Category Archives: Economy

Board Of Finance Delays Beach Concession Discussion; Chair Gives Somber Fiscal Assessment

Westporters who tuned in from home last night to watch the Board of Finance discuss the new Compo and Longshore beach concessionaire got a surprise.

As the meeting began, chair Brian Stern announced that the agenda item has been moved to April 15. The COVID-19 crisis necessitates the rewriting of the first year of the contract, so more time is needed before a board vote.

Stern moved quickly to an overview of the virus’ effect on town finances, and the budget process that lies ahead.

Acknowledging the difficulties faced by residents, businesses and non-profits, he admitted, “No one knows how long or deep this will be.”

Westport’s pension fund has already plunged from $350 million to $300 million. However, he assured his fellow members, “benefits are secure.”

Brian Stern chaired the remote Board of Finance meeting. Members joined from home.

As the country heads into a recession, Stern said, the town will be hit with non-recoverable costs. The Parks & Recreation Department, for example, could lost $ 1 million to $2 million, from its $5.2 million budget.

Effects on the state of Connecticut, meanwhile, will be “huge.” Deferred income tax and plunging sales tax revenue will be “devastating. And these big numbers will trickle down to our little town.”

There are some mitigating factors. For example, Westport will save money by paying fewer Parks & Rec summer workers, and see lower utility costs in schools.

But those savings come with costs: “There will be fewer Westporters at the beach, and our kids are not going to school.”

If the coronavirus crisis continues into summer, crowds may be down at Compo Beach. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Stern counseled his Board of Finance colleagues: “Be prudent.”

He promised,”We will protect town services, pensions and benefits. Our reserves are robust, and our tax base is strong. But we must be proactive, and frugal.”

COVID-19 Roundup: Small Businesses And Loans; Face Masks; Realtors; $1200 Checks; Good Deeds; Podcasts; More

The Staples High School Gridiron Club has a great idea.

They emailed all members, reminding them of the many local businesses that supported them over the years with donations to fundraisers, ads in program books and (much) more.

Now is the time to pay it back. “Please take every opportunity to support our sponsors by purchasing their goods and services whenever and wherever possible,” they say. They included a list of dozens of sponsors, just as a reminder.

Think how many Westport organizations have been helped by local merchants. If you know of someone who donated to your cause in the past — well, what are you waiting for?

ASF often contributes to local fundraisers. You can shop online to help them — and many other merchants — now.


Jennifer Hrbek reports that Yale New Haven Health desperately needs hand sewn masks.

Click here for a pocket pattern. Donations can be mailed to Yale New Haven Health (Attn.: PPE Donations), 600 Derby Ave., West Haven, CT 06516. They can also be dropped off there Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

You can donate sewn masks that do not follow the pocket pattern too. YNHHS will pass them on to homeless shelters.

Jennifer and her friend, Bedford Middle School teacher Caroline Davis, have been making masks regularly. “They’re desperately needed. And working on them with kids is a great way to teach life skills,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer Hrbek, with sewing machine and mask.


Connecticut’s 0% interest loan program for small businesses and non-profits with fewer than 100 employees is great.

Unless you’re on the list of prohibited applicants.

You’re ineligible if you are “involved in real estate, multi-level marketing, adult entertainment, cannabis or firearms.” You also cannot be a state elected public official or state employee.

I understand the possible conflicts of interest around state officials and employees. But it seems to me the other groups listed have just as many small business worries as any restaurant, market, gift shop or toy store.

And realtors? I can’t imagine there were any open houses last weekend — or will be, over the next few weeks.


Amy Messing writes: “My husband and I plan to donate whatever we get from the government to help during the crisis. Other people may be moved to do the same.

“Do any local fundraising efforts distribute money to restaurant workers, small businesses and others in need? Also, are there any needs for volunteer help that you can identify?”

There are many. This morning, Westporter Stephanie Webster’s great CTBites.com featured a list of many restaurant funds. Click here to see (and note that locally it includes both Match Burger Lobster and Artisan).

