Category Archives: Downtown

Westporters Strike For Climate Change

Scores of Westporters — young, old and in between — gathered on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge today. They were part of an international Climate Strike effort, raising awareness of the need for urgent action.

Greens Farms Elementary School students Camryn Brink, Charlotte Pendergast, Ella Vitulich and Capri DiVincenzo deliver an important message. (Photo/Alli DiVincenzo)

Over the years, the Post Road bridge has been the scene of numerous political protests. Today’s message was simple: Act now, so that when the youngest protesters are the age of the oldest, they’ll still have a planet to live on.

David Mark Brown adds his voice too. (Photo/Alli DiVincenzo)

Friday Flashback #160

This photo is over 100 years old.

The buildings look different. So does the transportation. The trees are gone; the street is now paved.

But more than a century later, there’s no mistaking the gentle curve of Main Street, as it heads north toward Elm Street.

Some things never change.

(Photo courtesy of Mary Gai)

Facing Up To A Swastika: Jesup Green Event Set For Today

Longtime Westport activist Darcy Hicks writes:

Tonight at 5 p.m., on Jesup Green, we will come together to define who we are as a community, in a struggling country.

Anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing in America at an alarming rate. The Anti-Defamation League says that in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents jumped 57% over the previous year, and 2018 showed the third-highest rate of incidents on record. This year is faring no better.

Westport — as we know from last week — is not immune.

The discovery of a swastika, carved into a bathroom wall, has challenged our community. The question is how we deal with that challenge.

We need to focus not on “who?” but “how?” How did the plague of hatred in this struggling nation manage to puncture our town? Whether the perpetrator was a white nationalist (unlikely), or looking for attention (more likely), the ball is in our court.

And all Westporters are on that court, whether we want to be there or not. Our response matters.

According to Steve Ginsburg, director of ADL Connecticut — and a Westport resident — “The measure of that school, or that community, is not what happened there, but how they respond to it, and what they did to try to prepare people and prevent it from happening.”

True to that statement, Westport schools have handled the incident swiftly and expertly, with the collaboration of the Westport Police, the ADL, and the support of our elected officials.

Education is always the key. But education should not be limited to school grounds and school hours.

How much do you know about your child’s understanding of the symbol of a swastika? How do they feel when they see one? Afraid? Numb? And are there other forms of intolerance — to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity — occurring in our kids’ lives? How can we help?

Tonight at 5 on Jesup Green, we come together as a community to learn from those who know how to begin answering these questions.

By this effort — not the hate crime — we will be measured.

(Speakers include Ginsburg; Lauren Francese, K-6 social coordinator, Westport Public Schools; Rev. John Morehouse, Unitarian Church of Westport, and Conor Pfeifer, Triangle Community Center. For more information, click here.)

Movie Theater Downtown: It’s Remarkable!

The Westport Public Schools do a wonderful job providing opportunities to students with disabilities.

But at age 21, they age out. Meanwhile, the state has cut funding for day programs for adults with disabilities.

A group of parents has a goal: increase employment for area men and women with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The result: a remarkable idea.

The parents were inspired by the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. It shows first-run films; 65% of employees are people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, a different group of Westporters worked for years, trying to open a theater downtown. They had a name — Westport Cinema Initiative — but no building and little funding.

Stacie Curran and Marina Derman — longtime Westporters with sons with disabilities — met with Doug Tirola. As a Staples High School graduate, current resident and president of documentary producer 4th Row Films, he was perfectly positioned to help.

The 2 groups merged. Now they’re poised to bring a theater to Westport. It will train and employ people with disabilities.

And — in a brilliant homage to Westport’s history and arts heritage — it will be called the Remarkable Theater.

The name — as Tirola, Curran, Derman and thousands of others know — honors the Remarkable Book Shop. That’s the longtime, beloved and still-mourned store at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now the still-closed Talbots).

