Category Archives: Downtown

Remembering Shirley Mellor

Shirley Mellor — the beloved former owner of the almost-as-beloved Max’s Art Supplies — died yesterday. She was 92 years old.

Three years ago in March, over 100 people — from across town and across the country, and from Westport’s artistic present and past — paid tribute, on her 90th birthday.

Shirley Mellor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Though she closed Max’s 7 years ago, she still did yoga 3 times a week, nearly until her death. She told wonderful stories, and dispensed excellent advice.

Among the attendees at her birthday celebration were longtime Max’s employees Nina Royce, Rita Engelbardt and Jay Cimbak. Miggs Burroughs called Max’s — one of the anchors of Post Road East, next to the former Restoration Hardware — “Westport’s town square for artists.” Much of that was because of Shirley’s care and concern for our town’s artists. Professional or amateur, she loved — and helped — them all.

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In May of 2014, I wrote about Max’s closing. It’s a fitting epitaph for a remarkable, much-admired woman.

In mid-September the Westport Y leaves downtown, for new digs at Mahackeno.

A few days earlier, another longtime Post Road anchor will also go.

Max’s — a legendary art supply store (and, just as important, social hub for painters, illustrators and cartoonists) — closes on September 1.

Max's Art Supplies -- a long and familiar Post Road store.

Max’s Art Supplies — a long and familiar Post Road store.

For 59 years Max’s has occupied prime real estate, directly opposite the Y. But the end of Westport as an “artists’ colony,” coupled with the increasing role of technology in both art and commerce, spelled the end.

Owner Shirley Mellor has held on longer than any other merchant would. It’s been years since she’s made any money. But — as much as she loves her employees, her town and her dwindling customer base — she can’t lose money forever.

Max’s dates back to 1956, when Max Kaplan bought Fine Arts Stationers. He replaced paper and candy with pens, sketch pads, paints, brushes and canvases.

Part of a shelf at Max's, last Friday.

Part of a shelf at Max’s, last Friday.

Shirley was Max’s wife. He died in 1983. The next year she married artist Gordon Mellor, a widower. He died in 2001.

“We played a huge role in the art life of Westport,” Shirley says proudly. “All the artists knew us. And they were a sizable number.”

They came to Max’s for supplies, and stayed to socialize. Whitney Darrow Jr., Stevan Dohanos, Bernie Fuchs, Mel Casson, Dik Browne, Mort Walker, Stan Drake, Leonard Starr, Eric von Schmidt, Constance Kiermaier, Tom Funk, Gill Fox, Naiad and Walter Einsel, Ward Brackett, Neil Hardy, Miggs Burroughs — the names roll off Shirley’s tongue, like the old friends they were.

She points to a photo from 1981. It was Max’s 25th anniversary. A hundred artists posed on the sidewalk outside.

The famous 1981 photo. Another was taken in 2006, for Max's 50th anniversary.

The famous 1981 photo. Another was taken in 2006, for Max’s 50th anniversary.

Today, at least half are dead. That’s one reason Max’s is closing.

Another is the new nature of the art industry. The advent of computers changed the way illustrators worked. The rise of e-commerce changed the way they bought supplies.

Through the 1980s too, Westport was known as a marketing mecca. Industrial designers and marketing corporations were steady customers. When they moved out, Max lost more business.

For longer than she cares to recount, the store has not made money. At age 70 — well over a decade ago — Shirley took herself off the payroll.

Shirley Mellor at her desk, surrounded by original art from grateful customers.

Shirley Mellor at her desk, surrounded by original art from grateful customers.

Then she started subsidizing Max’s, out of her own pocket. She’s lucky, she says — she owns half of the building, as well as those that house neighboring Fig (formerly Schaefer’s Sporting Goods) and Dovecote (the old smoke shop, Quick Copy and beauty salon). “It was a good investment,” she says.

But it does not make up for the money that Max’s has been losing for so long.

Things were different, back in the day. The Fine Arts Theaters (now Restoration Hardware and Matsu Sushi) brought people downtown. So did the popular Ships Restaurant (now Tiffany).

“People were around. Now they’re not,” says Nina Royce.

Nina Royce, with plenty of "stuff" still left at Max's.

Nina Royce, with plenty of “stuff” still left at Max’s.

