Category Archives: Downtown

Downtown Employee Seeks Innovative Solution

One of the things I love about reader emails is that I never know what’s on your minds.

I get dozens a day. They range from the usual (entitled parking, sunset photos), to the obscure (“What was the name of that restaurant where …?”), to the unexpected.

The other day, a woman wrote with an issue I’d never thought of. But it’s one at least 50% of “0688o” readers probably have. She says:

I am a local resident and employee in downtown Westport.

I work for a small nonprofit. Our building is full of other small businesses. Our landlord is fantastic. However, this building was not intended for modern working lives. The entire building shares one tiny bathroom. We have no place to expand.

I am a few months pregnant with our first child. I am looking for the right accommodations post-pregnancy: a private, clean place to pump breast milk.

This should not be the way women have to pump at work.

I am sure many other employers on Main Street do not have the right accommodations for pumping either. I can’t be the only future mom working downtown with this issue.

I wonder: Are there shops with pumping facilities that are interested in opening up to other downtown merchants?

This could be for women shopping downtown too — not just working women.

Or maybe Westport could come together to find a merchant (or several) to sponsor sites that would be available to rent, or just use for the general benefit of the community.

This could be an interesting branding and social responsibility opportunity for local businesses — and another way to demonstrate Westport thinks outside the box. It could also be a way to utilize one of our many vacant storefronts.

My husband has worked in Westport for 10 years. We purchased a home and moved here in May.

We have found Westport to be a giving, supportive community. As the town focuses on innovative support for local businesses, this is another issue that needs addressing.

I reached out to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, but they’ve been understandably quite busy with the holiday season.

There you go, “06880” readers. I’m sure you’ll be great at crowd-sourcing ideas. Just click “Comments” below!

(For Connecticut laws regarding breastfeeding, click here.)

Banana Republic Peels Away

Add another vacancy to Main Street — and it’s a big one.

Banana Republic is closing January 10.

That’s all a store manager would say. She’s not allowed to give her name, she says — “company policy.”

What’s the reason? “The company decided to close us.” In 2017, Gap Inc. — the parent company — announced plans to shut about 200 “under-performing” Gap and Banana Republic stores.

Will they reopen elsewhere? “I’m not sure.”

How long have they been in the iconic storefront that for decades housed Klein’s Department store? “I’m not allowed to give that information out.”

An “06880” reader says a sales clerk told her their rent was tripled.

But that’s just the word on the (soon-to-be-empty #44 Main) Street.

Banana Republic on Main Street.

Last Slice For Westport Pizzeria

Westport Pizzeria served its first slice in the 1960s. It will serve its last in the 2020s.

The restaurant — after Gold’s, the longest-running food-serving establishment in Westport — will not make it much into the new decade. however. The iconic pizza place is closing January 11.

The news — first reported on WestportNow — stunned Westporters. “The pizzeria” — that was all you needed to call it — was a fixture on Main Street from Columbus Day, 1968 to February 2014. Owner Mel Mioli moved to his current location around the corner on the Post Road, across from Design Within Reach, when his lease was not renewed.

Westport Pizzera on Main Street. This photo could have been taken in 1968, or 2008.

Mioli — who founded the business with his brother Joe — figures that after 51 years of making pizzas (and memories), this is a good time to retire. Joe left the business in 2004, and served 3 terms as state representative.

Many other Miolis have worked at Westport Pizzeria. But none — including his 2 sons — wanted to carry on the tradition.

And what a tradition it was. The pizza was not gourmet — but it was great. The decor was simple — but it was fine. What counted was the food, the consistency, and the folks behind the counter.

Plus the memories. Thanks for all of them, from all of Westport, to all the Miolis.

Westport Pizzeria owner Mel Mioli. His shirt says, “Serving generations with kindness and love since 1968!”

In October 2018, Westport Pizzeria celebrated its 50th anniversary. Here’s how “06880” covered that story.

In October 1968, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey battled it out for the presidency. Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave glove-and-fist black power salutes on the medal stand at the Mexico City Olympics. “Hey Jude” sat atop the record charts.

And on October 12, 1968 — its opening day of business — Westport Pizzeria sold a slice for 25 cents.

Joe and Mel Mioli, with staff and customers in the early days.

In October 2018, we all know what happened after Nixon became president. We’ve seen how far our country’s race relations have progressed — and how much further we have to go. “Hey Jude” is still a great song.

It costs quite a bit more than a quarter to buy a slice these days. Westport Pizzeria is no longer an anchor on Main Street.

But it hasn’t gone far — just around the corner, on Post Road East. And the special, basic-but-so-good recipe has never changed.

A familiar sight.

This Friday (October 12) the pizza place celebrates its 50th anniversary with a special deal: They’ll sell slices for 25 cents. Sodas are even cheaper: 15 cents.

In 1968, Westport Pizzeria was the only game in town. Now there’s competition everywhere, from thick-crust Planet and gourmet Tarry Lodge to train station Romanacci.

But the Mioli family — the founders and still the only owners of Westport Pizzeria — must be doing something right. A restaurant doesn’t last 50 years here on luck alone.

Some don’t even last 50 days.

Some things never change.

Westport Pizzeria, on the Post Road. The “For Rent” sign was for the apartment above.

First Light Festival Shines Downtown On New Year’s Eve

Late last year, when First Night Westport announced it was unable to continue after 20-plus years, the Westport Historical Society stepped into the breach. On short notice, it sponsored family-friendly New Year’s Eve fun.

The past year brought a change. The WHS is now known as the Westport Museum for History and Culture. But once again, they’re hosting a New Year’s Eve event.

The 2nd annual First Light Festival includes horse-drawn carriage rides, face painting, a warming fire, live music by Verbatim, games, “Office” episodes and short films (with popcorn and cocoa), ballroom dancing, stargazing with the Westport Astronomy Club, tarot reading and henna tattoos.

