named for selectman Emerson Parker and Daybreak Nursery owner Evan Harding — may have been the right idea then.

But today we need a new downtown. And the change can’t be incremental. It must be big, bright and bold.

Bigger, brighter and bolder, even, than Parker Harding Plaza was then.

The time for consultants is past. They, and the Downtown Plan Implementation  Committee, have generated some good ideas. Now we must seize the initiative.

Who is “we”?

All of us. Everyone in Westport. We all have a stake in a vibrant, exciting, innovative, walkable, livable, enjoyable downtown. A downtown that will draw us all in again — and many others, from around the area.

Our town already offers so much: excellent schools, the transformed library, beaches, Longshore, Levitt Pavilion, Senior Center, Playhouse, Wakeman Town Farm, YMCA, Earthplace and tons more.

We often take these jewels for granted. For too long, we’ve taken the idea that Main Street “must” be a shopping-only street for granted too.

Look at the river. Look at Church Lane. Look at Main Street. Imagine the possibilities. (Drone photo by John Videler/Videler Photography)

I said it before: Downtown is at an inflection point. We have the opportunity to create something truly dynamic and visionary.

How do we do it?

Let’s start with a town meeting (of course, in the Library Forum). Let’s talk about the most exciting new Main Street we can imagine. Then let’s figure out how to make it happen.

Emerson Parker and Evan Harding were great civic volunteers. But look at their sorry legacy.

This is our chance to leave a legacy, for at least the next 70 years.

Who wants to step up and lead us forward?

86 responses to “Main Street At An Inflection Point: An “06880” Call To Action

  1. J.W. Kaempfer, Jr

    Hear hear

  2. Love the sentiment, Dan, but the reality is, that as loyalty to local outlets diminishes and as Main St. rents are more and more aimed at chain stores to whom we need not be loyal, the logic, the speed and the pricing of internet shopping will further doom main streets nation wide. No “pedestrian malling” or bright lights will make a dent.

  3. Danielle Dobin

    Bravo, Dan! A town-wide forum is a terrific idea. As Chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission I would love to sit down with our First Selectman Jim Marpe, Selectwoman Melissa Kane (who chaired the Downtown Plan) and other relevant decision-makers to give these ideas the serious consideration they deserve. Change downtown will be challenging to effectuate – the P&Z controls what can be built and how our public land can be utilized, the Selectman’s Office manages traffic, the Board of Finance is responsible for funding infrastructure improvements and the RTM has oversight over many of these decisions. It’s time to come together to hear new ideas from an engaged citizenry and create a modern plan for downtown that looks beyond shopping. There are many new Main Street leases signed up but a sustainable revitalization requires creative thinking and a transformational approach. I applaud you for publishing this call to action, Dan. I’ll pursue a date that works.

    • That’s great, Danielle. Please keep me posted — I’ll pass along all the news!

      • This is where I would use that “Like” button I mentioned! I’d love to see this town come back to life and beyond!

    • Annette Norton

      Hi Danielle, I own Savvy + Grace(a local mom shop) on Main Street downtown. I would love to help/be a part of the action! I am thrilled with all the positive feedback. There is so much downtown to admire and be thankful for, together I am certain we can build on that. Let’s enjoy and build on a Westport Downtown for now and moreover for generations to come. Jen Tooker should also be involved. I know she not only shops downtown but meets behind the scenes with the DMA and retailers to help facilitate different efforts on this very subject. I am easy to reach and would love to speak with you, please feel free to call the store. Truly, excited by the possibilities-Annette

      • Danielle Dobin

        Annette-
        It will be terrific to have you share your perspective and join this effort. Savvy & Grace is wonderful! I’ll be in touch once we have some possible dates for the town-wide discussion. It is very exciting to consider the possibilities of what we can accomplish working together as a town!

  4. Sal Liccione

    I agree to a town wide meeting I willing to sit down I live in downtown proper let’s have a meeting sal liccione rtm member district 9

  5. Kristin Schneeman

    As usual, Dan, YOU are stepping up and leading, but I for one am ready and willing to help get this conversation started! Instead of focusing on what we can’t or shouldn’t do, let’s try some new things and see where they take us. There are ways in which we can take control of our own destiny, we just need to seize the opportunity.

    • Thanks, Kristin. Danielle Dobin seems to be taking a lead on this — at least on getting a meeting going. I’m sure she’d love your help!

