Category Archives: Downtown

Unsung Hero #11

Lois Schine has done many things in her long life.

A mechanical engineer at a time when nearly all her peers were men, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers.

She served 18 years on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She chaired our Human Services Commission, and was a member of 1st Selectman Diane Farrell’s Land Use Committee.

Today she’s an active member of the Westport Downtown Master Plan Committee, and a Friend of the Senior Center.

But of all she’s done, Schine says her “crowning accomplishment” is helping the town keep Winslow Park as open space.

Lois Schine

Following its days as the Westport Sanitarium — and after B. Altman abandoned its plans to build a department store there — the 32-acre site of woods and meadows just north of downtown was owned by perfume executive Walter Langer von Langendorff (aka “the baron”).

First selectman Jacqueline Heneage asked the baron if the town could buy the land. Schine’s husband Leonard — a noted attorney and judge — negotiated with the owner.

The baron backed away, offended by the town’s “low” offer of $2.38 million. Schine planned to return to the issue in a while. But he died — and so did the baron.

The baron left several wills. It appeared his land would be tied up in court — then sold, to satisfy his various estate obligations.

In 1987 the RTM voted 26-8 to condemn the land. Citizens opposed to the deal brought a referendum. Lois Schine, Joanne Leaman and Ellie Solovay helped spur a “yes” vote. By 54-46%, Westporters chose to move ahead with eminent domain.

The purchase price was $9.42 million. But no one in town knew what to do with the property.

Schine worried it would be used for buildings, or some other intense activity. She asked town attorney Ken Bernhard how to designate the land as “open space.”

Winslow Park draws visitors with dogs …

He said there was no such zoning regulation in town. He suggested she run for the RTM, so the body could pass a resolution asking the Planning & Zoning Commission to create that designation.

She did. She won. And — with Ellie Lowenstein at the P&Z helm — officials created an “open space” zone for passive recreation.

“Longshore, Compo, all the pocket parks — none of them had open space designations,” Schine recalls.

Today they do. So does the baron’s other property — the 22 acres across the Post Road, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

… and sleds.

“Some people say Winslow is ‘only a dog park,'” Schine notes.

“But it’s a park in the middle of town.”

And — had it not been for Lois Schine, and many others — that middle of town might look very different today.

 

Bespoke Stephen Kempson

At 16 — with just $150 and “a bag of clothes” — Stephen Kempson left England for San Diego. His dream was to become a professional soccer player.

It didn’t happen. But unlike many Brits who don’t become the next Beckham, Kempson had another talent to fall back on.

As a lad, he’d worked for a small London haberdasher. On tea breaks he watched as tailors took fittings, then turned fabric into handsome suits.

Kempson liked soccer. But he loved men’s style.

When his sports career ended, Kempson worked on Rodeo Drive. Then came stints at Hickey Freeman, Dormeuil and Brioni. He learned about textiles, manufacturing and more.

In 2001, he opened his own business in Los Angeles. It grew — but the real potential was in his New York clients. They dressed more formally than men in California. Soon, Kempson was traveling every other week to the East Coast.

One summer Sunday in 2004, a friend who had moved from L.A. to Westport took Kempson and his wife to Longshore. Sitting at Splash, both said “Wow!”

It did not take long for them to move. They’re raising 3 kids here, and love the community.

For most of that time, Kempson commuted to his Park Avenue atelier. But a few months ago — as the train ride got longer, and his children got older — he thought about opening a pop-up shop here.

Driving over the Post Road bridge in April, Kempson spotted a sign in the first storefront on Post Road West. George Subkoff Antiques was moving.

The space was perfect. With a cutting table in the front, passersby could watch suits being made. Enormous windows on the side and in back offered superb views of the Saugatuck River and downtown.

Stephen Kempson in his store. Behind him are diners on Arezzo’s patio, and the Saugatuck River.

Stephen Kempson London opened just over a month ago. In addition to bespoke suits, jackets, pants and shirts, he offers shoes, ties and cufflinks; tailoring; ready-to-wear items off the rack, and wardrobe consultation.

In fact, that personal touch is where Kempson truly excels.

As we chatted the other day — with the river behind us, and a well-stocked bar in the corner — a customer walked in. He carried a $5,000 jacket. But it did not fit well — and the tailor in Milan had never met him.

Kempson knows his customers — where they work, what they do, what makes them them.

“I want people to put on my jacket, smile, and say ‘Wow! This is me!'” Kempson says.

Stephen Kempson explains fabric.

He tells the story of a Financial Times staffer who interviewed him in New York. At the end, the writer asked Kempson for a critique of his suit.

Kempson told the truth: It did not fit him well. When the man handed over his business card, Kempson learned he was Lionel Barber — the FT’s New York managing editor. Kempson figured he’d blown the interview.

But it turns out Barber’s colleagues had long despaired of his wardrobe. They encouraged him to get a full makeover.

