Category Archives: Economy

[OPINION] Frontline Worker Deals With Baggage

An “06880” reader who works locally writes:

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s executive order to suspend the 10-cent surcharge for paper and/or plastic bags expired on June 30. That took some residents by surprise.

Surprise! We frontline workers don’t like having our heads taken off by rude, ignorant customers.

Some retailers are charging the 10-cent fee. Others are not. So frontline workers like me are stuck in the middle. Customers don’t know who’s doing what, or what the law is. We get the brunt of their anger.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Some customers were disgruntled before COVID. Some were angry  even before the present White House administration. Some have been upset for the past 30 years.

They complain about anything that doesn’t fit their own personal narrative.

We have enough to juggle and deal with: stocking shelves. Following all the new rules and regulations. Wearing masks and gloves. Answering questions. Handling our own lives and uncertainties.

We would appreciate some manners, etiquette and courtesy.

It’s bad enough people don’t wear their masks correctly, when they come into our business. If they don’t get their acts together, we will be right back where we started, with this spread of infection.

Little kids actually wear them very well. They’re fine. It’s the adults who don’t. Not all of them — but enough to make a worrisome difference.

I have wear a mask for 8 to 9 hours a day. So do hospital staff, doctors and first responders.

So don’t tell me you are having issues breathing or having anxiety attacks. Deal with it! Wear your mask for a 30-minute shopping trip!

PS: Yes, you can bring your own bags. You probably will be asked to bag your own groceries, because frontline workers don’t feel comfortable bagging with reusable bags at this time. It’s for our safety.

PPP: Lifeline Loans For Westport Businesses, Organizations

COVID-19 wreaked havoc on nearly every segment of the economy.

Without the Paycheck Protection Program, it would have been far worse.

The PPP provided a lifeline for companies, non-profits and other employers. Loans offered an incentive to keep workers on the payroll. The Small Business Administration will forgive loans if certain employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

Newly released information shows 137 recipients in Westport, of loans of $150,000 or more.

They cover a broad range: construction firms, healthcare providers, attorneys, restaurants, retail stores, a tutoring service, fitness and sports centers, architects, public relations firms, dry cleaners, car dealers, childcare services and more.

Three religious institutions are on the list. So is the Pierrepont School, and non-profits like Earthplace, the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Westport Country Playhouse and Westport Library.

BioSig Technologies got a PPP loan. As “06880” reported in April, the Wilton Road firm is working on oral treatments for the coronavirus.

Click here to see the full Westport list.

On Monday, the PPP is once again accepting loan applications. The deadline is August 8. Click here for information.

(Hat tip: Paul Delano)

Sakura is one of 137 local businesses helped by the Paycheck Protection Program.

After Devastating Accident, Westporters Help

Last Sunday, a crew from Norwalk’s JS Landscaping removed a very large and quite dead tree near Maple Avenue South.

Allison Wiedman, her husband and 3 kids — summer renters — watched the action. The trunk snapped. They heard an enormous bang.

The tree had fallen onto the JS truck. Ronny Salazar — owner Jose’s brother — tried to get away. But he was pinned underneath.

His 3 brothers and Allison’s husband Bill managed to push the enormous trunk off Ronny’s leg.

Allison — a physical therapist — saw that Ronny had a massive wound to his right elbow: a severed brachial artery, multiple compound fractures, missing tissue, and massive bleeding.

After calling 911 she told the men to compress near Ronny’s underarm, then ran into the house to find something to use as a tourniquet. She remembered seeing thick exercise band in the guest room.

When she got back, a police officer was on the scene and applying a tourniquet. EMS arrived quickly, and took him to Yale New Haven Hospital.

Over the next few days he underwent multiple surgeries. Doctors made the difficult decision to amputate his leg below the knee.

Ronny Salazar

Thankfully, he will still have use of his right arm and hand, though after reconstruction it will never be the same.

Allison has helped Juan try to navigate the healthcare system. A neighbor, Rachel Gordon, set up a GoFundMe account to help with medical bills, lost wages, the expense of a prostheses and more.