Nina has worked at Max’s since 1969. In 1975, she created the first window display of Westport artists. Since then — every month — Nina has made that spot an ever-changing, always-intriguing exhibition of local creativity.

New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer — a former Westporter — once wrote of a New York City gallery, “I’ve seen better shows at Max’s than this one.”

Nina — whose husband David died last month — does not know what she’ll do now. Neither does 10-year employee Rita Ross Englebardt (whose husband died just a few days before Nina’s).

Talented framer Jay Cimbak is lucky. He will work on his own, once he finds a spot.

“We just can’t do it any more,” Shirley says wistfully. “We absolutely can’t make a living here. It’s a whole different world. We hung on as long as possible. Every day I lose money. Kids still come in with school projects. But we can’t make money on crayons.”

When the Fine Arts Theaters closed in 1999, Max's next door felt the effects. (Photo/ Miggs Burroughs)

When the Fine Arts Theaters closed in 1999, Max’s next door felt the effects. (Photo/ Miggs Burroughs)

So there is no longer a place for an art supply store in downtown Westport. But what does that mean?

“You’ll lose the personal touch, the interactions,” Nina says. “Our customers are familiar to us. We’ve watched them grow. You don’t get that in a chain store, or on the internet.”

“It’s a different Main Street now,” Shirley adds. “There’s no hardware store, drugstore, grocery store or gas station. That’s where you get the personal attention.”

She says — trying to smile — “We’re heartbroken. We’ve been so happy to be here. We want to thank our customers. We will sure miss them. Hopefully, they’ll miss us.”

Shirley looks at the wall full of art — gifts from grateful cartoonists and illustrators — hanging above her desk. She hopes to donate it to the Westport Historical Society.

It’s a history of Westport art, over the past 6 decades. It’s great, and all original.

But nowhere near as great, or original, as Shirley, Nina and Max’s Art Supplies have been to us.

If your browser does not take you directly to the Westport Historical Society’s oral history interview of Shirley Mellor, click here. Hat tips: Betsy Pollak and Miggs Burroughs.

Roundup: Library Reopening, Light Up Westport, More

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The Westport Library returns soon to its December COVID schedule.

Effective Monday, February 8, appointments will no longer to browse the adult collection, speak with a librarian or use an Express computer.

Patrons visiting the Children’s Library, MakerSpace, media studios and store must still make appointments. Click here for more information.

The Library will be open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. It will remain closed on Sunday. Entrance is only through the upper parking lot doors.

Late fees will continue to be waived. Conference and meeting rooms will remain closed.

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For 4 years, WestportMoms has lit up Westport online. Now the multi-platform group wants to do so — literally.

Megan Rutstein and Melissa Post have launched “Light Up Westport.” The “appreciation project” charity fundraiser encourages people to send luminaries and personal notes of gratitude to friends, local businesses and first responders.

On February 4 (7 p.m.), participants should place their luminary in front of their homes or stores. They’ll light up the town.

They’ll then share photos on social media, and tag #lightupwestport.

Click here to order luminary kits. They include a WSPT luminary, note card and LED tea light. Volunteers will deliver them the day before the event.

All proceeds will go to Filling in the Blanks. The organization provides weekend meals to needy children throughout Fairfield County. WestportMoms have partnered with Ali Dorfman of Purpose 2 Purchase on this initiative.

WSPT luminary. (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

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If you haven’t visited George Billis Gallery, you’re missing a great addition to Westport.

The newest addition to Main Street — in space formerly occupied by Jonathan Adler — announces its first big events.

An international exhibition, is set for February 5-28. There’s an opening reception from 3 to 7 p.m., including a Zoom walk-through with juror Lisa Cooper from 3 to 3:30.

The exhibit features over 30 national and international artists presenting painting, photography, sculpture and works on paper.

George Billis Gallery, 166 Main Street.

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“06880” is looking for stringers/interns to cover town meetings: Board of Education, Board of Finance, Board of Selectmen. Town knowledge, enthusiasm, writing chops, ability to watch for hours needed. Perfect for bored college students and anyone else interested in town affairs. Interested? Email dwoog@optonline.net

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Bernie Sanders is a very impatient guy.

He was spotted yesterday outside Gold’s, waiting for bagels and lox …

(Meme courtesy of Our Town Crier)

… and then at Loeffler Field, waiting for the 2021 soccer season to begin.

