Johnny Was: The Why Behind New Westport Store

Growing up, Rob Trauber spent only a couple of years in Westport.

But the town made enough of an impression on him that — more than 40 years later — he decided to open a new store here.

That’s significant. Trauber is not some fledgling shopkeeper. He’s the CEO of Johnny Was.

This Friday (July 3), the 56th store in the women’s California-inspired, women’s clothing and accessories chain debuts at 81 Main Street. It’s the first Johnny Was in Connecticut.

And Trauber’s 1970s youth has a lot to do with this location.

Rob Trauber

The former Kings Highway Elementary School student has fond memories of the riding his bike around town, and taking the minnybus to Longshore and Compo. He bought candy at Carmine’s smoke shop. He remembers those Jimmy Carter-era days as if they were yesterday.

Sure, Trauber’s family moved from Westport long ago. But he has retained his ties. Eight years ago, he built a house on Sturges. His brother-in-law lives here now, as does one of his best friends.

Johnny Was’ collections — one-of-a-kind kimonos, swimwear, denim jackets, pants, blouses and pajamas, along with jewelry, shoes and handbags — are in upscale places like Southampton, Boca Raton and Carmel.

Trauber has wanted to open in Westport. Yet until recently, he says, “rents were out of whack compared to volumes.”

Then a great space opened up, just past Lululemon. “It’s the right street, and the right area of the street,” he says.

Trauber lives now in San Marino. “It’s the closest thing in Los Angeles to Westport,” he says. “The people remind me of Westport.” There are even “East Coast trees,” like 100-foot oaks.

 

Though the retail world has shifted dramatically in recent years, Trauber — who worked for J. Crew when the Westport location was one of its top 5 in the nation — believes firmly in downtown.

The new home of Johnny Was. Opening day is next Friday.

“The irrelevant retailers are gone,” he says. “There’s a place for aspirational, luxury brands that have the feel of boutiques. Customers love to touch and feel things, try them on.”

His neighbors — like one of Anthropologie’s biggest stores, and Serena & Lily — are the types of places Johnny Was enjoys being near.

On his most recent trip “home,” Trauber drove by his old home near Cranbury Road. He put his daughters on a bench overlooking the pond he often skated on. Everything felt right.

Rob Trauber’s daughters Austin and Taylor, at his old Westport pond. They’re the same age now as he was then.

His California executives are not traveling now, due to COVID-19. So the Manhattan-based team (and Trauber’s brother-in-law) will represent him at the July 3 opening.

He’ll miss seeing the bright murals, tile floor, reclaimed wood tables and bronze hardware. But he promises to be here soon.

Until then, he’s doing one special thing for Westport.

When he rode his bike into town for candy, Trauber sometimes did not have enough money. Carmine let him buy it “on account,” or gave it to him free.

To pay homage, for a limited time Johnny Was will provide free vintage candy to customers.

The Westport location has not even opened. But already we’re way cooler than Southampton, Boca Raton and Carmel.

BONUS FACTOID: The name of the chain comes from an old Bob Marley song, “Johnny Was a Good Man.”

13 responses to “Johnny Was: The Why Behind New Westport Store

  1. Lisa Hofmeister

    I grew up in San Marino (on St. Albans) and now my kids are here at KHS. Can’t wait to stop in the new store!

  2. Great Addition to Main Street!! Welcome

  3. I am a collector of the beautiful clothing (I first discovered Johnny Was at InCompany in VT many years ago and then Millie Rae’s) and look forward to the Westport Store. Welcome back!

  4. I hope Mr. Trauber can buck the trend and succeed. I’m curious about his comment that volumes and rents were out of whack “until recently”. That seems to imply that rents are coming down, but this is the first indication I’ve heard of it.

    Falling rents should be the mechanism whereby retail operators adjust to the difficult business climate in our town right now. Evidence that this dynamic is actually working would provide a breath of fresh air to all of us living here.

    Good luck to you, Mr. Trauber!

    • Falling rents? Shhh! No Westport landlord will ever admit that. From what they say, business is always “fantastic”…and oh, yes a few spaces might be vacant right now, but that’s “for remodeling.” But here’s something to consider: 139 Main Street (the former Swezey’s Jewelry) is up for sale again at $3.25 million. 11 years ago, in a recession, no less, it sold for $4.34 million. That’s a 25% haircut, and that’s assuming it sells at the current asking price.

  5. Maryann Bovich

    Love Johnny Was dresses. I live in them! Collected last three years! 😉

    Sent from my iPad

  6. That’s great to have a new shop on Main Street, and from a former resident, too. But what is this about “collecting” clothing? (See previous comments.) How is that different from buying?

    • Bill Strittmatter

      Yeah. I always thought you wore clothes but I suppose you could collect them sort of like stamps or baseball cards. You would think clothes would be a bit bulky to collect though. Does seem a bit odd.

  7. Arline Gertzoff

    I hope it is true rents are becoming more reasonable .If the goal is to get downtown moving again landlords need to help too
    A vibrant downtown is a necessity not empty storefronts As a longtime resident we need a mix of high end ,in the middle , and perhaps the equivalent of a dollar store/Job Lots (in days of yore it was Ben Franklin’s) Such fun rummaging around there as a kid) .

  8. Gerijo Matyka

    Super excited to be apart of the team..🌸🌼🌸🦋🦋

  9. I was on of those midwestern girls who moved to the East Coast (Easton) to be a live in Nanny, in the late 80’s from Kansas. I remember main street in Westport being filled with vibrant small owned stores, very personal service and each store had the vibe of the owner whom, designed and stock the store. It’s a different landscape now for retail. I think those that can fill a niche in the market will thrive. I too, look forward to Johny Was, I will come check it out. A women knows that collecting cloths is often as much an obsession, as collecting watches or cars for a man. Much abundance for Rob and his store: Johnny Was.

  10. Jacqueline K Faust

    I live your brand and your clothes are awe inspiring.

  11. Dale Goldfarb

    Love Johnny Was merchandise! When visiting Manhattan I prefer the upper east side location to the UWS spot but have purchased at both. The clothes make me feel sexy! 🙂 Best of luck to the Westport location!

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