She wrote:

Juan and Ronny came from Costa Rica. Juan moved here when he was 18 years old, nearly 20 years ago.

He worked as a busboy, line cook and in a nursery until about 10 years ago, when he earned enough money to start a landscaping company.

They started with 16 clients and now have 130. Juan has seen the United States be a land of opportunity for those willing to work for it.

From the hospital, Ronny is hoping he will recover enough to follow in his brother’s footsteps, and play with his nieces.

We know times are difficult for everyone right now, but we hope you will consider donating to the Salazar Family Accident Fund. Juan and Ronny are some of the kindest, hardest-working people you will ever meet. They have successfully pursued the American dream until this point/ We don’t want to let a random accident beyond their control derail them, but the unfortunate reality is that our system is set up in a way that it can.

All money raised will be given directly to Juan and Ronny. Every little bit will help as they begin their journey forward from this terrible accident.

(Click here for the GoFundMe page for Juan and Ronny Salazar.)

Roundup: Reopening; Juneteenth; Renters’ Rebates; More


Phase 2 of Connecticut’s reopening plan began yesterday with indoor restaurant dining, fitness facilities, all personal services and many other business sectors allowed to welcome customers again.

2nd Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker says that business owners are “empowered to make the decision to open their doors. If they do, the ReOpen Westport team is working diligently to support them through this complicated process.  We are taking this seriously. It is our goal to build confidence throughout the entire community during this reopen period.”

For a complete list of Connecticut’s Phase 1 and Phase 2 business sectors and rules, click here. For ReOpen Westport Advisory Team information and FAQs, click here. To contact the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team, email reopenteam@westportct.gov.

While local COVID-19 transmission rates continue to be low, Westport Weston Health District director Mark Cooper says, “following safety protocols like wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and good hygiene practices are all critical. I urge residents to use common sense and to take advantage of testing, especially if experiencing symptoms.”

St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Center on Long Lots Road is a local testing site option with open time slots. Call 860-972-8100 for an appointment.

2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker


The Westport Museum for History & Culture and TEAM Westport are partnering for a special Juneteenth Zoom program.

Tomorrow (Friday, June 19, 5 p.m.), theater professor and playwright Kyle Bass discusses his play Possessing Harriet. It’s the story of enslaved woman traveling with her captors from the South to upstate New York, who finds refuge in the home of an abolitionist where he meets his young cousin Elizabeth Cady (later Stanton).

Bass will also discuss his play in progress about his ancestors Tim & Lill Bennett. They were slaves in Westport, in a home on Compo Road South.

The event is free, but registration is required. Click here to join.

Kyle Bass (Photo/Brenna Merritt)


Elderly and disabled Westport residents can apply for the Connecticut Renters’ Rebate Program. Qualifications for the program include:

  • Age 65 as of December 31, 2019, or totally disabled and collecting Social Security disability income.
  • The maximum gross income for the program is $37,000 for a single person, $45,100 for a married couple.
  • One year of residency in Connecticut is required. People renting an apartment, room or mobile home, or living in cooperative housing, may be eligible for this program.

The application deadline for the Renters’ Rebate Program is September 28.

Qualifying Westport residents should call the Human Services Department for an appointment: 203-341-1050.


Carol Alexander took this photo at Old Mill. She writes:

As more people come to enjoy this beautiful neighborhood beach, we need to treat it with respect. Please clean up before you leave!


Playwright/director Tazewell Thompson is familiar to area residents. In 2006 and ’07, he was artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse.

When his opera “Blue” premiered last summer at the Glimmerglass Festival, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini called it “one of the most elegant librettos I’ve heard in a long time.”

Thompson wrote about a black family — the father of a police officer — that is torn apart when the son is killed at a protest by another officer.

“Blue” has now been named Best New Opera by the Music Critics Association of North America. The Times calls the honor “sadly timely as the nation is roiled by unrest over police brutality and race relations.” (Click here for Thompson’s story on how he wrote the opera. Hat tip: Nina Sankovitch.)


