Category Archives: Downtown

Christmas In July

This weekend will be the hottest of the year. Of course: There’s always a heat wave during the Fine Arts Festival and Westport Library Book Sale.

But next week, stroll over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. You’ll find some cool reminders that Christmas is only 159 days away.

The Bonnie Marcus Collection design studio (5 Riverside Avenue, next to Arezzo) creates custom greeting cards for major nationwide retailers.

This is crunch time. With the AC cranked high, Bonnie and her crew are deep in design mode.

The cards feature Bonnie’s iconic “fashion girls” holding Bloomingdale’s bags, Barney’s hat boxes and gifts from Bendel’s.

You don’t have to schlep into the city to buy them. You don’t even have to go online, and wait for delivery.

Bonnie is giving away her stylish  holiday cards for free. If you’re a local fashion lover, you’ll love this offer.

Just look for the red and green (of course) balloons on Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah too!

Street Spotlight: Woods Grove Road

Some Westporters live on the water. Others live in the woods, or close to town.

But only residents of Woods Grove Road enjoy the Saugatuck River on two sides — with Coffee An’ just beyond.

Plus, of course, an easy stroll downtown.

Woods Grove is off Canal Street, on the right just past the parking lot for the old 323 restaurant, heading west toward Kings Highway.

Woods Grove Road is close to downtown. I’s bordered by 2 branches of the Saugatuck River.

AJ Izzo — owner of the old Crossroads Ace Hardware, another great close-by attraction (now replaced by an excellent liquor store) — says that when he grew up on nearby Richmondville Avenue, the area was woods, and a dirt road. Most houses were built in the 1940s and ’50s.

Ken Bernhard — who moved there from around the corner — calls Woods Grove “a charming respite.”

It’s a dead-end, so there’s little traffic. But it’s a long, winding road, so there are plenty of families. Kids play in the street. Neighbors chat.

Woods Grove Road is well named.

A “watering hole” features a dock and rope swing. “There’s nothing more pleasant than the sound of kids laughing and splashing,” he says.

The main branch of the river is great for canoeing and kayaking. Every morning, Ken says, a neighbor on the Wilton Road side paddles — with his German shepherd — to the dam and back. Everyone waves.

The neighborliness extends to Aquarion. The water utility owns land across the river. A while back, the pumping station made a distracting, growling sound. Ken offered to buy equipment to deaden the noise.

Nope, Aquarion said. They did it themselves.

A Woods Grove back yard.

Ken calls Woods Grove “delightful. The houses are not big, and the lots are not too large. Everything is the perfect size — just as much as we need.”

Besides Coffee An’ and the Merritt Country Store, residents can walk or bike to the library and Levitt. The Y — and Merritt Parkways exits 41 and 42 — are around the corner.

Yet one of the most interesting features of Woods Grove Road is one that neighbors barely mention.

A non-profit enterprise — the Westport School of Music — is located in a house halfway down the road. Established in 1938, it’s got a great reputation.

The Westport School of Music looks like any other home.

Students come and go quietly. There’s a little more traffic because of it than normal, but Woods Grove residents hardly notice. They’re happy to be near such a well-regarded, artistic enterprise.

Life on Woods Grove Road is good. Between the beautiful river and delicious donuts, who can complain?

A Bridge To Somewhere

The other evening, KMS Partners threw a fundraiser for Food Rescue US.

Food trucks and a band filled the site of the former Save the Children building, on Wilton Road. Next to the real estate firm’s new headquarters, it’s the future site of an architecturally intriguing 12-unit condo complex.

As I sat next to the Saugatuck River — the sun setting, and downtown beckoning just across the way — I thought, “It’s so close. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk there?”

Parker Harding Plaza, from the west bank of the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Dan Woog)

I could have used the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, of course. But the Post Road span is not pedestrian friendly. And it deposits you at the dicey, traffic-filled intersection with Parker Harding Plaza.

Once upon a time, there was discussion of fora pedestrian-only bridge. It was part of David Waldman’s plan to develop that Save the Children site.

