Fred Cantor moved to Westport when he was 10. After Yale University and law school, he and his wife bought a 2nd home here. Then they moved permanently. They spent COVID in California, but are back now.
Fred is an astute observer of all things Westport. Today — looking backward and toward the future too — he trains his eye on downtown.
On Friday, the New York Times wrote about efforts in England to help keep alive and/or revitalize the nation’s “high streets” — the British equivalent of our Main Street — in towns around the country.
Among the ideas is the notion of short-term leases in certain instances — even just 3 months.
That got me thinking about one of the great mysteries of life (which perhaps “06880” readers who work in commercial real estate can answer): How come middle school students in Westport have no memory of any business operating out of the prime location where the Remarkable Book Shop was so successful for so many years?
How and why has that building remained vacant for so long?
And is the concept of a short-term lease for perhaps a seasonal summer-related business, or another entity that would run from the beginning of October through Christmas feasible at that location? Or any retail site on Main Street?
On a related note: The Remarkable used to have display cases outside its store. Even if the current owner of the building can’t find a suitable tenant for the space, is it worth it for the owner to consider renting to a business that wanted to operate a kiosk on its property? Are there other Main Street locations where a kiosk might make sense?
I have happily patronized the Strand Bookstore kiosk on 5th Avenue near Central Park South. Perhaps kiosks would add some street appeal to downtown.
Turning from England and New York to California: When we stayed not far from Laguna Beach, we enjoyed seeing how the town closed off the bottom portion of its Main Street equivalent — Forest Avenue — and turned it into a pedestrian mall. “The Promenade on Forest” featured temporary retail and dining decks, along with art displays.
I love what has happened here with Church Lane. And I know that Main Street has been closed off for an entire weekend for the annual Arts Festival.
I hope to hear from store proprietors on the lower half of Main Street whether they think it might be worthwhile to experiment with closing that section, perhaps for an entire week, to see if it successfully attracts more business.
At the same time, I would love to hear from local officials and residents who live near downtown whether such an experiment might be worth pursuing to evaluate the impact on traffic congestion near downtown.
Speaking of Laguna Beach: The town permitted installation right by City Hall of a fabulous artwork that generated a lot of interest.
Could Westport do something similar with Veterans Green on a regular basis? By that I mean perhaps scheduling periodic events such as small acoustic concerts? Would that type of “happening” help make Main Street more of a destination?
I don’t claim to have any definitive answers. But I would have no objection if Main Street became something close to Yogi Berra’s famous observation: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.