As an Ivy Film Festival screenplay staff member, Brown University senior Elena Levin reads scripts from undergrad and grad students across the country. Each spring, the staff holds a screenwriting workshop for high schoolers.

Now the Westport resident is bringing the experience to her home town.

Elena offers an “Intro to Screenwriting Workshop” for rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors (no experience required). It meets outdoors at 4 p.m. every Wednesday in July for 2 hours. By the end of the 5th session, everyone will have written — and workshopped — a script.

Click here for more information. Questions? Email elena_l_levin@brown.edu.

Elana Levin


And finally … Patti Smith has power. She knows that people have it too.

After The Protests: Here’s How To Help

Sunday’s “United Against Racism” protest on Jesup Green was powerful and important.

But many of the several hundred attendees left feeling helpless. What can we actually do, besides march and speak? they wondered.

Darcy Hicks heard them. the co-organizer of the event — and a longtime social justice advocate — says, “I’m a big believer in protests and rallies. But not if they just stop there.”

On Monday, she went to work. She compiled a list of ways to help.

Downtown Bridgeport — there’s a lot going on.(Photo/Gary Pivot)

She focused on Bridgeport because she and her husband — attorney Josh Koskoff — both work there.

“We love the people,” Darcy says. “It’s a vibrant city with amazing history – yet 40% of children live below poverty level.

“Having a foot in both Westport and Bridgeport makes me realize that if all of us had that experience, we would think about their needs more. It’s hard to remember people in need of you don’t know them, or even see them.”

So, Darcy says, in addition to rallies and protests — or instead of, if you are concerned about COVID-19 — here is what you can do:


1. Drive to Bridgeport. It’s not far. It’s part of our extended neighborhood — and it’s important to interact in any way we can.

If you’ve been braving Starbucks, go to Bean N Batter instead one day. Treat yourself to waffles — available for curbside pickup. BONUS: It’s owned by Staples grad Will Hamer.

Instead of going to Dunkin’, surprise your family with a box of the real thing from Daybreak Doughnuts. Tired of the usual takeout? Wait until you feast on Brazilian churrascaria from Pantanal

2. Online shoppers: Here’s a better way to support your habit! https://www.fastcompany.com/…/7-black-owned-businesses-to-s…

3. Give. I know, some people say it’s inappropriate to ask for money these days. But for those of us fortunate enough to fill our carts with 700 rolls of toilet paper, we can spare something. The ACLU is always a good place to donate. So are https://bailproject.org and www.campaignzero.org.

Here’s a list of state and local organizations I’ve compiled, with the help of BPT Generation Now! (an amazing group of people, who are making great changes in Bridgeport):

Black Lives Matter
CTCore
Citywide Youth Coalition
Hearing Youth Voices
Students 4 Educational Justice
Connecticut Students 4 a Dream
Make the Road CT
Adam J. Lewis Academy
Neighborhood Studios

Some very happy Adam J. Lewis preschoolers.

4. Join these Facebook groups:
https://www.facebook.com/…/Justice-for-Jayson-155481706457…/
https://www.facebook.com/noahcalebfreedom/
https://www.facebook.com/nhvcrb/

5. When the quarantine is lifted and you find yourself filling your day back up with exercise classes, pick a day to volunteer for the Bridgeport Public Schools. They need visiting readers! https://www.bridgeportedu.net/SVAB.

Or volunteer to teach English to women at Mercy Learning Center. Or help kids with their homework at The Caroline House.

There’s so much more that can be done. If you know of more ways to close the socioeconomic gap that exacerbates racism and inequality in this area, please click “Comments” below.

Downtown: This Is Our Embarcadero Moment

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked San Francisco. Twelve people were killed. Fires raged. And the Embarcadero Freeway was severely damaged.

Built in the 1950s to connect the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges — but never completed — the enormous double-deck highway instead cut the city off from its waterfront.