I told Amy that I’d crowd-source others. Please click “Comments” below, and let us all know your favorite fundraisers and volunteer opportunities.


One positive side effect of the coronavirus: crime is way down.

I’m on the email list for regular updates from the Westport Police. Usually, the list of arrests for things like distracted driving and speeding is 6 or 8 pages long.

This morning there was just 1  (for “failure to obey control signal.”)

Often too there are 4 to 6 “custodial arrests” (aka lockups), for crimes like domestic violence, larceny and sexual assault.

For the last week, there have been none.

Nice to know that even criminals are self-isolating.


This weekend Elise, Penelope and Daphne Eisenberger painted hearts and positive messages on rocks they, their dad Nico and mother Robin Bates collected at Burying Hill Beach. 

Yesterday they put them (in places no one would need to touch) by the entrances to Westport EMS, the police station, Greens Farms fire station and post office, their pediatrician’s office and a few other spots. They saw similar signs around town.

“It won’t stop anyone from getting sick, or make anyone better who is,” Nico says. “But we hope it’s helpful in some small way to those who work hard to keep us all safe.”

Coincidentally, just a few minutes before I published this piece, I got an email from EMS deputy director Marc Hartog. He writes about those stones:

“We don’t know who placed them there or when, but everyone here is incredibly moved that someone, or some group, thought about us and wanted to show their support.

“This is another example of everyday people doing whatever they can during this crisis, even just to boost the morale of our personnel on the front lines. We wish we could thank them, let them know that this gesture is so appreciated. Maybe if you post this, even though we can’t do it in person, they will know.”

Done. And PS: Now you know!

Elise, Penelopoe and Daphne Eisenberger.


Lauren Braun Costello is making lemonade — more accurately perhaps, lemon tarts or meringue pie — during this time of lemons.

Every day during the pandemic, she’s on Instagram Live with tips and tricks to stretch pantries, and help us feed our families.

Lauren is a classically trained chef, with an impressive CV. Check out itslaurenofcourse.com on Instagram.


Yesterday’s rain did not stop Doris Ghitelman.

The Westporter had to go shopping. So she called 4 high-risk neighbors and friends, and asked what they needed.

“It makes me happy to the core to help,” she says. “There’s always a silver lining 😊🧡”

PS: Nice gloves!


Across the world, John Karrel reports, people are putting teddy bears in all kinds of places: windows. Front porches. Roofs.

The idea is for parents to walk around with their kids, counting as many as they find. It’s a scavenger hunt anyone can help with.

John’s already spotted a couple of teddy bears in Greens Farms. Time to add yours! (And if you don’t have one, plenty of toy stores in Westport can help.)


Every week for decades, the Y’s Men meet to hear intriguing speakers.

COVID-19 has halted that tradition. But the Y’s Men are resourceful and resilient.

They’ve developed a podcast series — and they’re sharing them with the world.

Recent guests included internist Dr. Robert Altbaum and epidemiologist Dr. Pietro Marghello, plus that guy who writes the “06880” blog.

Today John Brandt interviews the CEO of a major wholesale distributor to national supermarkets. He’ll talk about the supply chain.

Click here for all the Y’s Men podcasts.


A former Westporter — now a college professor — is asking her students to interview (by phone or video) someone over the age of 70, with pre-selected questions.

Westporters and non-Westporters who are chatty and game should send names, brief bios and contact info to kochel491@gmail.com by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“At a time when people are lonely and the lessons I’d originally planned seem increasingly irrelevant, I hope this project will be meaningful to both interviewers and interviewees,” she says.


And finally, here’s a gift from Berklee College of Music. It’s been home to a number of Westporters. They’ve chosen well.

COVID-19 Roundup: Farmers’ Market Supports Vendors; Aid For Small Businesses; Videos, Art, And More

The Westport Farmers’ Market is between seasons. But they never stop helping their shoppers — or their farmers.