  6. Thank you Dan for such an inspiring call to action this morning. Having just come back from Southern California where the type of closed pedestrian walk is common, I couldn’t feel more excited to think of something like that here for our families. A safe place for our kids to walk after school. A way for local entrepreneurs to consider new businesses that will get foot traffic. A chance for everyone to stop bitching about parking. I hope leadership takes notice.

  7. Dan is right. Revitalization of Main Street is possible— but only if we look through a 21st century lens.

    Coworking, festivals, restaurants, on a closed pedestrian space? Absolutely. The changes in retail are nationwide, yet not all spaces are barren like Main Street.

    Let’s stop waiting for Klein’s to reopen, and start looking at models of working downtowns in other communities. I’d be one of the first to sign on to a new co-working space. I’ll even make the coffee.

    Will Main Street landlords stop living in the past and get creative to fill their spaces?

  8. Sheri Gordon

    I am in! Let’s stop making downtown about signs and parking (that’s so 20th century!). Let’s focus on what the future will bring. We need to utilize our waterfront and follow the direction that thriving retail is taking — experiential commerce.

  9. Phil Nourie

    Dan – Your vision should get everyone inspired to focus on what could happen and what is possible. Thank you for sharing your imagination towards a Main Street for tomorrow.
    To get the ball rolling we could start by renaming Main Street to Our Street…to remind present-day and future generations that it’s theirs to enjoy, evolve and preserve. We do have an opportunity today to understand the challenges and start solving smaller issues while working towards a better vision. It seems like, with everything else these days, the old approaches to such issues won’t solve today’s problems. We need an inter generational approach of sorts. I’m on board, Dan!

  10. Susan Iseman

    Great post, Dan. I’d be happy to participate. Hopefully, the landlords will also.

  11. Morley Boyd

    Love the passion and agree that the pending $700,000.00 appropriation for old fashioned parking signs in downtown is a non-starter. But a pedestrian mall has implications for traffic (it will be diverted to the already overwhelmed Myrtle Ave), fire safety and logistics (how do you deliver to a business that’s marooned in a pedestrian mall?). And then there’s this: Westport is – although it’s no longer polite to say – auto obsessed. Generally speaking, if we can’t park in front of something, it doesn’t exist. The latter is not necessarily a criticism, just an observation.

    • Thanks, Morley. This definitely has implications for traffic. But think of all the pedestrian malls that work — Church Street in Burlington, VT; Lincoln Road in Miami Beach; all of the ones in Southern California. It’s certainly been done before.

      • Morley Boyd

        Oh, yes it’s worked elsewhere for sure; Church Lane in VT dates to the late 50s. But this is actually a really old idea in Westport. And don’t forget, the our Downtown Plan CURRENTLY calls for a pedestrian mall (or a “sharrow) over on (our) Church Lane. Can you imagine the lawsuits if that was actually tried? The unfortunate reality is this: we need our arterial north/south roads. And that includes Main Street. My feeling is that we have talked ourselves into thinking there is a problem here. Leases are still being signed and most town’s would kill to have such luxurious concerns.

  12. I also agree with the sentiment, intent and many ideas in this post, but does diminish the tireless efforts of many people (many on a volunteer basis) current do, more than talk or comment about to strive to revitalize our Downtown, from vast improvements in buildings, flood control, lighting, roads and parking lots (yes, that is coming) and an effort to build a new downtown playground, We are far from unique in terms of vacancies, but are exceptional in the proactive efforts to at least set ourselves up in infrastructure for a better future. What this will take is more than a lot of voicing of opinions from our residents – it will take a true commitment to get involved in the change, and making the effort to actually choose Downtown for your shopping, service and dining experiences.

    • Kristin Schneeman

      Absolutely no disrespect intended to those who have worked hard to breathe life into downtown! Downtown Merchants, WW Chamber of Commerce, local arts community, library, Levitt, other organizations and supporters are responsible for so many of the special events and amenities that we all enjoy and are grateful for! (And let’s not forget all our tax dollars that have gone into improvements – thank you, taxpayers.) And we tend to forget the vibrant shopping areas adjacent to Main Street, like Sconset Square and Playhouse Square, that are full of locally-owned businesses and seem to be working quite well. What’s the secret sauce in those places that we might be able to replicate on Main Street? Is it just lower rents?

  13. David J. Loffredo

    The game changer would be to completely close it to vehicular traffic. A great example of how this transformation can work is in Vienna Austria. In 1974, the government closed Karntner Strasse and it’s now one of the most popular walking destinations in Europe.

