Category Archives: Economy

Avi Kaner Hopes To Kick This Can Down The Road

Avi Kaner is a poster boy for civic involvement.

He’s chaired Westport’s Board of Finance, and served as 2nd selectman. He and his wife Liz are active members of Chabad of Westport, and lead philanthropic efforts in this town and Israel.

Now, Avi Kaner is a poster boy — and cover subject — in a battle against expansion of a New York law.

When Crain’s New York Business ran a long story on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to expand the state’s nickel-deposit law to include plastic and glass bottles containing juice, coffee and tea concoctions, plus sports and energy drinks, they illustrated it in print and online with a photo of a less-than-pleased Kaner — holding plastic bottles.

(Photo/Buck Ennis for Crain’s New York Business)

This issue has nothing to do with the Westporter’s civic work. His day job is co-owner of Morton Williams. That’s the family-owned chain of supermarkets, primarily in Manhattan, focused on fresh, organic, specialty and international foods.

Crain’s says Kaner “isn’t relishing the thought of folks bringing in a lot more bottles and cans” to his West 57th Street location. Morton Williams recently spent $10 million, turning the ground floor and lower level into retail space.

“We keep this place nice and clean, in fitting with the neighborhood,” Kaner told Crain’s. “The last thing we need is people bringing more of their garbage here.”

Customers can return up to 240 items a day. They are first stored near a street-facing window, then in the basement.

“It’s not an optimal use of space in a store where rent is $200 per square foot and every inch of shelving counts,” Crain’s says. Workers who sort the returnables earn $15 an hour.

Kaner is not anti-environment.

“Anything that can be done to prevent waste and help the planet is a good thing,” he told Crain’s. “But the economics of recycling don’t work for a business like ours.”

To read the full story — including its possible impact on curbside recycling — click here.

(Hat tip: John Karrel)

A Brain Tumor Survivor, Wealth Manager And Comedian Walk Into A Church…

Plenty of Westporters have plenty of remarkable stories.

Nathalie Jacob’s is more remarkable than most.

Raised in Colombia and schooled in France, she spent 10 years in high-level marketing jobs with Fortune 500 companies, in 5 countries. She and her husband were ready to begin a family when she was stricken with a brain tumor.

Surgery left her partially blind. She could not read or write. The only number she recognized was 8.

Recovery was brutal. Nathalie experienced life like a small child, all over again. Her path was long and arduous. It still continues.

Nathalie Jacob, with her daughter and her book.

Yet Nathalie — married to Simon Gilbert, with a 2-year-old daughter Nicole — has persevered. She re-learned simple tasks, then moved on to more complex ones.

She’s now the creator and admin of popular Facebook groups like Westport Stay-at-Home Moms, Westport Women and Tumores Cerebrales.

She’s also the author of a new book. “8: Rediscovering Life After a Brain Tumor” celebrates courage, resilience, and the importance of a fighting spirit.

Nathalie is always giving back. She’s donating all profits to the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance.

She launches her book this Friday (February 8, 7 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church). But “Health, Wealth & Fun” is not a solo event. Nathalie will share the stage at the evening of food, drinks and networking with 2 other talented Westporters. Both are introducing their own intriguing projects.

Kiana Danial is the Iranian-born, Jewish-raised CEO of InvestDiva.com, an award-winning personal investing and wealth management expert, and author of the new book “Cryptocurrency Investing for Dummies.”

Bari Alyse Rudin is an accomplished comedian, writer and producer. She launches her podcast, “Community News.”

President Kennedy once called a Nobel Prize dinner “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Friday’s Saugatuck Church event is not quite that. But it sure is a great night to celebrate health, wealth and the human spirit.

(For more information and to RSVP, click here. For more information on Nathalie Jacob’s book, click here. For Kiana Danial’s website, click here. For Bari Alyse Rubin’s podcast, click here. Hat tip: Christy Colasurdo.)

Patty And Paul Ring The NASDAQ Bell

It’s been a year since Patty Haberstroh’s family started the Hot Pepper Challenge, to raise funds for ALS. Three months earlier, she’d been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.

It’s been 3 years since the Frates family first did the Ice Bucket Challenge, for the same important cause.

This morning, Patty — the energetic, creative program specialist in Westport’s Human Services Department — her family, and the Frateses, were in New York. They rang the opening NASDAQ bell, in their continuing efforts to raise both funds and awareness of ALS.