At a time when healthy, fresh food is especially important; when supermarket shopping carries risks, and purveyors — like all of us — have been rocked by COVID-19, the Farmers’ Market has a plan.

Just click here. Scroll down; click on a logo to select a vendor (there are 8: Calf & Clover Creamery, Seacoast Mushrooms, Wave Hill Breads, Farmers & Cooks, Two Guys from Woodbridge, Paul’s Custom Pet Food, Herbacious Catering and Ox Hollow Farm).

Place your order. Pay directly on their site, by Wednesday noon.  You’ll receive info about your scheduled pickup time by 8 a.m. Thursday. (Delivery is available too — but only in Westport.)

If you’re picking up, at the appropriate time head to the Winter Farmers’ Market site: Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, 7 Sylvan Lane South. Your order will be bagged and waiting outside. Only the vendor and you will touch your bag.

Bring your own totes, if you’ve ordered several bags. “Bring your patience too,” the Farmers’ Market says. “We will figure this out together.”

Seems like the Farmers’ Market has already figured out most of it. Now all we have to do is order — and thank them, and their awesome farming partners.


Alert reader Marshall Kiev passes along a great summary of the relevant small business relief portion of the recently enacted CARES Act.

“This relief package should be an important  lifeline to many small businesses in Westport – coffee shops, butchers, hair salons, etc.,” he says. “Let’s get the word out to everyone. Many of these businesses are shut down, and owners may not be aware of the available funding.”

Click here to view — then forward far and wide!

Many shuttered Westport businesses can benefit from recent legislation. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)


I’ve written before about Cup of Sugar: the fantastic local group providing deliveries of food, medication and anything else for people in need. (Just click here, then click “Request a Delivery.”)

Nick Ribolla was ready to graduate this spring, from Columbia University. He’s finishing online, but wants to help his home town. He signed up with Cup of Sugar. Still, he is eager to do even more.

He has a lot to offer. He’s sharp, multi-talented, funny and fun. (He’s also got plenty of experience with kids, as a longtime camp counselor).

Nick can help youngsters via Zoom with humanities (“especially English and creative writing”), and Spanish. He’ll also help them manage their workloads. “Whatever I can do, I’ll do,” he says simply.

Call or text: 203-451-9453. And of course, say “gracias.”

Nick Ribolla


The Westport Police Department has put together some great videos. A variety of Westporters (see how many you know!) offer messages — “stay strong!” “keep your distance!” “keep buying local!” — via their Facebook page.

Just search on FB for “Westport Police Department.” Or click here for the latest (with a cameo by yours truly); click here for another, and click here for the first.


Once again, Dr. Scott Gottlieb appeared on a Sunday morning news show, direct from his Westport yard.

This morning, the former FDA commissioner told “Face the Nation” that coronavirus restrictions should remain in place ahead of a “difficult April,” and that the US might have “millions” of cases over the next few months.

Click here for the interview.


Coleytown Elementary School art teacher Deb Goldenberg is working with her colleagues around town to help every school share positive messages — through art, of course.

Students are drawing or making designs, then adding brief ideas like “Spread kindness and love.” They’re encouraged to experiment with patterns and fonts. Messages will be included with the school’s Morning News.


In today’s Persona interview, Jimmy Izzo discusses why shopping local is more important than ever. Click here for a clip, then download the app for the full Q&A.

Jimmy Izzo


And finally, if you’re missing a loved one — well, in a pandemic, just follow doctor’s orders.

PS: Sure, get up and dance. No one’s watching!

Jr’s: No Place To Meet, But Meeting The Challenge

It’s “Cheers” without the beer.

Since 1976, Jr’s Deli & Grille has welcomed everyone in the neighborhood — and beyond — with its good food and friendly vibe.

Founded on Riverside Avenue by Saugatuck native Junior Bieling as a hot dog stand, it grew under his nephew Jeff Arciola into a full-scale deli, plus catering and a food truck.

