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Category Archives: Downtown
Outside, it’s chilly and rainy.
But inside the Westport Historical Society and TD Bank, it’s warm and inviting.
The town’s first First Light — organized by the WHS, after First Night ended its 24-year run — drew many families with young kids.
They enjoyed face and henna painting, Disney and Pixar movie shorts, popcorn and more.
The rain did not stop the outdoor activities either: horse-drawn carriage rides, and a bonfire on Veterans Green.
First Light continues through 9 p.m.
It may be the start of a new tradition.
But it’s definitely the only time we’ll ever ring in 2019.
Last month, First Night organizers announced the cancellation of this year’s New Year’s Eve festivities. Economics, changing entertainment options and an aging board all contributed to the demise of the 20+-year tradition.
But not everyone got the word.
On Saturday, December 15, the Westport Historical Society held its final “Holly Day” celebration. As kids lined up for horse-drawn carriage rides and Santa’s lap, parents asked if they could buy First Night buttons. For years, the WHS had sold them there.
Giving the news that First Night was over saddened WHS executive director Ramin Ganeshram and her staff. “It was a beloved event,” she says. “Organizers made sure there was something for everything.”
That night, she asked WHS employees whether the Avery Place institution should offer a New Year’s Eve celebration for the town.
“NO! ” replied the staff, exhausted after weeks of their own holiday events.
But on Monday morning, director of operations Alicia D’Anna told Ganeshram she had a change of heart. She and her husband had talked. They wanted the WHS to do something after all.
In a local version of a Christmas miracle, the Historical Society took just a few days to develop Westport’s newest tradition: First Light.
Plus a big bonfire right next door to WHS, on Veterans Green.
The WHS crew worked like Santa’s elves to get everything in place. They had help from many folks at Town Hall. Ganeshram singled out First Selectman Jim Marpe, for going “above and beyond” to make things happen.
TD Bank stepped up big time too, offering a venue for events that don’t fit in the cute but cramped WHS Wheeler House headquarters.
So First Night is gone. But First Light — at first just a flicker — has now grown into a full New Year’s Eve flame.
(First Light is set for 4 to 9 p.m. on Monday, December 31. Buttons are $10 online, $15 at the door; children under 2 go free. Click here to purchase buttons, and for more information.)
For years, John Dodig and his husband Rodger have done their holiday shopping on Amazon. That often means gift cards for their many children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings and friends.
This year — with memories of years gone by — they headed to a mall. But after 2 hours in Trumbull, they’d found exactly 2 gifts.
Depressed, they left.
Driving home, they decided to try downtown Westport. They parked in the Baldwin Lot behind Brooks Brothers, and headed to Church Lane.
On a whim, they walked into Savannah Bee Company. The manager greeted them warmly.
John and Rodger learned about bees, honey, sustaining the environment, and the store’s strong support for the community. They also found several perfect gifts.
They put them in their car, then browsed more stores in Bedford Square and on Main Street.
“We found something for everyone on our list — and had a great time shopping,” says John, who retired in 2015 after 11 years as Staples High School’s well-respected principal.
“Everyone in every store went out of their way to be helpful. They were beyond friendly.”
John and Rodger finished their shopping, feeling like “supportive and thankful Westporters.”
John’s advice: “Forget the malls. Shop locally! Our shop owners need our support. And they provide everything we need during this gift-giving season.”
When I say “jerky,” odds are you don’t immediately think “Brooklyn.”
Field Trip — the hot producer of healthy, protein-rich snacks in sticks and bites ranging from beef, chicken, turkey and pork to jalapeño, cracked pepper and everything bagel — has just moved its headquarters here, from New York.
They’ve just opened a store too. They’re in 50,000 retails outlets nationwide — including Target, Stop & Shop, Walgreens and CVS. Field Trip is also served on Jet Blue and United Airlines.
But this is the only Field Trip store in the world. And they won’t open any more.
Hot jerky just made Westport a whole lot cooler.
The story begins with Matt Levey. Now 37, he grew up partly in Weston. He spent nearly 10 years in finance, but 7 years ago — after loving the jerky sold at Singleton’s, a country store near Okemo Mountain where hunters brought meat to be smoked, then sold as jerky — he and 2 partners quit their jobs.
They pooled their money — all $11,500 of it — and began testing recipes. Field Trip was born.
“New York is filled with people who wanted healthy food, like jerky,” Matt says. “But all they could buy was gas station junk.”
He and his partners rode bikes all over the city. They sold their product — literally — store by store.
Field Trip is big now. So big that they’ve moved from Brooklyn to Westport.