    Sure there’s a mix of bars and restaurants and chain stores and touristy junk, but the open central space hosts a variety of seasonal cultural events, pop up shops, etc.

    https://www.budgetwayfarers.com/karntner-strasse-shopping-street-vienna/

    This would transform Main Street once and for all.

  14. Dan – thank you for this wonderful community post. I, like you, grew up in a different era, with a different downtown Westport with everything.

    The world has changed and so has downtown. In out past the landlord, tenant, and Westport Bank and Trust all “needed each other”

    Today downtown is owned by mostly corporations, as is the post road. It’s a numbers game period.

    A store will be left “vacant” for THE PRICE the formula they have in place is paid. They will take a LOSS for a TAX write off.

    Their lawyers are smart and know real estate law and all the tax benefits. Unlike the past they DON’T care about the empty space or tenant that much. It’s about the dollars.

    Another problem we have is a busy society. Travel sports has killed the family weekend. It is now all about “divide and conquer” going all over Tri – State area for “premier” etc.

    This is a nation wide problem. Hurts us more because people can afford to “pay to play.” Always cracks me up our kids end up playing neighboring town kids 3 hours away!!!

    So now you have high rents ( only free markets can bring them down) everyone out of town running around with activities with no reason to go downtown.
    There is no YMCA
    There is no movie theatre
    There is no ships, soups on, town squire diner for kids to grab a cheap bite.

    For staters – why can’t we get this Downtown Movie Theatre Initiative group you work with our Library to start putting on Movies downtown?

    Just say n’ might be a good start of “collaboration” amongst two civic minded groups.

    Peace

  15. Marina Derman

    The Remarkable Theater is an organization that is committed to three goals:

    – Employing people with disabilities
    – Creating an art house movie theater for our community
    – Helping revitalize downtown Westport

    We are about to embark on a series of meetings with twelve of Westport’s most vital and important organizations to explain our goals, ask for help, and listen to people’s ideas on how best to bring a movie theater back to downtown Westport. We don’t suggest a movie theater will solve all the challenges downtown Westport faces, but we do believe a movie theater could still play in important role in making a 21st century downtown Westport a more appealing place. This is not because Westport used to have four movie theaters downtown during what is arguably downtown’s most active era, or just for the nostalgia of it, but because art house movie theaters are helping other downtowns that are suffering from the same challenges across the country.

    Thank you Dan for writing this article!

    We welcome help from anybody who would like to help us or has ideas about helping to make a movie theater downtown a reality. We are enthusiastic to be a part of a larger conversation about creating an amazing 21st-century downtown Westport. If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, write to us at info@remarkabletheater.org.

  16. Susan Huppi

    I remember the old main street…loved all the little shops that were unique..not chains. Remarkable bookshop,Kleins, Selective Eye,World of Cheese,etc. Love the idea of making it a pedestrian area, having farmers markets and other events. My main street in NH has widened sidewalks for more outdoor seating,has original sculptures in various spots,some unique shops and restaurants. They occasionally block the road for festivals including art festivals and a multicultural fair.

  17. Your ideas could become real with the hints that already exist: the PopT’Art graciously offered by the landlord of the old library building and created by Mark Yurkiw and his partner; the new gallery that has just opened a few doors down; and now we need a “used” bookstore/cafe that would bring the street a bit more culture and conversation. It would be perfect where the Remarkable used to be. Eliminate the cars on Main Street for a pedestrian mall, as well as cars on the river side obstructing what any other new England town would cherish as a gathering place for people sitting in cafes and restaurants. It could be more than a memory.

  18. My wife Cathe and I arrived in Westport in the Fall of of 1973, along with our two very young daughters (a third would be added a couple years later). In the Spring of 1974, the Town announced something called The Westport Future Workshop which was a town-wide series of sessions to gather input for the development of the Town Plan.

    While I really cannot attest to how much influence the workshop had on informing the plan, I recall the experience with great fondness for as newcomers having moved from the city, it gave credence to the idea of small town New England getting together to shape the strategy for the new place we now called home. I think something like this with a specific focus on Downtown is a great idea.