Working with Roger Ferris + Partners architects, he wanted to move the house — at that point, a former yarn shop — at Wilton Road/Post Road West — to the Save the Children property. That would provide room for a turning lane at one of the state’s worst intersections.

As part of the plan, Waldman offered $100,000 toward the engineering and design of a pedestrian-only pontoon bridge.

The town rejected the idea. The developer reworked certain aspects of his design. The office portion has now been built. The condos are next.

But the landing area on the Wilton Road side is still available. A bridge could still be built, providing relaxing access from another point between the river’s west bank, and downtown. It could connect to Gorham Island, or perhaps the walkway near Rye Ridge Deli.

The walkway near Rye Ridge Deli could be one end of a pedestrian bridge across the Saugatuck River.

It’s not a novel concept. The Westport Arts Center once proposed a bridge from its then-headquarters on Riverside Avenue, to the library and Levitt Pavilion on the other side.

There are great spots to eat and shop on both sides of the river. But Westporters and visitors tend to think of them as 2 separate places.

A pedestrian bridge between Wilton Road and Parker Harding would probably cost $500,000 to $1 million.

Is the idea worth pursuing? If not, what’s another way to tie the energy and attractions of the quickly growing west bank to the close-but-sometimes-seems-so-far “downtown”?

What do you think? Click “Comments” below. We want your thoughts!

Pics Of The Day #820

Compo Beach yesterday morning … (Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

… and evening … (Photo/Les Dinkin)

… plus the sunset on Saugatuck Shores … (Photo/Jeff Manchester)

… and another view, from Grace Salmon Park. (Photo/Sam Levenson)

Fine Arts Festival: Calling All Kids (And Adults)!

Westport’s Fine Arts Festival draws painters, photographers, sculptors — and art lovers — from around the country.

Plenty of residents browse stroll the stalls on Main Street.

But for a town that prides itself on its arts heritage, the number of local artists showing is limited.

This weekend (July 20 and 21, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), we’ll get our fill.

Following last year’s successful pilot, the Artists Collective of Westport hosts 2 activity tents for kids and parents. Set up at at Brooks Corner, they’re a spot for kids to show off their creatives sides. Drawing, rock painting, origami — you name it, it’s there for children to do.

Action in last year’s Fine Arts Festival children’s tent.

New this year, the Collective will set up a giant Art Experience tent on Taylor Place, near Tiffany.

Over 20 Collective artists have volunteered. There will be several at a time, leading interactive projects and demonstrating techniques and media. Among them: clam shells, eggs, ceramics, murals, wire, camera-less photos, Band-Aids, folded paper, paint and more. Susan Fehlinger is the Collectivist in chair.

Westport Artists Collective co-founder Miggs Burroughs remembers when he was a boy. His father Bernie was president of the Westport Artists Club. Miggs, his brother Trace, and many other local kids grew up surrounded by art. Illustrators, cartoonists and painters seemed to be everywhere — always giving back to the community.

“I have a great sense of pride carrying out his legacy, in some small part, by helping the Collective keep the visual arts alive and lively for generations to come.”

Some of this art may be featured in the Experience Tent.

Miggs will be in the tent, at the 46th annual Fine Arts Festival. He and many others will be working with youngsters at  Brooks Corner too.

Odds are good they’ll inspire at least one young artist. In 2083 — at Westport’s 109th Festival — he or she may be giving back to the next generation, just like Miggs and his very talented colleagues will do this weekend.

(The Fine Arts Festival — and the Westport Artists’ Collective participation in it — is a partnership with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. For more information on the Festival, click here.) 

Labor Of Love: Blues & Views Festival Returns

Way back in 2008, Bob LeRose launched the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

The owner of popular Main Street restaurant Bobby Q’s wasn’t really sure if a downtown music-and-food event would fly.

From modest beginnings, it soared.

“Blues” expanded to funk, soul and rock. Acts like Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, James Montgomery, Sister Sparrow, The Revivalists, Popa Chubby — and Charlie Karp — rocked the Levitt Pavilion stage.

The Levitt stage offers some of the best music anywhere.

Barbecue tastings and contests expanded from the library parking lot to the Imperial Avenue lot. Kids’ bounce houses and slides sprang up. Non-profits set up informational booths.