They were joined by Westporter Paul LaHiff and his family. He too has ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Also on hand: ALS Foundation members, and representatives of the company that produces the Radicava drug.

Paul LaHiff (front, left) and Patty Haberstroh (front, right), with families and friends, this morning on the NASDAQ floor.

The ceremony was televised live on CNBC. And in case anyone missed Patty with her pepper shirt — well, look here:

Patty continues to advocate for ALS causes — and treatments. Yesterday, she was interviewed by WSHU. Click here for that inspiring story.

4 Ways To Make A Difference

Westporters care.

We care about our friends and neighbors. We care about kids and older folks in need, here and in nearby towns and cities.

We want to help — particularly in this holiday season.

But we don’t always know how.

Here are a few great ideas.


The Westport Police Department Local Union #2080 and Police Benevolent Association host an annual Holiday Toy Drive. Thousands of donations benefit underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and beyond.

Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys — and cash donations — in the ASF Sports parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on Saturdays and Sundays, December 8, 9, 15 and 16, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Collection boxes will also be set up from Monday (December 3) through December 16, at:

  • Westport Police Department, 50 Jesup Road (24 hours a day)
  • Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
  • ASF Sports, 1560 Post Road East (weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Questions? Email jruggiero@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-6017.

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Westport’s Department of Human Services annual, confidential Holiday Giving Program helps over 400 residents each year.

Donors contribute gift cards to local stores, supermarkets and gas stations. Cash donations are welcome too; Human Services staff uses them to make purchases for clients.

Checks (payable to “DHS Family Programs,” with “Holidays” on the memo line) and gift cards may be mailed to or dropped off at: Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Room 200, Westport, CT 06880.

For more information, email hsyouth@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1069. Individuals and families needing extra support during the holiday season should call 203-341-1050.


A new online option helps Westport’s most vulnerable residents this season — and beyond. Over 400 individuals and families in town meet the federal poverty level.

The “WeCare Westport” portal provides access to 7 funds:

The Barbara Butler Fund connects at-risk youth with enrichment opportunities.

The Residents in Need Fund provides emergency financial assistance for food, shelter, utilities, medical expenses and other critical needs to Westport residents meeting income guidelines.

The Senior Client Needs Fund serves seniors on limited or fixed incomes during periods of financial hardship.

The Family-to-Family Fund supports offers help with unforeseen expenses during times of financial hardship.

Toquet Hall, located downtown, offers social, cultural and recreational opportunities to teenagers.

Prevention and Educational Programming gives free education and awareness events addressing substance abuse, mental health and parenting education.

Donors who want to help but have no preference of which population to assist can direct funds to the Area of Most Need. This assists residents of any age, when most urgently needed.

To donate to any of these 7 funds, click here.


In recent years, Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School has become a favorite destination for Westporters hoping to help youngsters enjoy the holidays.

The school serves children in high poverty brackets. Some live in shelters. 100% are fed breakfast and lunch at school.

Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

Westporters can provide some of those gifts, for children in pre-K through 3rd grade.

It’s easy: Click here to order online from Amazon. Orders from the Wish List will be shipped directly to the school. They are also accepting donations at the Family Resource Center in the school (606 Howard Avenue, Bridgeport).  Call 203-579-8526 for drop-off times. For more information, email blabrador@bridgeportedu.net.

In addition, Lucy’s (23 Jesup Road, next to Green and Tonic ) is taking donations for the Cesar Batalla School. Unwrapped new toys can be dropped off Mondays through Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays noon to 5pm).

If interested, act now! Gifts will be given by Santa on December 20.

In 2016, Westporters donated these gifts to the Cesar Batalla School.

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(These are only a few ways to help. To add your own favorite cause, click “Comments” below.)

 

And For Just A Few Bitcoins More, We’ll Throw In the Chandelier

Last May, I published a real estate listing.

It wasn’t my new side gig. What made the 5 Ridgewood Road property “06880”-worthy was the price.

You could snag the 5-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath, 4200-square foot home off North Kings Highway for just 250BTC. Or 3,030ETH.

Those aren’t typos. That was the cryptocurrency price.

“Be the first to make a Blockchain Home purchase,” the New York Times said.

5 Ridgewood Lane is off North Kings Highway, between Wilton Road and Old Hill.

This week, the house finally sold.