Owned for the last 6 years by Eric Johnson, Jr’s is legendary for its diverse crowd. CEOs and hedge fund titans share the tables and — especially — the counter with teachers, masons, plumbers and working moms.

There’s plenty of banter, on both sides of that counter. It truly is “where everyone knows your name” (and a lot more about you).

Jr’s owner Eric Johnson (left), and loyal employee Staples High School student Sam Seideman.

Earlier this month, Johnson was planning his next project: an outdoor patio in back, along the Saugatuck River.

He’s still working on it. When people will get to enjoy it is anyone’s guess.

Jr’s is one of hundreds of small business in Westport slammed by the coronavirus. There are millions more across the country.

Each is special. But the Jr’s experience — scary and ongoing — opens a window into all.

Heeding a statewide order, Johnson can no longer serve inside. Jr’s offers curbside pickup and delivery owner only. They’re still in business — and sanitizing like crazy.

The Jr’s window says it all.

“It’s so much quieter than usual,” Johnson says. “But the locals have been fantastic. They’re buying lots of gift certificate. Whoever had that idea, it’s great.”

More than that, regulars call to check in. They ask how he and his staff are doing. They order takeout and delivery. They promise to be back as soon as they can. Their words and deeds lift the owners and employees’ spirits.

They do other things too. Someone ordered a 6-foot sub — and asked that it be delivered to the Gillespie Center.

That’s a win-win. It helps Jr’s stay alive — and feeds some of Westport’s most vulnerable citizens.

Jr’s is giving back too. Several part-time employees are Staples High School rugby players. (Johnson is an assistant coach for the Wreckers.) He knows how hard it is for students who are quarantined.

So he’s offering 15% off all deliveries for any youngsters stuck at home.

Johnson speaks for all small business owners when he tells Westporters, “It doesn’t matter who. Pick your favorite place. Buy a gift certificate. Buy a pizza. Let them know you’re there for them.”

“As long as the community keeps helping, I think we can make it,” he says.

(Click here for Jr’s’ website. The phone number is 203-227-9803. For the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce list of restaurants with curbside takeout and delivery, click here.)

Chamber Of Commerce: Support Local Stores — And Order Takeout!

In normal times, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce supports local businesses in a variety of ways: networking opportunities, marketing help, community-building events.

These are not normal times.

As COVID-19 attacks the country, some of the first casualties are small businesses.

When the first line of defense is social distancing — with isolation close on its heels — the last things on people’s minds are shopping for anything beyond necessities, or dining out.

When “wash your hands!” is the new mantra, no one is in the mood to handle merchandise in a store, or be served a meal in close proximity to others.

But small businesses need customers to survive. Even a small drop in patronage can spell the difference between paying the rent, paying employees, and going under.

Savvy + Grace on Main Street, one of many locally owned stores throughout town. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The Chamber is marshaling its resources to help.

They encourage Westporters to continue to shop locally. In addition, they recommend buying gift cards, to use later.  You can do this not just for stores, but nail salons, yoga studios — you name it.

“This small act, if done by many, will help infuse capital to help them hold over until next month,” the Chamber says.

For residents hesitant about eating out, Chamber executive director Matthew Mandell suggests takeout orders. Most restaurants offer that option; some deliver. And there’s always Uber Eats.

Oh, yeah: Mandell reminds everyone that the Great Westport Soup Contest continues all month. There are some things the coronavirus just can’t conquer.

State Senator Will Haskell (left) and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell pick up takeout at Arezzo. Of course, the meal includes soup.

The Chamber also says: “If you have ideas on how to help our businesses, let us know. It takes a community to support a community.”

It’s easy. Click here for their website contact form. Email info@westportwestonchamber.com. Or call 203-227-9234.

PS: It’s not only small stores that are affected by COVID-19. Patagonia announced yesterday that it is closing all 37 stores — and its online operations — indefinitely.