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And finally … on this day in 1996, “Rent” opened officially at the New York Theatre Workshop. It was a bittersweet moment: composer/playwright Jonathan Larson died hours before, from an aneurysm.

Twenty-five years later, his work is considered one of the most monumental and important musicals of all time.

Move Over, Barnes & Noble. Another Bookstore Is Opening Downtown.

It’s been years since downtown Westport had a bookstore.

Next month, Barnes & Noble opens in the former Restoration Hardware.

This Thursday, a second bookstore opens right around the corner.

It’s smaller. It will sell only used books. But its story is huge.

The Westport Book Shop is a partnership between the Westport Library and Westport Book Sales, the non-profit with 2 important missions: They raise funds for the library by running its book sales, and they hire adults with disabilities.

For nearly 3 decades, the Summer Book Sale has been a beloved ritual on Jesup Green. So it’s fitting that the Westport Book Shop will be located between Green & Tonic and the new Basso restaurant (formerly Matsu Sushi).

In other words: It’s directly across Jesup Green from the library.

The new home of the Westport Book Shop.

The new venture — believed to be Westport’s first-ever used bookstore — came together quickly. The idea began in the spring, but the right space — a former art gallery — was not available until last month. Final town approval came on Friday.

The 5,000 or so books, in over 40 categories, come from donations to the annual book sales. There’s also a large selection of vinyl records, audio books, CDs and DVDs.

(In addition to the ginormous summer one, there are other book sales throughout the year. However, they’re on hold during COVID.)

The view from inside the Westport Book Shop, across Jesup Green to the library.

Books cover all major categories: fiction, non-fiction, biography, children’s, you name it.

“We’ll be talking to customers and ask what they especially want,” says Mimi Greenlee. The longtime volunteer will continue to work with Westport Book Sales on this project, with fellow members Jocelyn Barandiaran, Linda Hopper, Dick Lowenstein, Sharuna Mahesh and Deb Poulley​. Jennifer Bangser is the Library’s liaison.

The Book Shop also features the Drew Friedman Art Place. Miggs Burroughs will curate rotating exhibits of area artists.

Hours are Thursdays and Fridays, 3 to 6 p.m.; weekends, noon to 5 p.m. COVID restrictions apply.

Mimi Greenlee inspects a book n the children’s section.

Founding donors include The Drew Friedman Community Arts Center, Eileen Lavigne Flug, Dan Levinson, Jeffrey Mayer and Nancy Diamond, Jocelyn and Walter Barandiaran, Linda Monteiro-Hopper and Scott Hopper, Robin and Brad Berggren, Rebecca L. Ciota, The Kail Family, The Michael M. Wiseman and Helen A. Garten Charitable Foundation, Abilis Community Foundation, The Betty R. and Ralph Sheffer Foundation, Craig Rebecca Schiavone, Westport Sunrise Rotary, Rita Allen Foundation, and Berchem Moses PC. Local law firm Verrill donated most of the bookcases.

For more information, email info@westportbooksales.org.

Pic Of The Day #1375

Downtown by drone (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

Pic Of The Day #1374

Downtown at dusk (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Roundup: School Reopening, Seed Exchange, Leadership, More

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Westport’s elementary and middle school open for full in-person on February 1.

A new Westport Public Schools website offers information on the transition. it includes details on schedules, specials, health and safety, lunch and recess, mitigation and hygiene strategies, classroom cohorts, special education, transportation, technology and more.

Click here for the elementary school page. Click here for the middle school page.

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Talented Westport photographer Ted Horowitz posted this photo to his Instagram this morning:

He took the shot years ago at sunrise, in the Lincoln Memorial.

“In the silence of dawn, with golden light reflecting on the statue, the  the sense of gravity and majesty was overwhelming,” he says.

“It was a hopeful moment, as morning light poured in and a  day dawned once again. I felt that this image was appropriate for today, as we seeking relief from the past 4 years, and are hopeful for the new day which is about to begin.”

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Next Thursday (January 28) is National Seed Exchange Day.

Stumped for a celebration? Head to the Westport Farmers’ Market. It’s (no coincidence) their annual seed exchange.

People can bring seeds saved from their gardens — or take home a few saved by others.

