Category Archives: Downtown

The Art Of Changing Careers

Westport has plenty of art galleries.

But it may never have seen one quite like Bankside Contemporary, Steve Lyons’ new one on Post Road West.

Modeled on his successful gallery in Chatham on Cape Cod, this one — formerly Mar Silver Design, opposite Winfield Deli — is far from the very quiet/let’s examine the works/wine-and-cheese reception traditional gallery space.

Lyons prefers a “communal gathering space.” He wants people to wander in, say hi, enjoy cookies and candy and coffee, and just hang out.

“If you want art, we’ve got it,” he says. “But everyone is welcome.”

Steve Lyons’ art at Bankside Contemporary, 14 Post Road West.

If that sounds like a different kind of art gallery, well, Lyons’ path as an artist has been untraditional too.

Growing up poor in the foothills of Appalachia, he always painted. In college he minored in art and art history, but majored in something more career-oriented: journalism.

He moved to New York. He did PR for films and TV (and served a stint as critic Judith Crist’s assistant). He painted in his spare time, on weekends.

A job offer — corporate writing for a mutual fund — brought Lyons to New Haven. He bought a house on the Cape, and displayed his work at “casual shows” there.

He had some success. But he never thought about quitting his day job.

Steve Lyons

Eight years ago, Lyons began working on his back porch, painting on small pieces of scrap lumber. He put the finished art out front, with a sign asking anyone interested to put $40 or $50 in a nearby jar.

He sold 400 pieces that summer. Encouraged, he took a leap of faith to pursue art full time. “I know I’m one of the lucky ones,” he says.

Lyons opened a studio on Chatham’s Main Street — a homey place with a welcoming vibe.

In 2016 he was named one of the Top 5 Expressionist Artists in the World by the American Art Awards. The following year they named him #2 in the world for abstract expressionism. In 2018, Art Tour International Magazine listed him as one of the Top 15 Artists in the World to Watch.

It’s not quite a Grandma Moses story — she gained her first fame after age 80. But Lyons is 61 years old. Most “Artists to Watch” are not so close to Social Security.

Among the collectors paying attention was Phil Nourie. Last year — after a career in public relations and marketing — the 51-year-old Westporter started a new company.

Called GigSuite, its mission is to help people realize that after decades in a structured career, their skills actually are transferable. They can own, manage, advise and/or invest in a new, entrepreneurial field — even as their peers think about retirement.

The pair have formed an unusual business alliance. Lyons serves as Gig Suite’s art advisor. He helps clients who want to learn more about art, for aesthetic or business reasons (or both).

Steve Lyons’ “Dancing Clouds.”

Nourie, meanwhile, has helped Lyons open the Bankside Contemporary gallery.

“Steve changed careers in mid-life. He’s able to help others see it’s possible,” Nourie says.

Lyons’ artistic style is an important element in what both men do.

GigSuite’s research showed that “people need an open mind first, to overcome fear of trying something different later in life,” Nourie says. It also shows the human brain responds well to abstract expressionism.

So Lyons’ work hangs on the walls of Gig Suite’s office at 500 Post Road East, inspiring all who come to their workshops. And Gig Suite is the official host of the “Agility Through Art” series at Bankside Contemporary.

Grandma Moses, eat your heart out.

(For Steve Lyons’ website, click here.)

Friday Flashback #180

I’ve written about this before.

But every so often, a reader discovers a 35-year-old video about Westport. And sends it to me, as if I’ve never seen it.

If you lived here in 1985 — as I did — you know it well.

That year, the Marketing Corporation of America gave the town a 150th- anniversary: a 30-minute film.

MCA is no longer around. Westport is no longer the “marketing capital of America.”

But after 3 1/2 decades, “Westport’s Got It All” is the gift that keeps on giving.

The video is filled with celebrities who lived here. Strangely — or, perhaps, understatedly and on purpose — none are named. Jim McKay reads a newspaper by the river. Harry Reasoner sits near a tennis court. Joanne Woodward has a cameo.