    If memory serves me correctly, The Westport Future Workshop (some, half-jokingly, would call it “Westport Future Shock”), had an initial plenary meeting where the leaders would set the stage for the objectives of the workshop, with a handful of leaders providing brief overviews of scope and what would or would not be in play. We then broke out into preassigned work groups of about 10-12. Based on the group that my wife and I were assigned, someone did a very thorough job of creating an interesting, diverse and collaborative team. We being the “new kids” at the time were in a group that included the venerable Herb Baldwin, First Selectman back in the early 60s, along with many others of varying age and time as Westporters.

    The meetings were held at Staples. We had two or so group sessions; then all the group input was gathered and a final plenary session was held where the aggregate workshop suggestions were presented as the guiding principles for the new Town Plan.

    Maybe somewhere in Town Hall there are files that could better describe the workshop, but I think an approach like this would provide an excellent way to gather input to consider for the Downtown’s future. Plus, a nice by-product for newcomers, as my wife and I were then, it really helped to connect us with the town and its people.

  19. Peter Krieg

    Great stuff. Make Main Street pedestrian only walking place. Build parking garage in Parker Harding. Create a “park” with some concessions and ” on the top of the garage, overlooking the RIVER, which is the real heart of downtown. Like Mallory Square in Key West!

  20. Jean Whitehead

    Dan I think your idea is sound. My New England town is inhabited by both second home owners and people whose families go back centuries.
    Our downtown is full of individually owned businesses. It is extremely busy, year round.
    We are two hours, give or take, from NYC.
    I don’t know exactly what rents are, or what income is, but most of the stores have been in business for more than a few years.
    I think we’ve been named in some publications as a great place to shop, or visit, or something. I believe the only chains in town, other than gas stations, are Subway, McDonald’s, Marshall’s, Petco and Staples. But they are mostly north or south of downtown.
    I think it’s worth exploring! As I say, our downtown thrives.
    Oh, I should add, we do have a triple movie theater and a beautifully refurbished old movie theater, used for concerts, fund raisers, school events etc. These are huge draws.

  21. Ann Chernow

    you!!!

  22. I could envision our Main Street like Chirch Street in Burlington, VT – closed to cars, lots of restaurants with outdoor seating, some chain boutiques, some independent retailers, tattoo parlors (ok, maybe I can’t really envision that one in our community, but it’d be cool!), art galleries and more. Great for locals but also a draw for visitors & tourists. And way different from the vibe of the SoNo Gallery mall down the street.

  23. It’s great that everyone is chiming in with ideas (and noting obstacles). But this was (as the headline said) a “call to action.” Danielle Dobin looks like she’s ready to lead this initiative/project/concept — at least, helping lead an initial forum. Who is in to help?!

  24. Dennis Jackson

    Random thoughts…

    Burlington, Vermont turned Church Street into a pedestrian mall years ago, and it’s fabulous. However, unlike Main Street, several streets cross it. Some are closed off and some not. These and allow for ease of access, and they lead to parking.

    I’m trying to picture how that would work if Main Street were closed to traffic.

    Also, I’d think Gordon Joseloff could do a wonderful job leading such a reimagination. He’s smart, levelheaded, creative, and highly respected. He’s Mr. Westport!

    P.S. Note typo below…

    Sent from DJ iPhone

    >

  25. This is exactly the right idea and can be encouraged by the town with intelligent incentives. The landlords will follow if it becomes commercially viable., And the library space should be incorporated into the plan because of its visionary community space.

  26. Kristan Hamlin

    Dan– I love the idea of making a limited part of Main Street between Post 1 and Elm a cobblestone pedestrian area. That would, indeed, revitalize the down town area. However, it may require making Myrtle a two-way street, so lesser-used Taylor Pl. may work better for your concept.

    The idea of permitting artist kiosks and live music in such a pedestrian area is a great one. It would help give Westport a center and heartbeat. Personally, I’ve always wanted to see a local dance place/wine bar for people to listen to music at night, drink wine, eat appetizers and dance. That would require a large dance floor. It would be great if such a place were downtown.

    Taylor Place may be an easier place to make a pedestrian area, and would tie in nicely to the expanded role the Library is now playing. The library is quickly becoming a great place for movies, lectures, and music. The Chamber of Commerce and Matt Mandell just invited a soul-blues band, the John Nemeth band, to perform there at the library and it was fantastic music! It was the largest Supper and Soul event so far –a great event!

    What are your thoughts about making Taylor Place the pedestrian cobblestoned area?