The Embarcadero Freeway. The Ferry Building is center left, with the clock.

For years, there had been talk of removing or redesigning the freeway. The earthquake provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so.

Opposition was intense. But when the highway was demolished, a couple of things happened. More than 100 acres of land was redeveloped into a spectacular new public plaza and waterfront promenade. The area sprang to life.

The Embarcadero today. The Ferry Building is its centerpiece, but the entire area pulses with activity.

The 1898 Ferry Building became a vibrant gathering spot for local farmers, artisan producers, and independent food businesses. Commercial real estate boomed. Housing increased dramatically. The entire city benefited.

Today, Westport has our Embarcadero moment.


On March 3 — less than 2 weeks before our world changed forever — I posted a long story on “06880.”

Headlined “Main Street at an Inflection Point: An ‘06880’ Call to Action,” it noted that despite what we like to think, Main Street is no longer our “main street.” It’s just a short stretch of commercial buildings, many of them vacant.

But boy, I wrote, does it have potential. I continued:

The problem is, “potential” implies re-imagining the future. And re-designing the present.

We can’t simply tweak the Post Road. We need to (almost) blow it up, and start again.

The possibilities are endless.

Main Street could be a car-less, pedestrian-friendly piazza/ promenade lined with trees, tables and benches; upscale and family restaurants and cafes, including outside dining (with space heaters for winter); food carts and artists’ kiosks; independent businesses like a general store, bookstore and ice cream shop (joining the special Savvy + Grace-type places already there).

Look at the river. Look at Main Street. Imagine the possibilities. (Drone photo by John Videler/Videler Photography)

It could be filled with cultural and arts events; food festivals, and something at Christmas; music on weekends, plus waterfront access, with paddleboat and kayak rentals. In the winter, we could flood part of it for a skating rink.

And more: The Farmers’ Market could relocate there. We could add offices for non-profits, and co-working spaces. Apartments could be build on 2nd and 3rd floors.

Downtown, I said, was at an inflection point. Just as 70 yeas ago the area was re-imagined when landfill created Parker Harding Plaza, we needed a new downtown.

And change could not be incremental. It must be “big, bright and bold.”

The story drew 86 comments. This being Westport, they ranged all over the place: from why it couldn’t work, to lesser tweaks, to offers to help make it a reality ASAP.

What united us all was a common goal: to make downtown vibrant and alive, while looking ahead.

Had we looked behind, we would have seen the coronavirus galloping toward us. But now that it has, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake downtown, the right way.

Remember I said we should “(almost) blow it up, and start again”?

Now we really can.


I’m envisioning an even more dramatic reimagining than the one just 3 months — aka many light-years — ago.

Despite its horrors, the pandemic has taught us a few important lessons. Even when the danger passes, our lives will be vastly different from before. The way we work, eat, shop and spend our leisure time has changed, in ways we don’t yet fully understand. And although we have done certain things certain ways for longer than any of us have been alive, we learn very quickly how to do them in completely new ways.

Main Street, not long ago. (Photo/Sharon Fiarman)

Even during the shutdown, renovation continued on a few Main Street buildings. But we all know: Retail is altered forever. The big chains that forced out locally owned shops have swiftly contracted. Some are already bankrupt. More will follow. Betting that a new women’s clothing store, “lifestyle brand” or sunglasses shop will save Main Street is like believing that drinking bleach will kill a virus.

So to the vision I proposed on March 3 — a promenade filled with restaurants and cafes, food carts and artists’ kiosks; a general store, book store, and ice cream shop; cultural and arts events; the Farmers’ Market, offices, non-profits, apartments — I’d like to add a few more: a parking garage, with athletic fields on top. Fire pits. That elusive movie theater. Maybe even that long-discussed bridge over the river to the west bank.

And now I have an even more dramatic idea.

Let’s build it all the right way, at the right place: alongside the river.

It’s time to reclaim the river. San Antonio’s done it; so has Providence. This is our chance to actually, spiritually, emotionally — and physically — create an entirely new downtown.