ABC's "Wide World of Sports" anchor Jim McKay sits on the banks of the Saugatuck River, in the town he called home.

ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” anchor Jim McKay sits on the banks of the Saugatuck River, in the town he called home.

Okay, so Rodney Dangerfield cracks, “The town of Westport has my respect.” But that’s the closest anyone comes to identifying him or herself.

The video opens with a cheesy, “Westport’s Got It All” song (including the line “Kids hanging out at the Dairy Queen…”). It’s sung by former Westporter Dara Sedaka — Neil’s daughter.

But the pace quickens. There are shots of Main Street, the Playhouse, Staples, Compo, the downtown art show, Longshore, Cockenoe, the Levitt and the Memorial Day parade (ending at Jesup Green).

Most look pretty much the same today. But there are plenty of other places and things that are long gone: Remarkable Book Shop. The White Barn Theater. Mohonk House. Hay Day (in its original location, opposite Carvel). MCA.

And, of course, restaurants: Manero’s, Chez Pierre, Ships, Peppermill, Three Bears, Allen’s Clam House, Connolly’s … and on and on.

I found the voiceovers fascinating. Mason Adams, Alan Parsell, Herb Baldwin, Claire Gold, Julie Belaga, Dick Leonard, Cary Pierce — I recognized the voices of so many former politicians, educators, students and others.

Crusty Yankee Alan Parsell was 83 years old when he was interviewed for the 150th-anniversary video.

Crusty Yankee Alan Parsell was 83 years old when he was interviewed for the 150th-anniversary video.

Here are some of the things they said:

  • “Nothing goes on here that people aren’t concerned about. For every issue, there are at least 10 sides.”
  • “I’m worried the town is losing its mix of a variety of people.”
  • “Westporters have extraordinary aspirations for their children. And they’re willing to pay for it.”
  • “I work 2 jobs, 90 hours a week, to keep my head above water here.”
  • “Westport has the sophistication of New York, the exuberance of a California town, the quaintness of New England — and a sense of humor.”
  • “We do have latchkey children, as more and more parents go off to work.”
George Weigle conducts the Staples Orphenians. They sound great in the video.

George Weigle conducts the Staples Orphenians. They sound great in the video.

  • “It’s a very loving community, in many ways.”
  • “We draw people into town, to go to the theater and movies.”
  • “The Post Road is a disaster. But every town has its Post Road. This one looks better than many.”
  • “Commercialization has really changed this town. It’s been good and bad.”
  • “It’s a generous, gregarious, outgoing town. You can dress any way you like. You can be anyone you want to be. That’s the uniqueness of the community.”

That was Westport, 1985. Thanks to MCA, we’ve got a video record — promotional, but still pretty honest — of who we were.

What’s happened in the past 35 years? Are we better, worse, just different — or the same — as we were back in the days when big cars roamed Main Street, the Church Lane YMCA was still new, and people came from out of town for the movies?

Click on the video below (then wait 10 seconds to begin). Then click “Comments.”

Pic Of The Day #1032

Cut-through from Church Lane to the Post Road (Photo/John Videler — go to https://videlerphotography.pixieset.com/printsforsale/ to buy prints of Westport)

Pic Of The Day #1031

Deadman Brook, as it flows into the Saugatuck River (Photo/Michele Carey-Moody)

Pic Of The Day #1029

Downtown reflections (Photo/Jeanine Esposito)

Pic Of The Day #1026

A flock of seagulls (Photo/Tom Lowrie)

Chez 180 Est Ici!

Westport’s newest eatery opened a couple of hours ago.

Chez 180 is named for its address: 180 Post Road East. That’s the big building next to Design Within Reach, opposite Le Penguin and Jeera Thai.

The interior, with a view of the Post Road. There’s plenty of parking, and an entrance, in back.