    • Thanks, Kristan — another great idea. That’s why I posted this “call to action” — so we could get creative minds to work together to make SOMETHING a reality. It’s time to move from “06880” comments to at least an initial gathering of brains and voices.

      • We paid for this idea in 2015. It’s on page 36 of the Downtown Master Plan and it’s referred to as “P13, Redesign Taylor Place as a Shared Street”. Btw, on page 58, the Plan explains why a pedestrian only Main Street was rejected: “Re-routed traffic volumes would cause excessive congestion along alternate routes.” And that was before the town opted to reduce the traffic flow functionality of Myrtle/Church – work on that project is just about begin.

        • Yes, I thought there might have been a traffic study or analysis of some kind re the impact of closing off Main Street. I know how horrendous traffic can be when it is completely closed off for the Art Show in July.

          Perhaps one alternative to think about would be eliminating the parking on the west side of Main Street from the Post Road to Elm so that section could offer a wider pedestrian route with some kiosks or, if a restaurant or cafe were located there, some outdoor tables.

          But I am skeptical about shutting down Main Street altogether permanently in light of traffic flow.

          As far as attracting more people: as I have said before, the Saugatuck area seems to have a lot more people walking and hanging out on a nice summer night than Main Street and I imagine that’s due to the concentrated number of eating establishments along with at least one plaza by the river for people to congregate in—the one between Saugatuck Sweets and the Whelk. And this happens without a pedestrian mall.

          Finally, happy belated 11th bday to the blog that is a combination of Westport’s old Town Crier and a bit of NY Times and Washington Post in the mix as well. And wishing you many, many more. I still remember my 11th-bday gift from my camp bunkmates: the Beatles VI album, which I was very excited about. And we had pizza and ice cream, courtesy of a gift from my parents, at the camp’s canteen. What a great birthday it was.

          • Actually, certain ominous things make me suspect Saugatuck is really the patient to be concerned about. In any event, the town is not about to shut down a north-west arterial road – we need every one we’ve got. But if we’re crazy enough to call in an airstrike on ourselves, I’m totally going to be the first in line to contest my assessment. And then I’m going to write a text amendment that basically says: all permitted uses in the Business Commercial District are now permitted in Residential A zones.
            How’s that for foot traffic?

            • Morley, I hope you didn’t think I was suggesting that Riverside be shut down in any fashion. I was just trying to point out that Saugatuck seems like a much more vibrant area than Main St at night—without the benefit of a pedestrian mall—and it seems to be due to the types of establishments there.

              • Oh no, I didn’t think that Fred. And I’m sorry if I inadvertently gave that impression. Personally, I think Saugatuck is quietly slipping under the waves despite the surface optics. The main culprit is seemingly traffic – which we’ve made worse with narrowed streets. How else to square the fact that we’ve got fewer commuters yet the congestion down there is, at times, epic?

    • Elisabeth Keane

      Please be careful about cobblestones, however charming. Folks who are blind, or who have difficulty walking for various reasons, who use canes or walkers or who are in wheelchairs would not be able to use that area easily safely.

  27. I love this idea of walking around and enjoying all the shops. restaurants , galleries, theaters, movies etc. Thank you Dan. Where would we park? I like this too for environmental reasons. Let’s get it going. Wish we hadn’t moved the YMCA as that was certainly a heartbeat for people to wander around downtown but that is in the past. Now we have to create new and fabulous ways of making Main Street or Our Street a magnet for all to enjoy each other and what it has to offer. I just went to the new So No Mall in Norwalk and that is really attracting people. We could do the same with some creative ideas like yours.

    • I know some people might object, but what about a parking deck in the Baldwin lot (Elm Street). It could be done well — perhaps with a turf athletic field on top? We can be creative here as well.

  28. Carla Schine

    I like the idea types you list. Our youth need a dynamic place as well. What are the real estate owners willing to do to make changes affordable? There really is so much potential.

  29. Jay Walshon MD FACEP

    Dan
    Thanks for picking up on the ideas and calls for action that several of us have recommended multiple times here and elsewhere. Obviously these ideas have fallen on the deaf ears of those with the power and authority to move them forward. Despite having ears, it seems what was lacking was vision and motivation – hopefully with your push that will now change.

    It is heartening to me that the “floundering identity” I’ve noticed since moving here 35 years ago seems absent amongst many of the 06880 community. Hopefully this will finally translate to productive action.