PPS: The US Small Business Administration offers low-interest disaster loans to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury from the coronavirus. It must be requested by governors. It is unclear how far along in the process Connecticut’s request is. For more information, click here or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Avi Kaner On CNN: Supermarket Sales “Very Intense”; New Yorkers “Resilient”; Worries About Supply Chain, Transportation

This morning, CNN Headline News viewers got a look at the coronavirus crisis from inside a New York supermarket.

Avi Kaner — known locally as a former Board of Finance chair and 2nd selectman — is co-owner of Morton Williams, the 16-store New York chain.

Speaking in front of an Upper West Side shelf stripped of toilet paper, he described the last 10 days as “very intense.” Yesterday, Morton Williams had a near-400% increase in sales.

However, Kaner said, customers — in lines all the way to the back of the store –were “resilient, polite, and disciplined.”

While Morton Williams is not rationing any goods, some distributors are.

Kaner’s 2 biggest concerns are the supply chain, and transportation. He worries that employees might not be able to get to work.

For the full interview, click below.

Unsung Heroes #137

Food Rescue US is one of those no-brainer, easy-to-do, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas that dramatically impacts thousands of lives.

Begun in 2011 in Norwalk, and now operating in 13 states, it addresses an enormous problem: More than 50 million Americans are hungry. Yet we waste more than 40 billion meals each year.

The solution is staggeringly simple. Volunteer drivers bring fresh food that would have been thrown away by restaurants, grocers and other food industry sources in place like Westport, to shelters, kitchens and pantries in cities like Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford.

An app enables restaurants and retailers with extra food to request a pick up. Volunteers in the area are immediately pinged.

Almost 1,000 food rescuers in Fairfield County pick up food from 85 donors, and deliver to 80 social service agencies.

Westport ardently supports Food Rescue US. We have dozens of drivers. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods participate.

Now the Westport Public Schools are involved too.

Elementary teachers Stacey Fowle (Greens Farms) and Ashley Moran (Saugatuck), along with Ben Lahey, assistant director of dining for district food service provider Chartwells, worked with the Staples High, Bedford Middle and Greens Farms and Saugatuck Elementary school cafeterias. All now save unused food.

Beh Lahey of Chartwells and Amber Egervari of Staples High School help load a Food Rescue US volunteer’s car.

Every Thursday, volunteers pick up the food, and bring it to the Gillespie Center downtown. They — and Stacey, Ashley, Ben and everyone else involved in this project — are this week’s Unsung Heroes.

Food Rescue US does great work. But the need is also great.

For more information — including how to volunteer — click here.

ONE MORE COURSE: Joining this week’s Unsung Heroes is Ellen Bowen.

The longtime Westporter has a condo in Miami. A year and a half ago — recognizing the enormous number of large venues like hotels and stadiums in the area — she helped start Food Rescue US there.

South Florida embraced the concept in a big way. They’ve already rescued over 300,000 pounds of food, from places like the Fontainebleau Hotel and after events like the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

And — oh yeah — Super Bowl LIV.

Immediately following this winter’s big game, Food Rescue US picked up 35,000 pounds of food from hotels, restaurants, markets — even the Super Bowl Experience.

Well done, Ellen!

Bagel Maven Needs Help

Alex Perdomo is an American success story.

He came to the US at 13, from Honduras. For his first 3 years here, he worked full time to support his parents. At 16 he went back to school.

He’s been married for 27 years. He has 2 beautiful daughters. The oldest just graduated from college. The other is pre-med.

Eleven years ago, Alex bought Bagel Maven. He also bought new equipment to upgrade the popular spot, in the mini-shopping center near Five Guys.

This winter has been tough. Alex fell behind by half a month on his rent. Now, he says, his landlord told him to leave by February 29th — and to leave his equipment too.

“People tell me I should raise my prices,” he says. “I’m not that kind of person.”

Alex asked me to tell his story. But he’s not sure what he wants.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m desperate. This store is my life,” he says.