Thousands of visitors poured into Westport every Labor Day weekend. It was a huge event — so big, it was hard to pin down exactly what it was.

This year, organizers have one goal: Bring back the winning formula.

They’ve reduced the footprint. This year’s festival — set for August 31 and September 1 — will use the Levitt Pavilion and library parking lot only. “We’re renewing our focus on community,” organizers say.

They promise a killer music line-up, tons of family fun, interesting vendors, great food, convenient parking (including the Imperial lot), and affordable ticket prices.

They’ve also changed the name. It’s now Blues & Views — no BBQ. There may be a barbecue food truck, but the cooking competition is off the table.

However, LeRose returns as a producer. He’s joined by Westport tech entrepreneur/marketing strategist Peter Propp, and Crispin Cioe. The Blues Hall of Fame saxophonist/ songwriter/Westport resident has played and recorded with James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Ray Charles and the Ohio Players, plus many others.

A high-powered steering committee of music-loving locals is helping too.

The group has partnered with 2 non-profits. Staples Tuition Grants and Wakeman Town Farm will receive a portion of the proceeds.

Planners hope to see more Westporters than ever at the 12th annual Blues Views & BBQ Festival — along with tons of visitors.

Blues Views & BBQ: a weekend for all ages. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Saturday — which focuses on New Orleans/Southern vibe music — includes the Anders Osborne Band. Sunday features funk and soul, with Brooklyn’s Lawrence as headliner.

Other performers include Jake Kulak and the Lowdown, Kat Wright, Southern Avenue, Flow Tribe, Neville Jacobs, School of Rock, The National Reserve, The Commonheart, High & Mighty Brass Band, and The Main Squeeze.

More details — including Jesup Jam’s kid-friendly food and fun activities — will be announced soon.

Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today. For early-bird prices and more information, click here.

Prime Real Estate Listing Offers A Piece Of The Pie

The commercial real estate listing sent shock waves through Westport.

“Exceptional 2,516 square foot downtown property now available for sale!” it read. “New to market, for sale at only $1,425,000.

“Significant potential for many other retail oriented uses. Long-term first floor commercial tenant and second floor, income-producing apartment. Call to inquire now before it’s too late!”

The address is 143 Post Road East.

But you know it better as Westport Pizzeria.

143 Post Road East, Westport.

The beloved institution — which celebrated its 50th anniversary last October — moved from Main Street to the former S&M/Joe’s Pizza location in 2014.

Founder and owner Mel Mioli had bought the Post Road location a couple of years earlier. It was a fortuitous hedge against a non-renewal notice from his Main Street landlord.

But don’t worry.

Mioli says he’s just testing the market. And even if he sells, he’s keeping the pizzeria.

Grazie!

(Interested in the property? Call Tommy Febbraio at 203-247-3516, or email Tommy@CBCFG.com. Hat tip: Sal Liccione.)

Welcome To Westport(s)! Step Right Up! Book Your Tour Now!

Among our many claims to fame, Westport was once the center of the luxury tour industry.

Tauck — whose founder, Arthur Sr., virtually invented the group tour concept in 1925 — was headquartered here for many years. They’re now in Wilton, but family members still live in town.

Lindblad Expeditions was here too, just down Post Road West from Tauck, before moving to New York. Their handsome building at the corner of Sylvan Road North now houses the Pierrepont School.

Both companies specialize in providing great adventures for high-end travelers, around the globe.

Westport is not one of their destinations. In fact, we never think of ourselves as a “tourist” town.

Try telling that to WestportSTourS.

They use that awkward capitalization, and odd name, for a reason. They offer tours to “FIVE of the Really Great WestportS of the World.”

In case you’re wondering, those Westports are in Ireland, Ontario, Massachusetts and New York.

And of course, Connecticut.

(I had to scroll down pretty far to find the Bay State one. The website — whose fonts, colors and layouts appear to come from the early days of MySpace — lists only 4 at the top.)

But WestportSTourS is pretty excited about being one of the niche-est of all niche travel companies.