    Town leaders need to understand and capitalize on the priceless real estate that we enjoy – and I’m not referring to monetary value. Converting irreplaceable LI Sound water view recreational space to a million dollar crap house, and utilizing precious river waterfront property to park automobiles is testimony to a lack of vision and failure to understand intrinsic value.

    H
    With this latest call to action, with P&Z and RTM member backing, and especially with energized caring residents willing to keep pushing this forward, perhaps this time talk of potential will convert to dynamic action. The models of small downtown revitalization successes are numerous, especially in those fortunate enough to have priceless waterfronts.

  30. While pedestrian malls are great in cities relying on public transportation, I’m not sure it makes a difference if people have to drive to get there. Will a pedestrian mall make any more likely you will drive there to shop? When the Y was there, it drew people. Restaurants usually depend on retail/office traffic and the area’s two stand-alone restaurants–Cobbs Mill and the Red Barn have both closed, Maybe frequent transit service to the railroad station will make the area attractive for offices with out-of-town workers while also make the area attractive for apartments for commuters–but these would have to be done on a large scale to bring enough foot traffic on Main Street, and the transit service would have to be relatively fast.
    But then again, this will all take away the rustic character of Main Street. Maybe it would be best to just let it go.

    • Danielle Dobin

      John – let’s get together, brainstorm in a big way and come up with some substantive steps towards creating a sustainable, vibrant downtown…it is way too early to consider letting it go.

      • John Kelley

        Danielle,
        I haven’t lived in Westport since 8th grade in 1962, but still consider it my hometown. I’ve lived my adult life in Boston (undergraduate college, Manhattan and, now, San Francisco. San Francisco had a double-decked freeway along the harbor that was damaged during the 1988 earthquake and they decided to tear it down. Opening up the waterfront created all sorts of new venues. A parking lot along the river might not be the best use of riverfront property. I know Westport is car-dependent and no-one wants to schlep bags far, so as much as I would suggest having a boardwalk along the river and maybe having stores there, would a multilevel parking garage with a smaller ground footprint enable us to open up the river? Maybe raise the stores on the west side of Main St. and create a park there with another street along side the river stores. Anyway, just brain-storming.

        • That earthquake “helped” San Francisco enormously. The Embarcadero Freeway had cut the Bay off from the rest of the city, since (I think) the 1950s. When it was damaged and then demolished, it opened up the city in ways no one imagined. That area is now beautiful, and thriving.

          Similarly, Boston’s BIg Dig — now the Greenway — has made for an astonishing transformation of that part of that city.

          • John Kelley

            Hence, I think we have to reimagine the parking lot. The riverfront can be used in better ways to revitalize downtown. On the other hand, ease of parking is probably the single most important factor for attracting shoppers. Is there a way to reconcile these two things.

            • John Kelley

              After time in shower (i’m retired and on Pacific Time) I have a proposal. Put the parking underground. Connect it to a tunnel under Main Street that will allow access to the stores. This will make shopping easier in bad weather and enable stores to reimagine their basement space. Put plants and tablets in the tunnel-either for restaurant patrons and/or public tables for people to bring their own food. Every Thursday night have concerts so people will especially come to the tunnel to eat and listen to music. Give the tunnel a fancy name and promote it as a destination. I’m sure readers can come up with other ways to use the tunnel as well.

              • Great outside-the-box thinking. I love it!

                • John Kelley

                  We do have legal recreational pot in California. Maybe I could get further out of the box.

                • John Kelley

                  A moire modest proposal: On Thursday nights have Main Street be closed to traffic and set up tables and chairs per above with performers for a weekly town outdoor eating experience.

              • William Strittmatter

                Fancy name? Maybe Tunnel d’Inonder, since it is likely to get wet under Main Street.

  31. Michael Pettee

    It is odd that downtown turns its back on what is potentially one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of downtown: the river. Even before the parker-Harding “fill-in” many years ago the stores did not face the river. If one were to start over it would seem the riverought to be more prominent in any plan.

  32. Linda Grabill Parker

    Your first suggestion for Main Street is precisely what Boulder ,CO did with Pearl Street , Dan – and it is a huge success !

  33. Bill Boyd SHS '66

    Great job Dan as always! A call to Acton is indeed what’s needed.

  34. Look towards the river for your answer, connect Saugatuck and its station to downtown using the river, Its not a new idea, its actually very old. The downtown plan has a pier and a floating restaurant I believe. Of course people will say this isn’t possible (lets see who) , but id take a train and a small ferry ride to eat, shop and see a show, then maybe a quick shuttle back to train/city, what a great Saturday adventure. Oh the possibility of P/H plaza, green space , food , music on the waterfront or dumpsters and Range Rovers. Its right in front of our eyes. Call to action you say …when is this meeting?