“I’m 46. It would be hard to start from the beginning.”

Alex Permodo at Bagel Maven.

I suggested that if people stopped in to Bagel Maven, they could talk directly. Maybe someone could help him figure out next steps.

He thought that was a great idea.

Alex has always been there for Westport. He donates bagels and more to any school, organization or event that asks.

Now he’s asking us for help. This is a creative, compassionate community. Let’s see what we can do for Bagel Maven’s bagel maven.

It’s A Grand List

The town has announced the net 2019 Grand List.

At $11,445,273,580, it’s an increase of 1.17 % from the net 2018 Grand List of $11,311,830,644. The list is the sum of the net assessed value of all taxable property: real estate, motor vehicles, and personal property, a press release from assessor Paul Friia says.

Motor vehicles and personal property are valued annually. Real estate is updated based on market values on the town’s last revaluation date (October 1, 2015).

Work has already begun on the October 1, 2020 revaluation.

Homes like these contribute to the Grand List.

According to Friia, the 1.11% increase in real estate assessment totals results from continued residential and commercial new construction, along with renovation activity during the last assessment year.

New apartment/retail developments at 793 Post Road East and 201 Main Street, the new assisted living facility at 1141 Post Road East and the new development at 500 Main Street were significant projects that led the increases in the 2019 Grand List, Friia says.

Artist’s rendering of the Residence at Westport — a new assisted living facility.

Personal property increased 1.75 %, while motor vehicles showed a 2.6% increase.

The current 2019 Grand List totals are:

Assessment 2019 % of List
Real Estate 10,776,725,115 94.16
Motor Vehicle 350,622,910 3.06
Personal Property 317,925,555 2.78
TOTAL 11,445,273,580 100%

The Grand List will be used for fiscal year 2020-2021 town budget calculations.

The Nyala Farms office complex is the 2nd largest taxpayer in Westport.

Friia’s press release includes information on Westport’s top 10 taxpayers:

Connecticut Light & Power Inc          Pers. Property                         $139,409,760

60 Nyala Farms Road LLC                Real Estate                                $89,277,600

Bedford Square Assoc LLC               Real Estate                                $58,800,800

Equity One Westport Vill. Center      Real Estate                                $35,890,600

Byelas LLC                                        Real Estate                                $24,424,500

Aquarion                                             Real/Pers. Prop.                        $23,549,350

285 & 325 Riverside LLC                  Real Estate                                $21,291,300

Campana 125 LLC                             Real Estate                                $20,767,800

1735 Ashley LLC                               Real Estate                                $19,949,400

Ronnie F Heyman Trustee                 Real Estate                               $19,508,800

It’s In The Bag: Avi Kaner Says New York City Is Not Like The ‘Burbs

On March 1, New York state’s plastic bag ban takes effect.

Westport has had one since 2008.

Avi Kaner knows both places well. He served our town as 2nd Selectman and Board of Finance chair.

But it’s in his role as owner of New York City’s 16-store Morton Williams grocery store chain that he’s quoted in today’s New York Post.

Avi Kaner in a Bronx Morton Williams store. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the New York Times)

The new state law allows retailers to charge 5 cents per paper bag. Morton Williams won’t do it.

They’d lose money, Kaner told the paper. Paper bags cost 13 cents each. Plastic bags are just 2.5 cents apiece.

Instead, his chain will stock up on the sturdy reusable bags that they already sell for 99 cents. They’ll also offer cotton and polyester bags for 15 to 20 cents — about what they cost.

But that wasn’t Kaner’s money quote.

Here’s what he told the Post about the difference between people in the town where he lives, and the city where he works:

“A lot of people don’t carry around reusable bags when they are commuting. It’s not like the suburbs where you have the bags in your car.”

(Click here for the full New York Post story. Hat tip: Peter Gold)

Avi Kaner with a different kind of environmental issue: plastic bottles. (Photo/Buck Ennis for Crain’s New York Business)