Waterfire draws huge crowds to downtown Providence. It — and a reimagined waterfront — helped revitalize the city.

Let’s get rid of Parker Harding Plaza. Let’s tear down most of the buildings on Main Street. Let’s redesign everything from the Post Road to Avery Place, from scratch.

A proposal like this demands a lot from everyone. We’ll need the cooperation of property owners. That’s not easy in the best of times. But paradoxically, this might be the best time. What REIT in its right mind wants to hold on to a building whose tenant relies on a February 2020 retail model — with no other businesses to replace them in sight?

We’ll need the cooperation of town officials. Again, that’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Where once it took weeks to approve an awning or agree on sidewalk paving standards, the past few days have seen lightning-quick action on outdoor dining applications and new town regulations.

“We’re all in this together” can be a meaningless phrase. These days, local government, civic groups, merchants and restaurant owners have shown it can be a reality.

We’ll need the cooperation too of Westporters. Our downtown transformation won’t happen overnight. We’ll be building a house while also living in it. But if the past 3 months have shown us anything, it’s that our homes — our residences, and our home community — are vital to everything we do.

Look at that huge parking lot by the river. And the long line of boxy stores behind it. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

So that’s my plan. It’s a way to re-imagine, renovate and recharge Westport, for generations to come.

It’s a way to put hundreds of people — construction workers first, then employees — to work. It’s a way to draw countless others downtown, to be entertained, eat, enjoy themselves, and live.

Let’s not let this slip away. We can’t content ourselves dreaming that some day — hopefully soon — Americans will begin shopping in stores again, the same way they did before. And remember: On March 3, we weren’t exactly doing that either.

Magical thinking like that leads us right down the path of the guys who said, a couple of years ago, “Hey! Let’s build a mall in Norwalk, right next to Exit 16. What could possibly go wrong?!”

This is the start of the post-pandemic world. This is the time for truly bold, really creative, way-forward thinking.

This is our Embarcadero moment.

JC Penney: The Westport Connection

Yesterday’s announcement that J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy did not affect many Westporters. The chain’s closest locations are in Trumbull and Danbury, and it’s been fading from public consciousness for years.

But there is (of course) a local connection.

J.C. Penney

When the founder of what was then a retailing behemoth died in 1971, age 95, the New York Times obituary noted that into his 90s he commuted 3 days a week from Connecticut to the store’s 6th Avenue headquarters in New York.

He lived for many years on Beachside Avenue, just south of the entrance to Greens Farms Academy.

The Times added this anecdote:

His conviction that merchants should exert themselves to serve their customers reached an inadvertent extreme a few years ago. A new resident of Westport, Conn., needed some paint in a hurry and looked up J. C. Penney in the phone book.

When a man answered the call, the potential customer asked, “Does the Penney Company sell paint?” The man re plied, “I believe we do, but let me confirm it.” He was heard dialing and then speaking on another phone. Returning to the inquirer, he said, “Yes, we do.”

What the caller did not know until later was that he had not been speaking to someone at J. C. Penney store, but to James Cash Penney, the founder, then in his late 83’s, who was also a Westport resident.

(For the full obituary of J.C. Penney, click here.)

A Taxing Situation

Paul Rohan has lived in Westport for 40 years. A retired CPA, he practiced in both Connecticut and New York.

Last week he emailed me. He notes a double state income tax issue that may affect commuters to New York who now work from home. He says:

While my practice was never in taxation (but rather in financial reporting and auditing), I long ago became aware of this issue. It emerged when personal computers first made working from home a real possibility — not the rarity it was when limited to relatively rare blizzards or hurricanes that precluded commuting for a day or two.

With extremely limited exceptions, New York takes the view that state income taxes for non-residents are due for all work done on behalf of New York-based employers, regardless of where the work is performed.