They say:

Our Boston-Based staff has visited ALL FIVE (5) of the Westports mentioned here. Not just “visited”, but taken folks with them on Group Tours to EACH of the Westports – one Westport, hundreds of times – other Westports, several times each year.

The other Westports offer attractions like one of the oldest county fairs in the US (New York), canals (Ontario), and a large clock in the central square (Ireland).

On the surface, our Westport does not sound much different from the others. We are all on water (hence the name). Several Westports boast live theater and/or “quaint shops and boutiques.”

Despite the map on the website, Westport, Connecticut is NOT in Westchester County.

But it seems that WestportSTourS really likes our Westport best. We’re featured often on the home page, with photos of our “Rubber Ducky Festival,” holiday lights on the William Cribari Bridge, and colorful flags on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (So what if the website claims that different nations’ flags fly on “International Flag Day, June 14,” which does not exist? That’s American Flag Day. International flags fly on jUne Day, the last weekend of that month.)

Hey — no biggie! I’m sure the tour guides are much more accurate once they actually get here, and take guests all around town.

They’re enticed, I bet, by this info on the website. (I have kept the Trumpian capitalization and breathless text verbatim.)

This is the Westport  that is in the News almost Every Day –

This is the FUN  Westport where there are 80 Restaurants (number changes daily and We do  try to keep track) plus – World-Famous theatre,The Westport Country Playhouse, that dates-back to the early days of Summer Stock and the Straw Hat Circuit – Westport 06880, where there resided more Celebrities than anywhere else in the World (except Beverly Hills) by Zip Code.  Join US.  We can show you just about  EVERYTHING.

Two more views of our town, from the website.

This Westport is the home of the World’s largest Hedge Fund (if that means anything to you ?) and also this is the Westport where the commuter trains to New York City (47 miles to the West) – commuter trains stop 78 times EACH weekday – give or take.       Ask for “Gart”

There is MORE = LOTS more –

Gold Coast – The Tour .  This Tour is available ALL-YEAR.  Groups ONLY – perfect for your Wedding or Party Guests when you want them to see YOUR town – ALSO perfect if you are passing thru Westport on Interstate I-95 between New York and Boston.  YES, you can schedule to arrive in THIS Westport by Train.  YES you can enjoy REAL Salt-Water beaches.

 There’s much more on the tour too: the cannons. Positano and the Black Duck (“Definitely a Local Hotspot in Westport as seen  on TV’s Diners and Dives”). Even the “Compo Sailing Team.”

I’ve lived in Westport my whole life. I never knew we had such a team.

Hey, you’re never too old to learn something new. Sign me up for the tour!

After all, as the WestportSTourS website says: “We do All the Work. You have All the FUN.”

(Click here for the landing page. Click here for the Westport page. Hat tip: Elaine Marino)

 

Book Sale Begins Soon; Volunteers Needed

The Westport Library is transformed. But the annual book sale will be as familiar as your favorite novel.

Beginning Saturday, July 20 — the same weekend as the Fine Arts Festival — the 27th annual event features tens of thousands of books, in every category imaginable: art, children’s, graphic novels, foreign language, gardening, history, humor, music, mystery, nature, photography, poetry, religion, science fiction, sports, teens, travel.

That’s just the Jesup Green tent. Inside the library you’ll find DVDs, CDs, vinyl and paperbacks.

One scene from last year’s Book Sale.

This year’s specials include books from Ed Vebell, the famed illustrator whose heirs have donated much of his collection of military, American West and Native American objects, plus literature from Manny Margolis, the prominent civil rights attorney.

The Book Sale — whose proceeds benefit the library — needs over 300 volunteers. Set-up (starting July 15), sales, shelving, greeting, security, clean-up — there’s a job for everyone, of any physical ability.

If you’re a teenager, retiree or anyone in between, click here to sign up.

Book it!

(The Westport Library’s Book Sale is Saturday, July 20 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, July 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Monday, July 22 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday, July 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Fine Arts Festival is Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Pic Of The Day #803

And a little child shall lead them: Emanuel Linvald, 8, at today’s Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge demonstration protesting inhumane conditions for children at the US border. (Photo/Darcy Hicks)