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Melissa & Doug: Toys R Them

It’s holiday time. Frazzled parents and grandparents race around, corralling all the must-have latest toys and gadgets for every kid on their list.

They can’t find it all, of course. Thank god for Amazon.

But plenty of child gifts fly under the radar. Thank god for Melissa & Doug.

The Wilton-based, Westport-bred manufacturer of low-tech — but simple, colorful and very popular wooden toys — is swimming happily (and profitably) against the high-tech, highly disposable, plastic toy tide.

Melissa and Doug Bernstein

Parents around the world know and love Melissa & Doug toys. But the company — and its owners, Melissa and her Staples High School graduate husband Doug Bernstein — keeps a low profile. They don’t get much press.

Until now. Vox — the huge news and information website — just published a long, in-depth piece on Melissa & Doug (the business, and the human beings).

From start to finish, it sings the praises of the firm (and its owners).

For example, writer Chavie Lieber says:

In an era when children are bombarded with screens and all manners of tech, the company has maintained its spot in the crowded toy market despite the fact that — and perhaps because — the company’s toys have no electronic components to them. Melissa & Doug is set on making toys that are meant to be timeless, in an effort to preserve a cornerstone of childhood that the founders believe is under attack: open-ended play.

The piece explains why wooden toys are so important; how Melissa and Doug’s backgrounds (both are children of educators) inform their work; the importance of Amazon to their early 2000s growth; the role of open-ended play (particularly with simple toys) in child development; the negative effects of screens on kids, and the Bernsteins’ fight against too much technology.

It’s a fascinating piece. And it ends by noting that one of Melissa & Doug’s most popular toys of all time is a set of natural-finished hardwood blocks.

It is, Vox says, “perhaps the oldest toy in history. The company wouldn’t want it any other way.”

(Click here for the full Vox story. Hat tip: Ken Wirfel)


Remembering Bobo Romano

The name Richard Romano may not mean much to many people.

Some knew him as Richie. He was “Bobo” to others.

Most Westporters never heard his name at all. But for 20 years, he was a custodian at Staples High School. He cleaned the school. He helped keep it running.

And he loved it.

Richie “Bobo” Romano

Long after he retired, Bobo Romano was a fixture at Wrecker athletic events. He particularly liked football and basketball. He sat quietly, off to the side. But he was always there, no matter how bad the weather or how lopsided the score.

Karen DeFelice — a longtime Staples High School teacher, and former athlete at the school — remembers Bobo fondly. When she was a softball pitcher there, he arranged for her to work with John “Cannonball” Baker, a Westporter and legendary player, at Greens Farms School.

Bobo loved the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, and the New York Mets and Jets. He was active in Westport PAL, and was a friend to the Westport Fire Department.

Later in life, he helped elderly friends with errands and companionship.

Bobo Romano died on Wednesday. He was 88 years old.

Respects can be paid Tuesday (December 11, 10 a.m. to 12 noon) at the Harding Funeral Home. A funeral service follows, with interment with full military honors. Bobo was a US Army veteran.

Click here to leave condolences. Contributions in Bobo’s name may be made to Westport PAL, 260 Compo Road South, Westport, CT 06880 (or click here).

Westport Wash & Wax: A Clean Upgrade

If you’ve noticed a large number of dirty cars in Westport lately: Don’t worry.

Westport Wash & Wax is open again.

Our town’s favorite car wash — okay, our only one, but it still rocks the universe — shut down for 11 days recently. It was the first time since they opened, in 1999.

The reason: upgrades.

“Just like with a car, at some point you need new things,” owner Scott Tiefenthaler — a longtime community benefactor — says.

“This is a 365-day-a-year business. But for this overhaul, we had to close completely.”

Lookin’ good, inside Westport Wash & Wax.

Electric components have been replaced by a hydraulic drive. State-of-the-art components move Westport Wash & Wax “far beyond everyone else in Fairfield County,” Scott says.

The modernization may not be visible to customers, as they wait for their cars to come out clean.

But, Scott says, “Our machine has always done the bulk of the work. This allows it to do even more. Now our guys can pay even more attention to the details.”

He and his crew are happy to see customers again.

And — just in time for the holidays — we’re happy to see fewer dirty cars on the road.

Committee Offers 3 Options For Coleytown

The future of Coleytown Middle School became a bit clearer this morning.

The school was closed in September, due to mold. Since then, 6th and 7th graders have attended Bedford Middle School; 8th graders are at Staples High.

Meeting today, the Community Advisory Committee whittled 9 options for the future down to 3.

The CAC sent these recommendations to the Board of Education tonight (7:30 p.m., Staples High School cafeteria):

  • All elementary schools become K-6, with the addition of flex space and/or portables, until CMS is reopened or new space is found. All 7th and 8th graders attend Bedford Middle School.
  • Find a rental location to house the 6th graders, and keep all elementary schools K-5. All 7th and 8th graders attend Bedford Middle School.
  • Find a rental location to house Coleytown Middle School.

One more parent feedback session is set for this Thursday (December 6, 7:30 p.m., location to be determined).

Coleytown Middle School is currently closed.

Meanwhile, here are links to documents posted online by the Westport school district today:

[OPINION] Canal Road Guardrails: “Really?!”