Offering contemporary desserts, fresh baked breads and pastries, crepes, sandwiches, soups, salads, artisanal coffee and more, it’s downtown’s first patisserie since — well, je ne sais pas.

Chef Carlos Perez trained at the French Culinary Institute, then worked at top New York restaurants before returning home to Connecticut.

In 2006 Perez opened La Palette Bakery in Watertown. He operated it for 13 years, while also working as an executive chef. He closed La Palette in June, to pursue Chez 180.

Chef Carlos Perez holds a “Carlos’ 180” muffin. It’s got bacon and shallots, with gruyere, aged cheddar, a soft boiled egg and chives inside.

It looks like a winner. It’s warm and welcoming, with a wonderful menu (click here, then scroll down to see).

Chez 180 is open 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Some of the treats at Chez 180.

Helen McAlinden Takes Homes With Hope Helm

The other day, Helen McAlinden had dinner at Jesup Hall.

Looking out the window of the handsome stone building, she saw the Gillespie Center next door. She marveled that one of Westport’s most popular restaurants shares its parking lot with a homeless shelter.

She asked Jesup Hall’s manager what he thought.

“We love it!” he said. “We’re proud of it. We send food over, and help whenever we can. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

That made McAlinden proud too.

And it reinforced her belief that the job she’d just begun was the right fit.

Helen McAlinden is the new president and CEO of Homes with Hope. She took over from Jeff Wieser last month, as only the 3rd head in the 36-year history of Westport’s affordable and supportive housing non-profit organization.

In her own way and style, McAlinden is as accomplished and dynamic as her 2 predecessors: Wieser, and Homes with Hope founder Peter Powell.

The only 3 CEOs in Homes with Hope’s 36-year history. From left: Peter Powell, Helen McAlinden, Jeff Wieser.

The daughter of a coal miner, she emigrated from her native Ireland to the US right after high school.

Following stints as a babysitter and eldercare worker, she earned a business degree from Manhattan College. The next step was Wall Street.

But after 9/11, McAlinden felt compelled to do something different. She’d already been feeding homeless people through Irish centers in the Bronx and Yonkers. Inspired by the memory of her uncle — a US servicemember, but not an American citizen, who was killed in the Korean War — she also worked with homeless veterans.

McAlinden left Wall Street, earned a master’s in social work at Fordham University, then spent 18 years at a Bridgeport supportive housing agency.

Helen McAlinden

She knew Wieser through his work on affordable housing initiatives. When she heard he was retiring, she applied. The process took nearly a year.

But Homes with Hope’s thoroughness paid off. She is the perfect person for this extremely important post.

Her first month has been a whirlwind of learning — about programs, people, and the town. But, she says, “This doesn’t feel like a job. It’s something I’ve always loved: dealing with homelessness in a professional way.”

At the end of the day she leaves her Richmondville Avenue office, and heads to the Gillespie Center. She meets “the lovely people who reside there, getting ready for the next step, and all the generous volunteers.”

She is very impressed by Westport’s embrace of Homes with Hope.

“So many affluent communities think there is no homelessness there,” she says. “But people struggle everywhere. We have a shelter right behind Tiffany. Westporters recognize that. And they go out of their way to help.”

On Saturday, for example, McAlinden spent hours with the Sunrise Rotary Club, at a table outside Stop & Shop.

“Many people bought one thing for themselves, then came outside to Rotary Sunrise volunteers with a big bag of groceries for the food pantry,” she says. “Amazing!”

Westporters also help with their time, energy, clothes — and money.

“We get very few federal and state dollars,” McAlinden notes. “The people in this town keep our operations going.”

Many involve their own children. “It seems they want their kids to learn about doing good. They see their parents are giving, kind people.”