WFM farmers will donate seeds from their favorite crops for the community to try at home. All seeds except invasive species are welcome, but the market urges people to bring and take home heirloom or organic varieties. (Click here for a list of invasive plants.)

Heirloom seeds are critical to reclaiming the food system. They’re open-pollinated plants passed down from generation to generation, without human intervention or manipulation. They taste better, are more nutritious, and help protect plant diversity.

“Collecting, sharing, and growing seeds saved by our very own shoppers, farmers and vendors – especially heirloom varieties – involves the community personally in the promotion of local food and flora,” says Farmers’ Market executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall.

“This year more than ever we want to seed the year with love and health.”

The seed exchange runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — or until all seeds are shared —  on January 28th at Gilbertie’s Herbs & Garden Center, 7 Sylvan Avenue.

Experts will be on hand to informally discuss the importance of seed saving.

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Yesterday’s mention of Capuli — the new restaurant in the old Westport Pizzeria location across from Bank of America — may have left the impression that it’s a pizza place.

It’s not.

The California-Mediterranean fusion menu — filled with healthy options — includes appetizers like chimichurri shrimp skewers and grilled octopus, and entrees like eggplant polenta Napoleon, pansotti, classic New York steak and California hamburger.

Click here for the mouth-watering lunch and dinner menus.

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Mike Hayes is a 20-year veteran of the Navy SEALs, with service in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. He had defense policy and strategy roles in the Bush and Obama administrations.

He’s got a master’s in public policy from Harvard, and is the author of an inspirational book, “Never Enough.”

Hayes is also a Westporter. And on February 4 (7 p.m.), he’ll share his thoughts on leadership with former Westport Library trustee Maggie Mudd.

He’ll talk about how decisions get made, particularly under duress; crisis management, conflict resolution and more. Leadership lessons are applicable to every walk of life, Mudd notes.

Click here to register for the free virtual program.

Mike Hayes

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And finally (and I do mean “finally”) …

Roundup: Capuli Restaurant, Suzuki Music, Starbucks, More

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Despite the pandemic headwinds, new restaurants continue to open in Westport.

Don Memo, Walrus Alley, Manna Toast, Hudson Malone, Outpost Pizza and Basso have all opened their doors, despite restrictions on dining.

Yesterday, Capuli joined them.

Like its predecessors in the Post Road East space opposite Bank of America — Westport Pizzeria, and before that Joe’s Pizza and S&M Pizza — it will serve pies.

But the cuisine is called California-Mediterranean fusion, featuring “a variety of fresh ingredients, low in saturated fats, whole grains, seasonal vegetables, lean meats and seafood.”

They plan on primarily takeout meals at the start. Call 203-557-9340, or email capuli.westport@gmail.com for more information.

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The pandemic has also affected Suzuki Music Schools. But their classical music education and performance schedule has simply moved from Colonial Green to cyberspace.

The popular children’s Pillow Concert” series returns January 24, and continues through spring. Family-friendly concerts give children a chance to be up close and personal with performers beyond the front row (and they’re encouraged to bring pillows to create seats at the artists’ feet).

Online master classes and interactive workshops will be conducted by widely acclaimed artists like violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Regina Carter. They’re open to audit for non-students for the first time (for a small suggested donation to the school).

The 4th annual Connecticut Guitar Festival returns March 5-7. It goes global virtually this year, featuring international artists. Attendees can tune check out Suzuki Schools’ social media pages every week leading up to the festival for discussions famed guitarists about how they’ve performed during the pandemic.

For more information on Suzuki Music Schools, click here.

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To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, the Westport Public Art Collections announced a series of small rotating exhibitions. They’re part of a larger initiative to support nondiscrimination in the arts.

The first — opening at Town Hall on February 1 — explores longtime Westporter Tracy Sugarman’s civil rights activities during the Freedom Summer of 1964 in Mississippi.

The artist-reporter wrote, “I was determined to bring back real images of real people and real places so everyone could see American apartheid for what it really was.”

Tracy Sugarman died in 2013, at 91. To learn more about him, click here.

“July and 100 Degrees in the Shade at the Sanctified Church for Freedom School Kids, Ruleville”

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Colin Livingston writes:

“Has anyone ever mentioned the overflow Post Road traffic at the Starbucks drive-thru?