The buyer paid $1,510,000. The listing price — once it was changed to dollars — was $1,588,000.

Alert “06880” reader David Loffredo notes that when the home was first marketed at 250 bitcoin, BTC was $8,333. That equated to a little over $2 million.

Today, David says, BTC is $3,752. So the owner would have less than $1 million of it in the bank, had he or she accepted the cryptocurrency and held onto it.

Which, he adds, “so many of them do. They remember when it was closer to $20K.”

The moral of the story?

All that glitters is not gold.

Lots Of Shoppers

With little fanfare, the new Elm Street parking lot is now open.

It’s next to Bedford Square — on the site of the former Villa del Sol restaurant.

It — and every other downtown lot — was packed today. Already, drivers are ignoring arrows and roaring the wrong way through it.

Meanwhile, temperatures rose from yesterday’s record-setting lows, and Westporters shrugged off the stock market’s lows.

Downtown was jammed, with shoppers seeking Black Friday bargains. The holiday season — the longest possible, as Thanksgiving came on the earliest possible date — is off to a strong start.

How’s Business? We’re #3!

Chain stores are fleeing Main Street. “Retail Space Available” signs fill the Post Road. “06880” commenters warn that high taxes, crumbling infrastructure and many other factors put our town in peril.

But a business environment is more than merchants. And a new study from the Yankee Institute ranks Westport as Connecticut’s 3rd most business-friendly town.

The public policy institute collected and measured data from the state’s 50 largest municipalities. Criteria included economic vitality (median income and job growth), tax burden, transportation, and “community allure” (education, crime rates, cost of living).

The Yankee Institute report says Westport is

heavily reliant on financial service companies, with over 7,000 financial-sector employees. Major companies include Bridgewater Associates and Canaan Partners from the financial services area. But Westport is also home to Terex, a Fortune 500 industrial equipment manufacturing company.

Westport is home base for Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund.

The Yankee Institute adds: “Westport’s score was lowered by its high tax burden. But high community allure, economic vitality and transportation infrastructure kept it high on our list.”

I’m not sure what “transportation infrastructure” means — something about ports of entry, interstate highways and rail lines — but we’ll take it.

Westport followed Fairfield and Greenwich. Ridgefield was 4th, Simsbury 5th — meaning the state’s 4 most business-friendly towns are in Fairfield County.

The least business-friendly places were cities like Waterbury, New Haven and Hartford. All face severe fiscal challenges. Stamford was the only major city to score in the top 25.

To celebrate our town’s ranking, “06880” invites you to treat yourself to something nice — a gift perhaps, or a meal.

Anywhere in town that’s open.

(Click here for the full report. Hat tip: Avi Kaner)

Superintendent Offers Update On Coleytown Middle School

This afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Colleen Palmer emailed the families of all Westport students. The topic: the current and future status of Coleytown Middle School, closed earlier this fall due to mold. She wrote:

Fourteen days into our new school year, I made the decision to relocate our students and staff from CMS to another facility for what I believed to be approximately a month. As events unfolded, that decision not to return to the CMS facility expanded to the entire school year.

Now, the district and town will be faced with the next steps in either remediating this school or choosing to invest differently in the future of this district.

There is nothing more sacred to any community than its school district; the quality of the educational process reflects the values of its citizens. Westport has never wavered from its commitment to a world-class system, and any next steps should encompass this belief as its foundational value.

As we move through the next steps of clarifying the future direction, it is imperative that all stakeholders feel assured that any process will be inclusive of our community. We could never have the best outcome for our children’s education if we did not work together to determine that pathway.

Coleytown Middle School

Below I have listed some key information to bring everyone up to date:

What do we know right now and what are the decisions ahead?

·       The District has made a formal application for the right to install 6 modular classrooms at BMS and 2 at SHS through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).  Working with our middle school administration, and James D’Amico and AJ Scheetz, they have determined that we can work through this year and provide science access for the 8th grade students without adding modular classrooms at SHS.

When we go before the ZBA, we only request for the permission to add modulars to SHS as a back-up for future needs, but we will not order the modulars for SHS now. We expect the request to the ZBA to be for a period of 3 years – again, this is permission to put modular classrooms there, we don’t need to have them for 3 years or we may never need them at SHS. It is a complicated and costly process to go to ZBA, and asking for possible needs of the future makes sense now.

