Restaurant Follow-up: Railroad Place Redo?

As Westport restaurant owners get ready to reopen — outdoors only, with tables 6 feet apart and no bar service — one resident has an idea to help them succeed.

The other day, David Basich and his wife Vanessa took a walk by the train station. A daily New York commuter before COVID-19, this was his first time there in nearly 10 weeks.

That got him thinking. David says:

As I looked at the restaurants on Railroad Place — Tarantino, Harvest, Romamacci — I reflected on how tough it’s been for them (and all other restaurants around town).

I started thinking about what would put them in a position to best optimize the situation when they are able to reopen, and what would make patrons comfortable coming back. I know outdoor dining is one possible solution.

I thought it would be great if we could close down entirely the street that runs past them, and open it up entirely for outdoor seating.

Railroad Place has been closed before — for the annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

We talked with Graziano, the owner of Romanacci, about the idea. They are the only one thus far that had carved out some small space.

Closing down the entire street would open it up even more. Restaurant-goers would feel more comfortable overall if some capacity could move outside, social distancing could be maintained more easily, and of course this would create a pretty unique al fresco dining row for Westport.

Regarding the impact on commuters, I don’t think closing this street would be too great of a hardship (at least for a while). I imagine Metro-North numbers will be down for the foreseeable future.

However, to alleviate some of the hassle, the one-way portion of Railroad Place that runs north past the parking lot off Charles Street, could be opened up to two-way traffic.

We could try this for a while — maybe through Labor Day — and readjust as things evolve.

I don’t know exactly what this would entail and how much of a hassle it would be. But I do know Westporters love our town, love dining out, and want to see these business given the best chance to survive.

“06880” readers: What do you think? Is this a good idea? Are there other places in town that could benefit from something similar? Click “Comments” below!

The Basich family (from left): Vanessa, Greens Farms Academy senior David, David Sr., Staples High School junior Lucas, Bedford Middle School 7th grader Michael. Though the photo shows them at home, they look forward to dining outside soon — perhaps on Railroad Place?

52 responses to “Restaurant Follow-up: Railroad Place Redo?

  1. Rozanne Gates

    Great idea. Hope they do it.

  2. Melissa Augeri

    Awesome idea! Thanks Basich family.
    And let’s do the same on Main Street – more space for outdoor dining and safe walking for shoppers.

  3. Stacie Curran

    Hi Basich family – love the idea. How fast can Westport make it a reality? We miss you…

  4. Love this idea ! So many cities and villages in Europe have turned streets into pedestrian only.

  5. Rick Smilow

    Good idea!!!

  6. Sarah Hale

    excellent idea! maybe room for this to happen on Main St. as well?

  7. Yes, good idea!

  8. Keith Lombardo

    I could not agree more! Westport would really benefit by turning both the train station AND Main Street into a walking area. We have a beautiful waterway, great food and it really sets up nicely for foot traffic. I also heard years ago there was a discussion of making a walking bridge across to Bar Taco, Oko, etc. that would really be a welcome addition as well.

    It would be great to hear what our town leaders think! Definitely worth considering!

  9. Ed Strauss

    Great idea….. maybe they could tent the street??

  10. Ed Strauss

    Terrific idea…. maybe they could tent the street???

  11. John Moran

    Great idea
    Also close down street in front of Spotted Horse and Amis

  12. Diane Parrish

    Great idea!

  13. I wrote to our selectman asking if we can close down Railroad place, Main Street, Church Lane and other streets that can be easily partitioned in order for restaurants to maximize space they need. These ideas are under consideration by the reOpen team. Please share your thoughts with them so we can start patronizing the restaurants and shops that desperately need our business.

  14. Sal Liccione

    If you all want this email your rtm members and the selectman office today and p and z ok sal liccione rtm. Member district 9

  15. Love this idea!! How do we make it happen?

  16. Yvonne Claveloux

    Great idea! I think this is the perfect time to make Main Street a pedestrian only zone to help make our town even more special than it already is.

  17. Danielle Dobin

    Great idea! Happy to report that the necessary planning has been in the works for several weeks!

  18. Yvonne Claveloux

    Great idea! Now is the perfect time to make Main Street a pedestrian only zone!

  19. Great idea!

  20. Larry Weisman

    Great idea. This might also be an opportune time
    to consider permanently closing Main Street to vehicular traffic from the Post Rd. to Avery Place, an idea which has been part of the zeitgeist for many years and which has much to recommend it. Now that there are liner buildings on Elm Street, the relatively few parking spaces that would be lost could easily be replaced by a 2 story parking structure on the Baldwin Lot Which would not even be visible from the street.
    Wouldn’t it be ironic if this epidemic and it’s likely aftermath were to serve as an opportunity to re-imagine
    downtown as it reopens in the face of a changed retail landscape.