“I can’t tell you how many time I’ve driven by and thought it’s an accident in the making. I snapped this the other day leaving the Bank of America ATM next door. I could barely see the approaching traffic.

“I’ve got nothing against Starbucks. I just don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”

Colin, the topic has been addressed before. This has been going on for months — ever since the pandemic began.

I am stupefied that anyone would sit in a car for so long at any drive-thru. It’s particularly mind-boggling because there is a perfectly good Starbucks a mile or so down the road, at Stop & Shop. The biggest line I’ve ever seen there is one person.

You could drive, park, get your coffee, drink it — and do all your grocery shopping — in the time you’d spend on that Post Road Line.

Of course, it would mean getting out of your car …

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And finally … Phil Spector — the influential record producer who went from creating the famous Wall of Sound to prison for the murder of a woman in his home — died Saturday, of complications from COVID. He was 81.

Pic Of The Day #1370

Saugatuck River, and Riverwalk (Photo/Rowene Weems)

Pics Of The Day #1369

Deadman’s Brook flows into the Saugatuck River by the Levitt Pavilion … (Photo/Judy Jahnel)

… and nearby, earlier this winter (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Roundup: Vaccine, Scavenger Hunt, Art, More

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The COVID vaccine is now available in Connecticut for people 75 or older. They (or someone helping them) can sign up online (click here). After registration, they’ll get an email detailing next steps.

There may be an initial delay in scheduling, but access should grow quickly soon.

More than 100 healthcare providers statewide will offer the vaccine. More locations and a map of them will be available in coming weeks.

The scheduling link also contains a list of frequently asked questions about the vaccine.

People without internet access, or who need help, can call 877-918-2224 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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Brendan Murphy’s works are drawing raves at his one-man show at the POP’TArt gallery downtown.

In return, the fast-rising contemporary artist asked curator Jennifer Haviland how he could support Westport. She chose an organization she loves: Wakeman Town Farm.

Murphy chose one of his 8-layer silver-based chrome heart sculptures, and offered it for auction. Measuring 24 x 24 x 8 inches, it’s valued at $18,000.

The heart is on display with Murphy’s show, “96% Stardust” at POP’Tart (1 Main Street).

Auction co-chair Nicole Gerber says, “Wakeman Town Farm has a rich history in Westport, and resides at the heart of our community. The Farm is committed to inspiring local residents through sustainable practices, education opportunities, and community service. In this crucial time in our history, The Farm is actively supporting local organizations focused on alleviating food insecurity in our area. We are honored to support a nonprofit that allows the people it serves to serve others as well.”

Bidding starts at $5,000, by email: BrendanHeartWakeman@gmail.com. For more information on the auction, click here. For more information about Brendan Murphy, click here.

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The Westport Parks and Recreation Department invites you to participate in a socially distanced “scavenger hunt”, hosted by the Goosechase App!

Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt?

Westport’s Parks & Recreation Department is organizing one, for families or teams.

Registrants first download the GooseChase app on their phones, search for the “Westport Winter Goose Chase,” then click here to receive a game password.

Winners get a gift basket of items from Westport businesses. For more information, click here.

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One River — the art and design school — is sponsoring a downtown show. The opening next Sunday (January 24, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.).

David Waldman and BTS Realty donated their storefronts: 33 Elm Street, Brooks Corner and Sconset Square. Two hundred works — from children to adults — will be on view through February 7.

Also included: One River’s high school portfolio development class, with traditional and digital works.

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It’s official: Most high school winter sports can begin tryouts and practices this Tuesday (January 19). Basketball, ice hockey, swimming, gymnastics and indoor track got the go-ahead yesterday from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Games may begin February 8, except for track which cannot compete until March. The number of games is limited; there will be no state tournaments, though a “post-season experience” can be held (similar to fall sports).

In addition, athletes will be required to wear masks during competitions. Coaches and players will also have to wear masks and be socially distanced on the sidelines. Officials are required to wear masks at all times.

There will be no wrestling or competitive cheer, however. The state Department of Public Health categorized those as “high-risk activities.”

Football — a fall sport — had hoped to play a shortened late winter/early spring season. However, the CIAC canceled that option yesterday.

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And finally … happy 87th birthday to the brilliant mezzo-soprano, Marilyn Horne!