Last year’s horse-drawn sleigh ride.

Sites include Wheeler House (the Museum’s home), Veterans Green, Christ & Holy Trinity Church and Toquet Hall.

Buttons are $10 online (click here), $15 at the door. There is no charge for children 2 years old and under. For schedule, sites and more information, click here.

Pop Goes The Art Gallery

It’s a familiar scene on Main Street: A tenant moves out. Landlords leave the space vacant for a long time, searching for the perfect replacement. Or at least, someone willing to pay the sky-high rent.

But take a look at #1. One of the most visible properties downtown — it’s in the old library building, at the Post Road intersection across from Taylor Place — it was formerly the site of Calypso. The “luxury lifestyle brand” moved out more than 2 years ago.

The space is still available. But for the past few months, it’s been occupied — very vibrantly — by a pop-up art gallery.

#1 Main Street

Pop’TArt is the brainchild of Mark Yurkiw. A longtime Westporter and physicist by training, he spent his career helping Fortune 500 companies launch products and services. Part of that involved creating story-telling sculptures for media outlets like Newsweek and Fortune.

His works include a rendition of the Capitol. Commissioned by the George W. Bush White House, it was signed by 256 members of Congress.

In 1995 Yurkiw created a piece of a real estate developer named Donald Trump. He had bought a hotel on Columbus Circle, and wanted to brand it with his name.

A few months ago, in a conversation with fellow Westport artists Miggs Burroughs and Amy Kaplan, Yurkiw learned that Rick Yarmy was looking for a way to champion local artists.

Yarmy’s is the longtime property manager for Win Properties. They handle #1 Main Street (and many other retail spaces across the country).

Yurkiw called. He told Yarmy his idea: a gallery with works that would push visitors to think about current news and headlines.

Yarmy said “sure!”

Yurkiw found a curator. Jennifer Haviland was working in Southampton. But she took a leap of faith, and moved here.

Together, they set out to find local artist who could create or re-purpose pieces to fit a theme.

The current show — called “Words Matter,” because each work’s title is important — includes some of Yurkiw’s own previous efforts. His Capitol sculpture, for example, is called “Re-Birth of a Nation.” Recalling D.W. Griffith, with an egg shape that suggests birth.

Mark Yurkiw with “Re-Birth of a Nation.” Behind him is another work: “New National Bird.” It’s a monarch butterfly.

Yurkiw froze his own passport. He calls it “Passport on ICE.” It’s provocative. But — as with every piece in the show — Yurkiw says, “people can decide how or what to feel for themselves.”

“Passport on ICE,”

Another example: a monarch butterfly, called “New National Bird.” Some people may look at it and think about all the birds that are disappearing. Others might say, “They migrate from Mexico.” Or, “Oh, we now have a monarch.”

Chris Calle — who has designed 32 US stamps, many relating to space — contributed a diptych. Titled “Fragile,” the two parts — “Climate” and “Change” — show the earth from space, in two very different forms. One is lush; the other, arid.

Reaction to Pop’TArt has been excellent, Yurkiw says. And Yarmy — the landlord’s representative — is so excited at the chance to showcase art in an otherwise empty space that he’s talking with Yurkiw about moving the show to other properties.

The storefront is still for rent. But, Yurkiw says, Yarmy sees the gallery as an asset. Potential tenants are excited to see foot traffic, and can envision their own store there.

Curator Jennifer Haviland, with Steven Goldstein’s Paul Newman art.

Meanwhile, Yurkiw forges ahead. He’s spoken with Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman about doing readings at Pop’TArt.

“We want to bring as many artists here, of all kinds, for as long as we can,” he says.

And when #1 Main Street gets rented — well, there are plenty of other vacant storefronts downtown.

(Pop’TArt is open Thursday through Sunday, from 12 to 6 p.m.)

Friday Flashback #173

After more than 2 decades of “First Night”s, Tuesday marks the 2nd New Year’s Eve without the long tradition.

It ended last year. Several factors — including fewer volunteers, decreasing corporate sponsors and dropping attendance — led to the end of the family-friendly, alcohol-free event.

In a few years, First Night will join other season celebrations — Festival Italiano, anyone? — in the “remember when?” category.

For now, here’s a fond look back at First Nights past:

Horse-drawn sleighs roamed downtown. Photo/Dan Woog)

Fireworks over the Saugatuck (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

And, for good measure, let’s remember the Christmas crane that towered over Westport just 4 years ago, during the construction of Bedford Square.

(Photo/Wendy Cusick)


If You Thought All That Construction At The Post Road And Riverside Was About A Turning Lane …

… think again.

A new utility pole just went up at what has been called “the worst intersection in the state.”

(Photo/Jeff Manchester)

I’m going waaaay out on a limb here with a prediction for 2020:

Traffic will continue to suck there.

Pic Of The Day #983

Heartfelt feelings near the bridge from the Levitt Pavilion to the Imperial Avenue parking lot (Photo/Johanna Rossi)

Happy Boxing Day!

And what better way to celebrate than by boxing in another car at Parker Harding Plaza?

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

According to alert “06880” reader Chip Stephens — who was as gobsmacked as I was to see this — there was no driver in the car.

And, Chip says, there were empty spaces nearby.

Parker Harding is not the easiest lot to navigate in the best of times. I can’t imagine what it was like with this vehicle planted there.

Meanwhile, a couple of hours later and across Main Street in Brooks Corner, this pickup driver figured, hey, why pull all the way in?

(Photo/Joan Nevin)

No vehicles could get around him. Mayhem ensued.

The driver did not care. He was nowhere in sight.

Pic Of The Day #981

Downtown Westport, by drone (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)