This may be counterintuitive. It may be provocative. It may also be dumb, and wrong.
But here is my thought, 5 months into a pandemic and 3 days after a tropical storm with a powerful punch:
Downtown may be going through a renaissance, thanks to our twin disasters.
COVID-19 caused the closures of many businesses, and the demise of a few well-known restaurants like Tavern on Main and Le Penguin.
But — thanks to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and town officials — it resulted in the closure of Church Lane this month. The area was hopping last weekend, with music, outdoor dining at places like Spotted Horse and Manna Toast, and plenty of smiles.
Shops like Savannah Bee and the new hemp place boomed.
Across the Post Road, the Levitt Pavilion is shut. But the Remarkable Theater has pioneered the surprise hit of the summer — pop-up movies in the Imperial Avenue lot — and the space has been used for other stay-near-your-car, socially distanced but very fun entertainment like Supper & Soul (sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Westport Library), and a Staples students-and-alums concert (organized by teenagers).
The tropical storm, meanwhile, spared downtown. It did not even flood, probably because merchants sandbagged their doors figuring it would. (The fact that we had less than an inch of rain also helped.)
So the power stayed on (though unfortunately not on Church Lane). Residents who could get out of their side streets descended on the area.
Starbucks did a gold rush business (even without credit cards — cash only). So did Rye Ridge Deli and GG & Joe’s açaí bowl spot, along with full-service restaurants like Jeera Thai, Don Melo, Walrus Alley, Amis and others.
All day long, and into the evening, folks wandered. Kids rode bikes. Let me repeat that: Downtown, kids rode bikes. It was as close to the 1950s as you can get, without actually being there.
Adults stopped and chatted. They shopped. You couldn’t see, but behind their masks, they smiled.
But the best thing — if by “best” you toss out the reason for it — was the gathering on Jesup Green, along the Riverwalk, and on the Westport Library steps.
Hundreds of folks sat, enjoying free WiFi. They did business, read emails (and “06880”), talked on their phones, watched movies on their tablets.
There was not a lot of chatter, during the day. Using devices will do that. Staying 6 feet apart didn’t help.
But when evening came, things got more social. A woman picked up her ukulele, and gave an impromptu concert. Folks put down their phones, and started talking. They watched the rowers gliding past.
The sun set. The moon rose. The river shimmered. You could see stars.
Is this a harbinger of things to come? What will downtown look like once everyone gets power and internet — and the world gets a vaccine? Will this be a fleeting moment in time, or a sea change?
I have no idea. But for right now — despite all that is bad in Westport, the country and the planet — downtown Westport is suddenly, inexplicably, momentously, both fun and cool.