Matt always liked this area. He, his wife and young kids just bought a house in Greens Farms. One of his partners is moving here too.
The new headquarters was not a hard sell for his employees. One commuted 2 1/2 hours from Long Island to Brooklyn. Surprisingly, his drive to Westport is half that. Another found it’s only a few minutes more from Harlem than before.
They’re finding downtown Westport to be fun. And Matt found that the empty storefront next door to his new office — directly across from Design Within Reach (the old post office) — was perfect for a Field Trip storefront.
“This area reminds me of when I was a kid, walking around downtown,” he says. “Little Kitchen had 2 little tables, a couple of doors down from Westport Pizzeria. Klein’s was like a mom-and-pop shop.
“We’re small, but fast growing. And nothing brings out a small town feel like a jerky shop.”
Last week, Matt was busy building a picnic table that will sit in the center. One counter and several walls were filled with jerky products (and Field Trip blankets and t-shirts).
He showed off his many grass-fed beef, gluten-free, no-nitrites, no-corn syrup snacks. There’s parmesan peppercorn, sweet chipotle and maple BBQ pork; mandarin orange, and sea salt and pepper beef, and lots more.
Matt is particularly proud of his everything bagel jerky. It’s a hot new flavor trend — and he’s trademarked the name.
But, Matt notes, the storefront is less about making money than bringing enjoyment to people — and life to downtown.
“This one is for Westport,” he says.
Brooklyn, eat your heart out. And Westport: Eat up!
(For more information on Field Trip, click here.)
A year and a half ago, the New York Times said Bleecker Street “looks like a Rust Belt city.”
On 5 blocks from Christopher Street to Bank Street, more than a dozen storefronts sat empty.
“Where textured-leather totes and cashmere scarves once beckoned to passers-by,” the paper reported, “the windows are now covered with brown construction paper, with ‘For Lease’ signs and directives to ‘Please visit us at our other locations.'”
This past Tuesday, the Times changed its tune.
A headline trumpeted “The Return of Bleecker Street.”
Eighteen months after its obituary, that same 5-block stretch of the West Village is “full of cool, vibrant people doing interesting things.”
“Big-name luxury labels” are gone. Their storefronts are now filled with “young, digitally native brands….a well-curated mix of small brands with big ideas.” Many are run by women.
The sudden switch was no accident. Brookfield Properties bought 4 properties with 7 storefronts last April — “after exorbitant rents and a dearth of shoppers had driven out most of the businesses.” The new owners “immediately set to work rethinking the landscape.”
A creative strategy firm helped plan short-term leases — and revenue sharing.
Nell Diamond — the founder of bedding and bath retailer Hill House Home, an early arrival — did not believe retail was dead.
“Bad retail is dead,” she clarified.
Bleecker Street’s new stores have become destinations — and community centers. They offer hot cocoa, and host podcasts, educational events and book club meetings. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a book signing at Lingua Franca, which sells cashmere sweaters hand-stitched with political slogans.
So why is “06880” highlighting a story about 10012?
Because some of the descriptions about last year’s Bleecker Street resonate with this year’s Main Street.
There are some great, fun stores downtown. You can lose yourself — and find nearly every gift you need — at Savvy + Grace, and The Brownstone. Bedford Square is filled with shops like Savannah Bee Company. Serena & Lily has brought new energy and creativity too.
But there are too many “windows covered with brown construction paper.” Landlords still hold out for sky-high rents, and refuse to consider options like short-term leases and revenue sharing.
I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Westport is not New York. Main Street will never have the foot traffic of Bleecker Street.
But we don’t need all those empty storefronts either.
If Greenwich Village can find a way out of its retail doldrums, our village can too.
(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: Michelle Sinclair Colman)
On Thursday, Westport lit the Town Hall Christmas tree.
This Monday, the Hanukkah menorah lights up downtown.
Four Jewish congregations — Beit Chaverim, Chabad of Westport, Temple Israel and The Conservative Synagogue — will gather at the corner of Main Street and Post Road East. Everyone — of any faith, or none at all — is invited too.
At 6:15 p.m. — on the 2nd night of Hanukkah — candles will be lit. Holiday songs will be sung, sufganiyot (jelly donuts) will be eaten, and dreidels will be spun.
It’s an important event.
“During a time in which we have seen a rise in anti-Semitism and darkness in the world, Hanukkah celebrates our survival against all odds,” says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue.
“But it also reminds us of our responsibility to increase the light in our world.”
The 5th annual celebration is organized in cooperation with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.