  21. Excellent suggestion

  22. Matthew Mandell

    As was stated. This and other road closure ideas are already being looked at.

    As for Rr place, Franklin st would need to be two way for this to work, and it could.

    Main St too, to allow retailers to set up out

    All ideas are being looked at. If you have some send them along.

  23. Jackie Kaplan

    Great idea for both Railroad Place and Main Street!

  24. I love the idea of turning Railroad Place into an outdoor dining spot. As for adjusting traffic, I also think it would be great to get the loop around Compo one way, allowing 1/2 the road (South Compo from Greens Farms Rd through Hillspoint) to be open for pedestrians & bikers. We’ve seen this done in many places and it seems to work wonderfully. Maybe try it just for this summer?

    • Sharon Clark

      Appreciate all thoughts but for the many many people that live on that route – it would untenable. There are many roads that are off of South Compo that have lots of houses that are not visible from South Compo. When it closes down going only one way early during fireworks it is a nightmare for service providers and residents even for those few hours.

      • Wendy Cusick

        I’m with Sharon that would be a nightmare and a huge inconvenience.
        I’m not even going to list .
        I will say it would affect Pearl the restaurant.
        They’re some places you shouldn’t make one way.

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      As someone who lives off a street at the start of the South Compo loop, this would add 10-15 minutes to every drive for my family, if you’re not racing down South Compo and up Hillspoint. During normal times, this would impact not only regular traffic, but commercial drivers like delivery trucks, town workers on Elaine Road and Longshore, school busses, etc…
      This is already a tested situation when the RR underpass floods, or when we have had big storms in the past that stop the traffic at the Greens Farms-South Compo intersection. There is literally only two ways out of the beach area, as many of our streets are dead ends.

  25. Kathryn Sirico

    Great idea for downtown and Railroad Place! Long over due to bring life back to Westport!

  26. John D McCarthy

    Let’s quickly and radically redraw the map of two of our most important traffic/business hubs without any traffic studies or ways to understand the unintended consequences. Ready, fire, aim.

  27. Susan Bonner

    Great Idea! Closing Church Street as well will open up outside dining for Pink Sumo, Spotted Horse and Amis with plenty of space.

  28. This is such a good idea…. New York City closed down parts of Times Square and created a really home feel for a large city. In Westport, having a restaurant row, where people feel comfortable to eat outside and keep a distance as needed. Not to mention that area is a great destination and plenty of parking…. This is a no-brainer idea, well thought out…. Lets get it done!!!!!

  29. Adam Vengrow

    John McCarthy, thanks for your negativity. This is how ideas start. To state the obvious, the town and police clearly have to vet this idea out. So take your negativity and a long walk.

    • John D. McCarthy

      A long walk sounds like a great idea. Thanks for the idea

    • John D McCarthy

      Actually, this is not how ideas start. It is how special interests may take advantage of a crisis to bring long-rejected ideas back to life. The concept of closing down Main street to traffic has been around for 40 years and has been rejected by the town every time it has come up.

      • Adam Vengrow

        we haven’t had a virus knock out indoor shoppers and eaters in 40 years… guess what times are different… a new norm will have to have new ideas or revive old ones under different circumstances….

        • Bill Strittmatter

          Hmmm….I’m trying to remember. How many restaurants face Main Street between the Post Road and Elm? I don’t recall any offhand, and only 2 between Elm and Avery. It does seem a bit extreme to shut the whole length down so Tavern on Main and Rye Ridge Deli can expand outdoor dining.

          Railroad Place and maybe Church Street I sort of understand. But Main Street? Turning it into a pedestrian mall may be a good idea but even if I missed one or two restaurants, it does more sound like John’s scenario of folks not letting a good crisis go to waste by trying to shove through a largely unrelated agenda.

          • Adam Vengrow

            there is no agenda other than to make all the wonderful people of westport have an outdoor option and allow good restaurant owners to also have an option, and to be CRYSTAL CLEAR, the idea was about Railroad place where 3-4 restaurants are trying to survive, read the blog… there is a special little population of negative westporters that doesn’t read, they just look for the reply to add some thing negative!

            • William Strittmatter

              Thanks. I did read the blog. And then the comments. You might have missed those where the idea was quickly expanded beyond Railroad Place to Main Street.

              The concern expressed by the OP was helping restaurants. In that context, as I said, closing Railroad Place I sort of understand. But Main Street not so much.

              • With retail stores having to maintain social distancing inside, they could benefit too by moving some of their goods outside. Sort of a semi-permanent sidewalk sale, with more room. There could also be kiosks for other food vendors to come in, like Mystic Market. I’m just spitballing ideas here…

                • Adam Vengrow

                  great idea… would be nice to get downtown back to local businesses and mom and pop…. our main street area is awesome and sad to see it enmpty. In the new norm, we have a great chance to make it what we want….