Paul Rohan

Connecticut takes the view that for Connecticut residents, all work performed in Connecticut is subject to Connecticut income tax, regardless of where the employer might be located. Thus a Connecticut resident employed by a New York employer is subject to state income tax in both New York and Connecticut for all work done at home. Connecticut will recognize a credit for New York income taxes paid only if the work actually was performed outside of Connecticut.

Many articles have been written on the subject in tax accounting and legal publications. The best description — from the Connecticut Office of Legislative Research — fully addresses the issue, and references the Zelinsky case that was decided by the New York appeals court. (Click here to see.)

My concern is for the many “06880” commuter readers who work for New York employers. Like most people, those readers may be completely unaware of the conflicting positions taken on working from home by the states of New York and Connecticut. At 2020 tax return filing time, they will have a huge surprise. Being forced to pay state income taxes to both Connecticut and New York for the same work performed at home is, in my view, unconscionable.

Making this issue known at this time might force politicians on both sides of the  state line to get together and solve this problem once and for all. Over the years since working from home became more commonplace, many articles have appeared in tax accounting publications about this. They mention various politicians at the state and federal levels who have expressed interest and concern, but the issue remains largely unresolved.

Tax forms can be daunting for anyone.

Since governors in New York and Connecticut claim to be coordinating all their efforts related to the pandemic and its economic effects, perhaps now would be a good time to ask those who represent us to help solve this unfair state tax dilemma.

This issue has been created for many readers as a direct result of following the both the Connecticut and New York governors, who have adamantly asked employees to work from home. It seems grossly unfair that compliance with those executive orders should have such a high price tag — the unintended consequence of double taxation.

Of course, since both states are strapped for cash, this may present their leaders with a convenient mechanism to cash in on the crisis, by claiming they are only following the laws and regulations as they exist.

NOTE: After sending his original email, Paul followed up the next day. He wrote:

“New York State is planning on taxing out-of-state emergency healthcare workers who came into the state at the urgent request of the governor. The governor’s position is that since tax regulations call for anyone working 14 days or more in the state is subject to the New York State non-resident income tax, they will be required to pay that tax—no exceptions.”

Marpe: “A Good Week In Westport”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe says:

This has been a good week in Westport. The rate of growth for confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to slow, and across the state the number of hospitalizations continues to fall.

The RTM passed the town and school budgets for fiscal year 2021, resulting in an overall increase of less than half of a percent. The town’s AAA rating from Moody’s has been reaffirmed. We are also pleased to announce that the town’s tax collections this fiscal year are on target and have not been significantly impacted by the virus. As a reminder, you have until May 22 to apply for a COVID-19 related tax deferment on your April installment payment.

The state is working toward reopening much of the private sector. Later today, we expect new guidance from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which will cover aspects of reopening salons, barbershops, restaurants, offices and other businesses.

Businesses like Joe’s Pizza, Le Rouge Aartisan Chocolates, Ron’s Barber Shop and Westport Wellness Massage look forward to new “reopening” regulations.

Westport will largely follow the state’s reopening strategy, as communicated by Governor Lamont. We have launched the ReOpen Westport Advisory Team, which held its first public meeting on Wednesday. Liaisons were named for each local business segment, and are actively reaching out to business owners.

The team is pleased to have Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Westport resident and former FDA commissioner, share his perspectives on reopening at the Monday, May 11 meeting (11 a.m.). Westport’s state legislative delegation will also attend, to update the team on the state’s plan. You can watch this meeting via live streaming on our website, or Cablevision channel 79.

A week from today we will open the parking facilities at Compo Beach at 50% capacity, and the Longshore golf course will be open for play (with certain restrictions). This is an opportunity to get out of the house, enjoy the warmer weather, and perhaps get some physical activity. But remember the importance of maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet at all times, and you must bring or wear a mask if you anticipate difficulties achieving that.

Compo Beach, this week. (Photo/Yvonne Claveloux)

In the coming week we will announce the specific rules and regulations related to the beach opening. We encourage you to follow them, and remind you that everyone in town is relying on your compliance. Social distancing and wearing masks is imperative if we are to keep the beaches and golf course open.