Helen McAlinden (far left) at the Gillespie Center with (from left) Allyson Gottlieb, Ian O’Malley, both Homes With Hope board members, and Kathy Knapp, Steve Knapp and Emma Knapp of Christ & Holy Trinity Church, who served dinner.  (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

The CEO has been impressed too with Westporters’ embrace of her. Wieser — who stayed on an extra month to help with the transition — shepherded her from meeting to meeting, introducing her to everyone in  his vast network.

The other day, she met Police Chief Foti Koskinas. “He’s a lovely man,” she observes. “He talked about the importance of treating everyone with respect. Along with the fire department and EMS, everyone wants to work together. There’s a real sense that everyone in town can help get someone back on track.”

Wherever she goes, McAlinden has been made to feel — well, at home.

Now, she turns her attention to the future. As well respected as Homes with Hope is she senses that many newcomers to Westport — young moms and dads, with little kids — don’t know about Project Return (for young women in crisis), Bacharach Community (for mothers with children), and other programs and sites.

Even the Gillespie Center men’s shelter may be “a hidden secret” to them, she says.

The new leader will use social media to reach these new residents. She wants to offer tours to interested groups. “Community organizations, PTAs — anyone can contact me!” she says. (Her email is hmcalinden@hwhct.org.)

In her few off hours, McAlinden spends time with her husband and 16-year-old daughter. She enjoys visiting her mother and family on their sheep and cattle farm, back in Ireland.

In fact, she laughs, Westporters are not much different from the Irish. Both groups are “welcoming and inviting.”

And wherever she is — Ireland or Westport, the Homes with Hope office or Gillespie Center — Helen McAlinden feels at home.

Photo Challenge #266

The snow in Kathleen Motes Bennewitz’s image last week made it hard to figure out exactly what the Photo Challenge showed. (Click here to see.)

But not so hard that Andrew Colabella, Seth Schachter, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, Amy Schneider, Arthur Hayes, Mousumi Ghosh, Sean Doyle and Peter Barlow didn’t know the answer.

It was the big, abstract steel sculpture, created between 1976 and ’81 by Charles Ginnever titled “Charities.” It sits on Jesup Green, near the new entrance to the Westport Library by the Taylor parking lot.

According to Ann Chernow and Miggs Burroughs, writing in the Westport News’ “Art Town” column, it was donated to the town in 1996 by a friend of Ginnever,

It was originally placed in Winslow Park, facing the Post Road. The next year it was moved to Jesup Green.

It’s been there ever since, framing the library and serving as an inviting spot for kids to scamper on.

And for snow to collect.

This week’s Photo Challenge is easy to identify — for longtime Westporters, anyway. It’s the lighthouse that for decades stood between the marina and pool entrance at Longshore (near where the pavilion and snack bar are now).

So that’s not the challenge. What we want to know is: Where does this painting hang today?

That’s a question that any Westporter — no matter how recently you moved here — might be able to answer.

If you know, click “Comments” below.

The Road To Town Hall Is Paved With …

An alert “06880” reader — one whose car now regularly rattles — writes:

I love our town. I have worked here for over 50 years, and lived here almost as long.

It is sometimes said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Why is the road to Town Hall and the Board of Education the worst paved in all of Westport?

For years, Myrtle Avenue has been the best route for me to take as I return home – for lunch and dinner – from my office. However, I now take an alternate route.

I thought that after the utility work was finished, it would be repaved. But it’s been this way for months now.

This is the road leading to Town Hall. Is this the impression we want to give visitors about our town?

Town Hall looks handsome. Myrtle Avenue in front: not so much.

Another reader wonders about a nearby street.

“The Post Road was paved nicely,” he says, referring to this fall’s work near CVS heading downtown, and the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge over the Saugatuck River.

“But what about near Main Street?” he asks. “It’s a mess.”

He’s right. From Myrtle Avenue (!) to Parker Harding Plaza, it’s rough and bumpy.

The area by Anthropologie and Tiffany is supposed to be our downtown’s crown jewel.

Instead it’s like a cheap giveaway, from the bottom of a Crackerjack box.