·       The 6 BMS modular classrooms (assuming we get all the Town approvals ASAP) should be installed in January 2019. All town officials have been working in every way possible to assist our efforts, which has been so very helpful to move the approval process along.

·        A revised schedule of classes was put in place this week for our middle schools to ensure no teacher has only a few minutes between classes to get to another school to start teaching again and to better use the classroom space.

·       New lockers for CMS students will be installed next week at BMS.

·       The town attorney provided an opinion to us that we cannot seek to have a cover installed over any of our athletic fields at BMS given the various agreements that are in place with neighbors of the school property. We will not pursue the cover for the field based on this information. The new schedule at BMS limits PE classes to 6 at any given time, which can be accommodated with current gym/fitness space and the cafeteria for low-impact activities (non-lunch times.)

·       The architectural firm will provide a comprehensive update of the CMS facility at the BoE meeting on Monday, November 5, at 7:30 p.m. We expect that they will provide a complete update of what it would take to remediate the school, as well as the cost to build a new one. Given the extensive problems already identified with the preliminary engineering reports posted on the CMS website, we anticipate hearing that we will be out of the CMS facility through all of next year as well, no matter if the BoE/Town opt to repair the school or go another direction.

Bedford Middle School

What does it mean if we find out we cannot use the CMS facility for the 2019-20 school year?

·       We will need to plan to house our students next year with our 7 facilities and perhaps some modulars and/or rented space.

·       We have a RFP out to identify a realtor in the next week or so to assist with our search for real estate that we could rent.

·       There are a multitude of ways that we could house our district next year, and each approach will be vetted for feasibility/effectiveness. As we review various ideas for housing students, we will consider the ability to deliver the educational program in the space provided, transportation, disruption to students/family/ district, cost, and any other relevant factors that impact how we serve our students and families.

·       There are plenty of rumors, but some of the approaches we are considering include renting space for the entire CMS school, renting space for part of CMS, moving grade 6 back to the elementary schools (in various configurations) with BMS holding all grade 7/8, renting space for preschool and kindergarten and using elementary for grades 1-6 with BMS 7/8.

As you can imagine, almost any way we can look at next year is being considered. While double sessions at BMS would be an option, there are numerous ways this would undermine the delivery of the educational program with a shortened day and there would be significant disruption to students and staff with the morning session from 7:00 a.m. to noon and the afternoon session from 12:40 p.m. to 5:40 p.m.

At this time, we do not have plans to house other students at SHS next year.  It is our goal to maintain SHS solely for 9-12, but we cannot guarantee at this time until the final plan for next year is completed.

Staples High School (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

·       We are in the midst of creating a budget for 2019-20, and I am responsible for a complete budget proposal to the BoE for 2019-20 in January 2019, about 9 weeks from now. Needing to build the budget for the Town approval process will put added pressure on the district to decide how we will structure ourselves next year as soon as possible.

We plan to bring forth the most promising proposals for next year in the next few weeks so the Board may weigh in on these as soon as possible. We will also create opportunities for families and staff to help give us feedback on options for next year as well before a decision is made by the BoE for 2019-2020.

Where are we going long-term, beyond 2019-2020?

·       Once the BoE/town officials have all the numbers of the cost of remediation, the decision needs to be made whether to repair or not. If the decision is made not to remediate, it would be appropriate that the district would contract to have all of its facilities assessed for future educational use in terms of the capacity of each school, educational use of the school, upgrades or repairs required, and other relevant facilities information on each structure.

We may not have an answer to any long-term direction of space usage right away if the district/town do not repair the school.  Most likely that would be require a period of months to determine, with opportunities for all parents and citizens to have a voice in the process.

What will be the process for inclusion of all stakeholders if the district/town determine CMS facility should not be remediated and other options should be considered?

·       The Board of Education and the administration have worked to be fully transparent in all decisions and work thus far as the district has grappled with the very unexpected closure of one of our middle schools in the midst of a school year. Key documents and reports have all been posted online, either at the CMS website or on the District website where all Board meetings agendas, minutes, and videos of meetings are maintained.

·       The Board of Education has made a public pledge to ensure an inclusive process with all stakeholders if the CMS facility is not remediated and next steps for the future of the District are on the table. Until that decision is made regarding the future of CMS, it has been premature to articulate a definitive planning approach for the future. If and when the decision would be made not to save CMS, the Board would act accordingly to invite the voices of all stakeholders.