Curran came up with the brilliant name. Mark Kramer and Wendy Kramer Posner — whose mother Esther owned the shop — are “thrilled, honored and completely supportive,” says Derman.

“It’s a reminder of a time when downtown was homey, friendly, warm and fun,” Curran adds. “And people with disabilities are remarkable.”

Remarkably too, today is National Arthouse Theater Day. That’s exactly the type of theater the Remarkable will be.

Tirola calls it a “state-of-the-art, independent arthouse theater.” It will show independent and older films. Think of New York’s Film Forum, he says.

You’ll still go to a multiplex for the latest “Star Wars” sequel. But the Remarkable will be the place to go for many intriguing films. On Veterans Day, for example, it might screen a series of historical movies. If a famous director dies, it’s flexible enough to quickly mount a tribute.

Among the Westporters working on the Remarkable Theater project: Front (from left): Joanna Borner, Marina Derman, Deirdre Teed, Stacie Curran. Rear: Doug Tirola, Kristin Ehrlich, Angie Wormser, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, Diane Johnson.

The theater will be a venue for talkbacks too. Other groups — particularly schools — will be invited to use the space.

Tirola, Curran, Derman and others have already secured a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Developmental Services. Funds will pay for equipment and movie screenings.

Pop-up screenings could begin before the theater opens. Organizers hope to break ground 2 years from now.

As for where it will be: They’d love a downtown site. They’ve begun talking with landlords, looking for options.

After several years, there’s real movement for a movie theater in Westport. The curtain is rising on this remarkable story.

(For more information — or to help — click here, or email marina@remarkabletheater.org).

Climate Strike Set For Friday

When Lisa Podurgiel heard Bill McKibben interviewed on “Fresh Air,” her ears perked up.

And her heart sank.

The environmentalist’s new book is called “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” Though the Westporter thought she knew plenty about climate change, McKibben opened her eyes to “new, very frightening — and infuriating” ideas.

For example, McKibben said:

fossil fuel companies knew everything there was to know about climate change in the 1980s. They knew how much it was going to warm and how fast, and they believed it. Exxon began building all its drilling rigs to compensate for the rise in sea level they knew was coming.

What they didn’t do was tell any of the rest of us — just the opposite. Beginning right about 1989 or so, they began to pour huge sums of money into this architecture of deceit and denial and disinformation that kept us locked for 30 years in a sterile debate about whether or not global warming was real, a debate that both sides knew the answer to at the beginning.

Realizing that we’ve wasted the past 30 years, Podurgiel was inspired to act. She joined 350.org, McKibben’s citizen movement. (The name comes from 350 parts per million — the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.)

Through 350, she learned of an international, youth-led, all-ages Global Climate Strike. The Westport event is set for this Friday (September 20, 11 a.m.,  Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge).

Several years ago, activists held a climate change protest on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Post Road bridge. (Photos/Bruce McFadden)

Podurgiel says that New York City public schools will excuse the absences of  students who participate in the strike.

The Westporter hopes Westport youngsters — and anyone else — will join her on the Post Road bridge, the traditional site of political protests.”Strike like your future depends on it,” she says.

“Because it does.”

Pic Of The Day #879

Low tide at Deadman Brook (Photo/Johanna Rossi)

Pic Of The Day #873

Low tide, Deadman Brook near the Levitt Pavilion (Photo/Johanna Rossi)

If Main Street Looks Messy …

Alert “06880” reader Sharon Fiarman has noticed a slew of empty storefronts — and a ton of construction — on Main Street.

She wondered what was going on. It’s a great question.

I asked Westport Downtown Merchants Association president Randy Herbertson. He says:

Major flood-proofing is going on in these spaces, which is why they are so ripped up.

It is a significant expense (which the old Chico’s space already went through), but necessary in these times of climate change.

(Photo/Sharon Fiarman)

We have some great new stores going in — a profile that makes sense for downtown Westport (versus the new Norwalk mall.)