    • Danielle Dobin

      Looking at trying to schedule something now. Will post once we have a date and I hope you can make it. Yes – utilizing our beautiful riverfront for something other than a parking lot is key.

    • The Saugatuck is not navigable up to downtown Westport. Quite a bit of dredging would be required to make it so.

      • Robbie Guimond

        700k for signs ? 800k for a bathroom? Maybe someone has accurate dates but last river maintenance I think was in the 70’s, maybe its time to take care of the resource so it can return the favor.

  35. Mark Yurkiw

    I watched almost every worthwhile small town in Europe close Main St to traffic over the last 40 years and it has paid off every time. There is no value having a Main St for parking cars and it shouldn’t be thought of a major artery for vehicles it should be a major artery for surviving the ‘stroke’ of the digital transformation of the economy. Retailers are waiting for us; Every retailer is realizing to get people out and about to shop they must be a destination,. Westport needs to make MainSt. ‘the’ destination for them. In that way, smaller venues can be IN the destination. You can’t tell the landlords or the stores what you want them to do to make you happy. Westport needs to make main st a happy place, turn it into Fun St….or else it goes away as every other main st already has.
    …all that’s left to do is get the political will to work it through. The path is clear; every citizen needs our elected officials to feel safe to fight for what you want. Together, is the only way to make that happen because nothin is easy just some things are worth the struggle.

    • Danielle Dobin

      All great points, Mark. I’m excited to have your energy and experience as a part of this effort.

    • Russell Gontar

      During Westport’s golden age of retail, cars roamed main street, in both directions and parked there too. Retail thrived. Didn’t seem to be problem then. Banning traffic will not induce landlords to lower the rent or change the unavoidable fact that brick and mortar shoppng just isn’t the way most folks purchase most of their stuff anymore.

      • Mark Yurkiw

        Mr. Gontar, as you gleaned the golden age of -your -retail has passed. Time moves on, that’s my point there are new ways and thinking to embrace. Rather than expecting landlords to do something we, the town, need to do it. Car culture is almost over, the Millenials are not even getting licenses. I was a consultant for BrainStorm 30 years ago predicting this. The digital transformation of the world changed shopping, it requires a reason for engagement. Internet shopping is growing but it’s not yet as large as you imagine, people need a reason to find their way to main st, and we, the town, need to own that while also making landlords & vendors stakeholders. What concerns me is you aren’t offering a solution or your help for one. Ante-Up partner.

        • Russell Gontar

          Mr. Yurkiw. I am trying to help. But not every problem has a ready solution. Deserted main streets and vacant store fronts are a phenomena occurring across the country. The mom and pop shops of old petered out when the owners retired or moved away and their children choose other career options. And then the internet happened. Landlords raised the rent but were just as happy with a tax write off on an empty store front as they were with a signed lease, maybe happier. Regarding millennials, they may not drive like our generation did, but they sure don’t shop in stores. If they can’t get what they want with their thumbs and their phones, then they’re not interested.

          I’ll tell you one thing though. Letting the Y leave downtown was a big mistake. That was an attraction for the entire community and it’s departure was a significant loss to downtown. It all makes me very sad.

          • Mark Yurkiw

            Thanks for clarifying that you are trying to help. Solutions require work.
            Stating the obvious past isn’t a solution. The Millenials and everyone else still want & need places to go. Not even the kids can spend every day sitting at home pushing buttons. We need to make Main St. a destination what do you propose and how are you willing to help? I opened a non-profit gallery at #1 Main St that hosts a show for local artists for local people. We are hosting a Breast Cancer fundraiser for AWARE Ct. this Saturday 6-8 hope to see you there. We are hosting a free series of Poetry reading – 3/27, workshops for writers- 4/9, author talks & book signing- 4/30, that Westports own Poet Laureate, Diane Lowman, has created. We are working with the U.N. committee to host an Earth Day event displaying children’s art/posters with cash awards. Even birthday parties, come create an event. We host events during the day and evenings hours.
            No need to answer me, “actions speak louder than words.” Do something. How about just showing up and encouraging others to come with you. Looking forward to meeting you and everyone else in town….to build a community that resurrects “dialogue”

  36. May i suggest two research field trips to downtown Mystic Ct? One in peak summer/fall and a second in off peak winter. During the former it is pedestrian madness, power tourist shoppers with tough parking and during the latter it is relatively empty with locals driving a slower but vibrant scene. So, while the correlation is not perfect as they have Mystic Seaport and Aquarium out by 95, several miles from town center, IMO, Mystic has knowledge that Westport center may generally learn from.