      • Ken Barnes

        McCarthyism is back!!! This time weeding out the Sith Lords among us trying to help small businesses and the workers they employ on their knees.

        Mr Basich- a hearty +1 to those ideas!

  30. Wendy Schaefer

    Terrific idea!! We need to creatively figure out ways to help the restaurants open with safe dining!

  31. Sharon Clark

    Appreciate all thoughts but for the many many people that live on that route – it would untenable. There are many roads that are off of South Compo that have lots of houses that are not visible from South Compo. When it closes down going only one way early during fireworks it is a nightmare for service providers and residents even for those few hours.

  32. Mark L Yurkiw

    Great Idea BUT….you would still need to leave one lane open at the station for fire trucks, emergency vehicles, etc.
    BUT that would still leave the sidewalk and the parking lane for tables.

  33. Marina Almadaza

    Excellent idea! Win-win for small businesses and the community!

  34. Julie Van Norden

    I think that is brilliant! We have been worrying about our friends at Tarantino’s and this would be a great solution for the immediate future.

  35. Karen Foster

    Terrific Idea !!

  36. Bruce Haymes

    +1 here and also the following:

    I think that the lockdown gives us a once in a lifetime chance to re-imagine our town. Two of the things that have always been surprising to me about Westport, is (a) our lack of a pedestrian friendly downtown, and (b) lack of safe places for our kids (and adults) to ride around town. I ride my bicycle through downtown now and honestly it looks the same as it did pre-covid19: shuttered stores, no one on the streets, not many restaurants and lots of vacancy signs. That wasn’t caused by Covid, it just accelerated it. But we see our residents want to get out. They want a vibrant downtown. They want someplace to go. I have always believed that a pedestrian only Main St was the answer. And now with social distancing rules, we need that space. And it would give the sidewalk to retailers who don’t want overcrowded stores. It would give more room and aeration to diners wanting to eat outside safely. And after this is all over – downtown would become a place to socialize and saunter. In the past when I raised this, it was dismissed because it took away valuable parking spots. I see the empty retail though and I don’t see parking becoming a problem (plus we are building a new parking garage right next to the church). A pedestrian only downtown would restore the core new england town feel that we’ve been seeking.

    Second – bike paths. This is crazy that our town has no way to get from the back country to downtown, to the beach or saugatuck without driving. We see people walking and cycling now (and contending for the same space on our roads). That’s not a trend – that’s here to stay. But it’s not safe. I am always alert but fearful when riding around westport. But it’s worth it! Westport is incredibly diverse and beautiful when walking or on a bike. Why are we not encouraging this? The reason (as I know from being a former member of the town’s green task force) is that the state requires a certain street width to create a bike lane. We need to overcome this. Even if it is temporary street cones to create safe paths from downtown to the beach. The state has bigger fish to fry now than worrying about bike paths in westport. Think about how much that would improve traffic, parking and the feel of our community.

    Now is the time to reimagine westport. Before the distancing is over – while everyone is open to major changes. When our bureaucracies are focused on more near term and urgent matters. Not sure if this is an issue you’d want to cover but I am making our elected officials aware of at least my desire to not just re-open westport but re-imagine it.

  37. Larry Weisman

    It is not – or should not be just about restaurants, nor should we be thinking in just the short term. If, as I imagine to be the case, conventional retail will be even less attractive than before the pandemic when there were already a substantial number of vacancies on and near Main Street, it behooves us to reimagine the area in a manner that reflects what Is more than likely to be the “new normal”. That is less a burden than an opportunity, a chance to increase residential use downtown and to prioritize and encourage participatory uses and smaller local businesses serving both the immediate residents and the wider population. We should be thinking outside the box – and box stores – and redesigning downtown for the long term.
    The best way to accomplish this is to decide what downtown should look like and what it should offer and then, and only then, to write regulations calculated to produce that result. To start with a regulatory scheme that emphasizes restrictions is to put the proverbial cart before the horse. Let’s seize the moment

  38. Dawn Sullivan

    This is a very festive idea in the spirit of renewal and support for our local businesses. The potential boost to that area will outweigh logistical issues. At least for the summer of 2020, let’s try it !!!

  39. Morley Boyd

    Closing streets (including vital North/South arterial roads like Main Street) might seem like a nice idea in the abstract. However, absent a legitimate, arms length traffic study, no one knows for sure if it’s a good idea. What we do know is that altering or displacing traffic flow can sometimes have implications for residents of adjoining streets. If the quality of life for those residents promises to be materially degraded as a result of the proposed street closure, that needs to be weighed against whatever is to be gained by same.