Public health experts have determined that wearing a cloth face covering may prevent transmission by an infected person. The use of appropriate personal protective equipment in public places is of critical interest to all of us. If you are in a public place and cannot maintain a safe social distance of at least 6 feet, then you must cover your nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face covering. The best advice is to have a mask available at all times if you are outside of your home, and most certainly when you are at our beaches and parks. I keep mine around my neck when I step outside so it’s ready to go if necessary.

The town of Westport has procured 25,000 face masks, with the help of the Grace Farms Foundation in New Canaan. We plan to distribute them to the general public Tuesday morning.  Further details will follow on Monday.

Please continue to stay connected with the town as the COVID-19 response and reopening evolves. For updates, please check the town website or the ReOpening site.

I want to wish all of you a great Mother’s Day weekend. Don’t forget: You’re not stuck at home; you’re safe at home.

Family Values Help Mitchells Weather Storm

Over 90% of family-owned businesses do not make it to the 3rd generation.

After COVID-19, that figure may be much worse.

But when our economy finally recovers, one of those businesses still standing will be Mitchells.

It won’t be an accident.

The clothing retailer that began with a small shop next to Compo Shopping Center has evolved into high-end stores on both coasts.

But as they’ve grown, the family — now nearing its 4th generation of owners — has not forgotten the values of founders Ed and Norma Mitchell. They’ve served Mitchells well for 62 years, and they are the reason it’s weathering this crisis as well as any company can.

Consider this: While nearly every other clothing store in the country has laid off or furloughed staff, Mitchells continues to pay salaries — and benefits — for its employees.

All 430 of them.

A Mitchell family photo: the 2nd and 3rd generations.

“That’s the path my grandparents forged,” explains co-CEO Bob Mitchell. “Our business is all about relationships. We have great, strong relationships with our clients and our associates. We felt an obligation to focus on our people.”

In mid-March, the stores — which in addition to the flagship and headquarters in Westport includes Mitchells in Huntington, Long Island; Richards in Greenwich; Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto, and Marios in Seattle and Portland — pivoted.

With doors closed, they turned to e-commerce. It had been a small part of the business before, and sales are still nowhere close to what they were pre-pandemic.

But Mitchells has always been about the personal touch. Associates reach out to customers by email, phone and text — not to sell, just to say hi and check in.

Many customers, in turn, are concerned about the personnel they’ve developed close relationships with. When they hear what the store is doing, they are grateful.

They’re even more gratified when they hear that Mitchells donated 20% of all sales for 2 weeks to Meals on Wheels programs in each community they serve.

“This is a different path than any retailer we know is taking,” Bob Mitchell says. “But we’ve always been conservative in our spending. Our secret sauce is our people. We want to do the right thing by them, so we all can get through this. This is the ultimate test, and we’re trying to do the right thing now.”

The response from associates has been “phenomenal,” he notes. “They are deeply appreciative, and very proud of us.”

One employee said, “I have always known I work for a unique, special family business. I feel blessed and proud to be part of the Mitchells’ extended work family.”

A new associate emailed simply, “I picked the right place.”

“First class act. A role model in these tough times,” a longtime customer told the Mitchells.

The original Ed Mitchell’s, at the corner of the Post Road and North Compo Road. They’ve expanded enormously in 62 years, but have never lost their family values.

Bob Mitchell sees June 1 as the “most hopeful” date to reopen. Whenever it is, he believes “people will want to go out, see other people and interact — even with masks. People crave connections” with other shoppers and with staff members they’ve grown close to. Many Mitchells style advisors, tailors and others have been with them for over a decade; some for half a century.

Since 1958 Mitchells has supported every fundraiser, charity and organization that asks for help. Behind the scenes the family has performed countless acts of kindness, for untold numbers of folks in Westport, and far beyond.

Jack and Bill Mitchell followed their parents’ lead. Now their children have continued that tradition of care, concern, and treating everyone right.

Ed and Norma would be very, very proud.