A few weeks later, Barber wore his new suit to an industry dinner. Colleagues marveled at how great he looked. One asked where he got his tie. Others wondered if he’d lost weight.

“That’s why I do what I do,” Kempson says.

Suits in the Stephen Kempson window — and reflections across Post Road West.

And that’s why he is so happy to be doing it in his adopted hometown. He’s looking for a way to get more involved in the community — particularly for those in need.

Eight years ago on a train to New York, he overheard a conversation with a down-and-out man. Touched, Kempson offered to pay for his monthly train ticket, so he could keep his job. The two are still in touch.

“You have to give a hand up, rather than a handout,” Kempson explains.

And then — near the end of our chat — this perfectly dressed, well-coiffed man says something stunning.

“I was homeless once,” Kempson admits.

Twenty years ago in L.A. — separated from his wife, with a 6-month-old child — he was living on the streets, showering at a pool. A friend of a friend gave him a place to live.

Today, Kempson lives in Westport. He is elegant. His new store — also in Westport — is warm, welcoming and classic.

You can’t make this stuff up.

But Stephen Kempson can make sure that your clothes make you.

(Hat tip: Kami Evans)

Pic Of The Day #118

Main Street, deserted at night (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

“Honk Against Hate” Fills Downtown Bridge

For decades, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge — the Post Road span named for Westport’s tireless UN and peace advocate — has been the site of social justice protests.

This afternoon, several dozen folks of all ages thronged the bridge. In the aftermath of yesterday’s horrific anti-black, anti-Semitic, Nazi-infused demonstration and murder in Charlottesville, the group had a united message: Hate has no place here.

“Honk against hate!” they chanted.

Many drivers obliged.

As they did, the protesters cheered and smiled.

Then they chanted even louder.

Westport Pot Dealer Leaves

Jonathan Adler is gone.

The downtown home furnishings store was the brainchild of a noted craftsman. Adler first earned fame for his ceramics.

It was known locally for the intriguing sign in the front window. Every few months, an alert “06880” reader would email me a photo like this:

I know, I know, I’d reply. I wrote about it 4 years ago.

I don’t know why Jonathan Adler closed.

Perhaps it’s because of the legalization of medical marijuana in Connecticut, and for recreational use in 8 states.

Or maybe just the rising rents on Main Street.

Pic Of The Day #105

American flags fly on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Pic Of The Day #104

The Saugatuck River and downtown, looking north, from 13-year-old Daniel Rosenkranz’s drone. (Photo copyright Hawkeye Aerial Photography)

Adios y Hola, Villa Del Sol!

Villa del Sol has served its last margarita.

At its longtime Elm Street location, that is.

The interior of Villa del Sol, as seen from the outside steps.

The popular downtown restaurant is moving to 170 Post Road West. The former site of Peachwave has been vacant for over 2 years.

David Waldman — developer of Bedford Square — is purchasing the Mexican restaurant, adjacent to his new complex. It’s part of a land swap. He’ll demolish the old Villa del Sol. In return, he’ll construct a retail/residential building across Elm Street, behind Lux Bond & Green.

The old Villa del Sol on Elm Street. On the left is the new Bedford Square. The restaurant will be demolished, and used for parking.

(Hat tip: Steve Stein)

Photo Challenge #135

One mystery was solved with last week’s photo challenge: The image by Seth Schachter showed Dead Man’s (or is it Deadman’s?) Brook, as it runs through Sconset Square before disappearing underneath the Post Road on its way to Imperial Avenue. (Click here for the photo, plus all the correct — and incorrect — guesses.)

But another mystery remains:  Why the name? No one answered that question. If you’ve got a clue, feel free to comment here.

Vanessa Bradford, Rich Stein, Elaine Marino, Michael Brennecke, Don Chambers, Jill Turner Odice, Edward Bloch, Mary Cookman Schmerker and Seth Braunstein all knew exactly what the photo showed. Fred Cantor, Amy Ancel and John Terpening came close — but had the wrong side of the Post Road.

Here is this week’s challenge. If you know where in Westport it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Have You Seen Carole McClintock’s Koi?

The Fine Arts Festival that filled Main Street earlier this month was a great success.

Art lovers flocked to see — and buy — wonderful paintings, sculptures and photos. Artists happily sold as much as they could.

But one piece went mysteriously missing.

As Westporter Carole McClintock was packing up her work — no long drive home for her! — she absent-mindedly left a large, wet koi fish painting up against the brick wall of Bedford Square.

Carole McClintock, with her unfinished painting.

She spent the next 10 days traveling. So she realized only now that it was not in her studio, with the rest of that weekend’s work.

McClintock would love to have it back. Not only is it unsold, but it’s unfinished. It had not even been signed.

“My guess is that someone found the painting and kept it, not knowing what else to do with it,” she says.

If you can connect the artist with her missing work, email carolemcclintock12@gmail.com.