  37. My two cents: take a good look at what’s been done to make downtown Fairfield so much more vibrant. Part of it is the concentration of moderately priced restaurants in Brick Walk. Part of it is the adjacent medical and financial offices (e.g. Fidelity & Schwab), so you can combine necessary business, dining and shopping with a single trip. The part of it that Westport can’t match, unfortunately, is the presence of two growing universities vs. Westport’s our aging population.

  38. Carolyn McGee Mohn

    I haven’t lived in Westport since I graduated from Staples — 46 years ago — and I want to join this committee! Westport will always be “home”. In 2009, I drove up from New Jersey once a month to help plan our “Ultimate 35th Staples Reunion” Loved it. Long time ago, but please keep me in the loop on the progress of this project. A wonderful idea!!

    • Thanks, Carolyn. We will post news about a meeting as soon as it’s set!

    • Michael Pettee

      And, as long as we are “blue sky” here, why wouldn’t one connect both banks of the river downtown, left and right, at least thematically in a new development or restoration.

  39. Engagement is the key. Personal engagement. Or as the sign says in my favorite cafe, Capri Cafe, in Norwalk on the two block stretch of Latin restaurants. “No WiFi. Talk to each other.” That is what we now do at the library, at Pop’T Art, perhaps the new gallery that just opened, and at the Tasting Station (which I am trying to get renamed Cafe TJ) at Trader Joe’s. Let us appreciate the character of Main St., now long gone with Klein’s, The Remarkable, and Atticus Books and Cafe. We need to talk to each other in person, not by text or chat group. Make Main St. a place to walk and get together, not to drive, shop, and leave.

  40. Ray O'Sullivan

    It is not “An “06880” Call To Action” It is “A “06880” Call To Action”! Brammar Police has struck again! ! !

    • Depends whether you pronounce it “oh-six…” or “zero-six.” Also, your second quotation marks inside the first are incorrect — they should be single, not double. Also, do you mean “Grammar,” not “Brammar”? And “police” should not be capitalized. Other than that, you’re right on the mark.

  41. Cathy Colgan

    As someone who has not only lived in Westport for over 20 years (didn’t grow up here- but raised my family here!) and worked for the Westport Downtown Merchants Assoc. for 10 of those years, I have had the privilege and pleasure to get to know, embrace and understand what made the downtwon community thrive. As part of the DMA, we worked TIRELESSLY to bring colorful, engaging events to Main St. during some of the darkest days of economic down turn which inciidentally included floods, multiple renovations (remember when Parker Harding Plaza had no less than 15 dumpsters taking up parking spaces? I do!) and more. During these times, not only was there a great commuinty spirit and town pride, but there was also a feeling of collaboration between the business sector, non-profits, community, and Westport Town Services.
    I will never forget that we had the “mayor” Lee Papageorge sitting in his barbers’ chair overseeing it all (his presence is missed to this day by many!).
    We had many business owners (like my friend Bobby LeRose!) invested in the success of the town and wiling to roll up their sleeves and work creatively to make things happen, we also had our community YMCA right downtown drawing in people and familes daily.
    No disrepect to the current or the past, but ALOT has happened and changed since the days of Remarkable Book Store/Kleins/ Onion Alley etc.
    Of course we miss some of the old but must also remember to celebrate much of the new- for instance let’s shout out to our amazing and very GLAM NEW LIBRARY!
    Our new Bedford Square Shopping District-it’s VERY COOL! Truly-what was even there before??
    How about a shout-out to Sconset Square and all of the charming, unique businesses that exist (and thrive) in that lovely downtown pocket… that has been happening for many years and continues to be an awesome section of downtown Westport!
    At the end of the day, our downtown will ALWAYS have it’s issues, it will NEVER be all things that people hope or desire, but it DOES manage to continue to evolve and remain relevant to our elegant, demanding and sophisticated community.
    My hope is we don’t become too steeped in the past to block out the new and too focused on the future to block out the past…its the melding of these that will continue to make our town great.