What are the current conditions for our middle school students?

·       First and foremost, if you have any specific concerns regarding your own student, please contact the respective principal directly to discuss. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo welcome hearing from parents to assist in any way. If it is just an issue related to a specific course, it is best to start the conversation at the teacher level.

However, if you have any concerns, let us know. Our team of professionals is eager to work with you to resolve any lingering issues from the shift in facilities this year. We take care of our students one child at a time, and will remain focused on concerns until they are resolved in the best interests of each child.

·       The instructional program remains of high quality to all students – teaching and learning are ongoing and our professionals are placing the needs of students as their top priority of their professional work.

·       Have there been some adjustments to space and time? Yes, but the integrity of the educational program continues.

·       Have there been some adjustments with clubs and activities? There have been a few adjustments, but not significant. Both Dr. Rosen and Ms. Szabo will participate in the update of our middle schools at the BoE meeting on November 5. They will personally speak to these issues and how they have creatively addressed some pressure points.

[UPDATE] Black Duck Employees’ GoFundMe Page Shuts Down

NOTE: The GoFundMe page referenced below has been shut down. A note says “No longer accepting donations.”

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Yesterday’s announcement was stunning: The Black Duck will close on Sunday.

No reason was given. Just like that — poof! — Westport’s iconic burger-and-bar joint will be gone.

Earlier today though, a GoFundMe page appeared.

Posted by “The Black Duck team” — described as “the remaining few long-time employees” — it offers a glimmer of hope. The goal is to raise $100,000, to keep the beloved barge restaurant open.

The crowdfunding plea reads:

The Black Duck Cafe, the last of “Old Westport,” the place of many first dates and first beers, home of famous burgers, wings and strong drinks, the place to “ruin your liver down by the river”…is drowning. We have been so fortunate to have served so many wonderful customers and friends for 40 years with the Saugatuck River as our backdrop, and are hoping to continue being able to serve you.

Our beloved old barge withstood Hurricane Sandy, the departure of near-celebrity status bartenders, rising food, liquor and utilities costs, and the takeover of Westport by brand name chains. Despite these changes, it is our long-time customers, camaraderie and meeting new customers that have kept us, the remaining few long-time employees, going.

Part of the Black Duck’s peril: increasingly frequent floods.

Consistency and “turning back of time” has been the Duck’s long-time appeal. Indeed, best-selling novelist Jane Green stated in 2017 that the Black Duck is “one of the few places where old Westport and new Westport meet.”

Yet this turning back of time, has also led to the accrual of increasing debts. Though we have had to increase our prices over the years, these increases have been disproportionately lower than the increasing food costs. In other words, our commitment to being one of the last affordable, laid-back restaurants in lower Fairfield County has caught up to us. In the last 6 months, we’ve been experiencing slower business and now have fallen on significant financial hardship, and are facing the biggest challenge of the Black Duck’s 40 years of business.

It is devastating to think that we won’t be part of Westport and a part of your lives anymore. If our small barge on Riverside Ave becomes empty, so many of you, our guests, will no longer have your go-to place to go to, so we the employees, are doing everything we can to keep it going.

We need to raise cash immediately. Our hope is that with the money raised, that the Duck will be able to stay open for this month and next month.  This money will get us through the slower time.  We would love your help and we are so thankful for your business over the years and for taking a look at our campaign!

Love humbly from the entire Black Duck team.

So far, $300 has been raised.

Duck-lovers: Now’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. (Right around those wings, steamers and onion rings.)

Click here for the Black Duck’s GoFundMe page.

(Hat tip: Jennifer Rankine)

 

 

Get Your $15 Million Here!

Alert “06880” reader, former 2nd selectman and — particularly germane to this story, former Board of Finance chair — Avi Kaner writes:

The State of Connecticut holds over $918 million of unclaimed checks, stock shares, etc. Westport residents currently have 17,646 items worth over $15 million just sitting in Hartford waiting to be claimed. We are of course in the top 10!

To claim, simply click here; enter your name; print out the claim form, and send in with proof of identity.

New York makes claiming money much easier. It can all be done online; there’s no need for mail. Here’s the link, for the many Westporters who are former New Yorkers.

Avi Kaner gets a very grateful hat tip for this.

And speaking of tips: If any of that lost — and now found — $15 million is yours, why not donate some of it to your favorite charity?

Or “06880.”