Lululemon is expanding into the old Nike space, which will now include more experiential activities.

Johnny Waas, a clothing store, is going into the old Allen Edmonds, while Sundance (Robert Redford’s brand; only 16 stores nationwide) will be in the old Ann Taylor.

Also, at the far end (the old Talbots Kids) will be a new breakfast/lunch restaurant, with a beautiful outdoor patio facing the river.

And further up, Belden Place (the old Nappa space), which is almost done, has signed a specialty exercise tenant for their front space.

More to come soon!

Westport Historical Society May Soon Be History

Last month, the Westport Arts Center unveiled its new name.

It moved from Riverside Avenue to the Norwalk border — and rebranded itself as MoCA Westport. (As in “Museum of Contemporary Art.”)

It’s not the only longtime Westport institution to shed its well-known name.

Sometime soon, the Westport Historical Society will be known as the “Westport Museum for History and Culture.”

Extremely alert “06880” reader Fred Cantor spotted the change in an intriguing way. The official state website’s Film, TV & Digital Media page has a section devoted to “Producing in Connecticut.”

The listing for “Westport Historical Society & Museum” — interestingly, the “& Museum” appears nowhere on the WHS’ own website or logo — says simply, “Soon to be renamed Westport Museum for History & Culture.”

Someone at the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development knows something the rest of Westport does not.

I emailed WHS — er, WMHC — executive director Ramin Ganeshram for comment. When is it happening? I asked. What are the reasons?

She was at a conference in Philadelphia, but got right back to me.

“We will be issuing a formal press release prior to our September 28 benefit
when it will be announced, and would be happy to fully comment at that time,” she said. “May I ask how you came to know the same?”

I sent her the CT.gov link.

“Thanks!” she replied. “Happy to discuss in detail with formal announcement. ”

I guess that’s all we’ll know until then. Stay tuned for that historic moment.

Westport Historical Society, on Avery Place.

Friday Flashback #156

Regular readers know “06880” often laments the loss of things that make a town a community.

Movie theaters. Mom-and-pop shops.

And bars.

I’m talking about real bars. Not bars attached to restaurants, like so many places in town: Spotted Horse, Tavern on Main, Arezzo, Little Barn, you name it.

And not restaurants with very active bars, like Viva’s and the Duck.

No. I mean actual, go-and-stay-and-drink-and-maybe-have-peanuts-but-a-place-where-everybody-knows-your-name bar.

The Westport equivalent of Cheers.

Parsell’s Purcell’s was that kind of bar, on the Post Road near Southport. So was the Red Galleon, across from Green’s Farms Elementary School.

Ship’s Lantern was too, downtown on the Post Road (before it become The Ships nearby — which today is Tiffany 😦 ).

Then there was “The Bridge.”

Formally Ye Olde Bridge Grill — though there was nothing formal about it — The Bridge sat on Post Road West, right over the bridge (aha!), a couple of doors down from National Hall (at the time, Fairfield Furniture), and directly opposite Art’s (now Winfield) Deli.

It was around for years, but hit its stride in the 1970s and ’80s. With generous owner Dave Reynolds, popular manager/bartender Dennis Murphy, a large and loyal bunch of regulars, and a jukebox that played the same songs over and over and over again (“Domino” by Van Morrison, anyone?), The Bridge was the kind of gathering spot we just don’t have any more.

Owner Dave Reynolds …

(It was also the sponsor of an Under-23 soccer team of the same name. Stocked with the best Westport players of its time, and their friends from the college and semi-pro ranks, it won all kinds of state and regional championships. After every match, players and fans celebrated you-know-where.)

… and manager Dennis Murphy (standing, left). He coached the Bridge Grille team to many state titles.

Things change. Rents rose. The drinking age rose too, from 18 to 21.

The Bridge has been gone for 3 decades or so. Today it’s an antiques shop, or something like that.

Cheers!