An alert — and frustrated — Saugatuck Shores “06880” reader writes:

After months of road work, Canal Road and the culverts are complete.

But the town of Westport finished the job with galvanized steel guardrails that make us all feel like we live on I-95.

All the neighbors on both sides of the canal are upset that the town did not use wooden guardrails. There have never been guardrails before. Now they’re rusting (after just 1 week), and an eyesore to all of us.

New guardrails on Canal Road …

We would have all happily pitched in to pay the extra cost for wooden guardrails.

When I called the highway department, their response was, “we knew everyone would be upset, but you can paint them.”


… and another view.

Serena Tirado Needs Our Help

Serena Tirado is a beloved Staples High School science teacher.

Students and parents praise her for nurturing a love for biology — and for her caring, mentoring and inspiration.

A student from 2011 says, “As much as she loves bio — and she really does — she loves every student even more. Her kindness and passion spread to us like molecules going down a concentration gradient. I still look back on that class with a smile. When she was no longer my teacher, and I struggled with personal problems, she was the only teacher I felt comfortable confiding in.”

Another student — never in accelerated classes — says that Ms. Tirado was the first teacher who told her she was smart enough to do whatever she wanted. In 6 months, she will earn her veterinary degree.

Serena Tirado

Those sentiments — and many more — are expressed on a GoFundMe page. For over a year, Serena Tirado has undergone treatment for breast cancer.

She’s battling the disease — but it’s taken a toll on her and her family. Even with insurance, she needs help.

“Every day she taught, Serena gave all she had to her students and our community,” the page says.

Now, “it is our turn to give back to her. Please do what you can for this special teacher, who is beautiful both inside and out.”

Click here to see all the tributes — and to contribute yourself.

Pic Of The Day #580

Compo Beach boardwalk, without the crowds (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Staples Girls Soccer, Field Hockey Head To State Finals

For the 2nd year in a row, the Staples High School girls soccer team will play in the state final.

And for the 2nd straight year, they face Ridgefield.

Coach Barry Beattie’s 5th-seeded Wreckers earned the right to avenge last year’s 2-1 defeat by knocking off #1 Glastonbury 1-0 Monday night. Both teams completed the regular season undefeated. Staples was 13-0-3; the upstaters, 15-0-1.

The Wreckers’ route to the LL (largest division) title match included victories over 3 Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference opponents: Fairfield Warde (2-1), New Canaan (2-1) and Trumbull (3-0).

Staples and Ridgefield tied 0-0 earlier this season. The championship game is set for Saturday, 1 p.m. at Fairfield Warde High School.

The Staples girls soccer team celebrates after beating Glastonbury.

But soccer is not the only girls team contending for a Connecticut crown this weekend. The defending state champion field hockey team — ranked 2nd in the L (largest division) #1 Cheshire on Saturday. They face off at Wethersfield High School, at 10 a.m.

Coach Ian Tapsall’s squad — who posted a perfect 16-0-0 regular season mark — advanced to the final with 3 wins: 3-0 against Glastonbury, 1-0 over Norwalk, and 2-1 in an overtime, penalty shot semifinal against Darien.

The Staples High School field hockey team.

Good luck to both teams. Win or lose, you’ve already done us all proud!

First Night Westport In Peril

For nearly 25 years, First Night has been a Westport tradition.

On New Year’s Eve, Westporters gather downtown and across the river. Indoors and out, they’re entertained by musicians, ice sculptors, comedians and caricaturists. They watch stars through telescopes, and see fireworks shot in the sky. They dance and dine.

It’s a family-friendly, alcohol-free festival.

Once upon a time, there were hundreds of First Nights across the country. Over the years though, they’ve dwindled. Last year there were only 2 in Connecticut: Westport and Hartford.

Now there may be just one.

Last year’s button

Last night, the First Night Westport Weston board voted to end the event — immediately. They’d dissolve their corporation, and donate whatever money is left to charity.

The event costs $50,000 — perhaps more — to run. Ticket sales account for half. The town of Westport chips in $7,000. Weston gives $750 — but may eliminate that, perhaps in retaliation for higher beach fees.

Barbara Pearson Rac — the longtime volunteer director — explained that over the past few years, bank sponsors like TD, Patriot and People’s have pulled out.

Pearson Rac — who is 72, and works full-time as an accountant — notes that it’s been difficult to recruit younger board members. And, she adds, with so many great events throughout the year in Westport now, First Night has “lost its panache. It’s just another thing.”

Last year, the Saugatuck River froze. Fireworks were canceled. Attendance plummeted.

A horse-drawn sleigh was one of First Night’s many attractions.

It sounds like First Night Westport Weston is now only a memory. There is no button design. Venues are not set. Performers already signed have been told it’s off.

But wait! A few moments ago, Pearson Rac agreed that if enough angels step up by a week from today — Thursday, November 15 — First Night might still live.

The First Night ball is in our court. If you’d like to help, click “Comments” below. Or contact Barbara Pearson Rac directly:

First Selectman Jim Marpe (left) is a long-time First Night volunteer.

Pic Of The Day #562

Owenoke, as seen from the Compo Beach kayak launch (Photo/Alan Hamilton)