Category Archives: Economy

Behind Bridgewater

Bridgewater Associates is notoriously security-conscious.

But last night, “60 Minutes” profiled the Westport-based hedge fund — by some accounts, the world’s largest.

Bill Whitaker’s story focused on founder Ray Dalio. It offered glimpses of the Weston Road headquarters — including not only shots of the exterior, but the seldom-seen interior.

Ray Dalio, at Bridgewater’s Weston Road office.

Cameras even recorded analysts in action, and a staff meeting.

Analysts in action …

Bridgewater has a reputation as a secretive place to work — almost a cult. Nearly every meeting is taped, for later analysis.

In his “60 Minutes Overtime” segment, Whitaker says, “I expected it to be a place where everyone was almost afraid of their own shadow. I didn’t see that at all.”

Click here for the full “60 Minutes” story. Click here for “60 Minutes Overtime.”

… and Bill Whitaker, during a staff meeting.

After 73 Years, Torno Hardware To Close

In 1946, Staples High School woodworking teacher Bill Torno looked around. A year after World War II ended, he predicted there would be a housing boom in Westport.

He opened a lumber yard and hardware store on the Post Road. He was right. Both thrived.

Bill Torno (left), supervising a Staples High School woodworking class in 1947. He continued to teach after opening his businesses. In the center rear is Staples principal Douglas Young.

In 1970, Torno sold the businesses to Bob Kelly. He had a tough time. Three years later, he too sold — to another, completely different Bob Kelly.

This Bob Kelly had quite a resume. After being seriously wounded in Vietnam, he earned a Ph.D. in economics.

An internship with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers turned into a 2 1/2-year stint in the Nixon White House. Kelly moved on to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, working for Secretary George Romney.

“Then came this Watergate thing,” Kelly says. “The government just sort of stopped.”

One day, he saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal. A bankrupt lumberyard was for sale, in a “seacoast town.”

“I had a vision of horse-drawn carriages and 3-masted ships,” Kelly laughs.

That wasn’t Westport. But Torno Lumber and Hardware was a great fit.

Bob Kelly

A few years after buying the businesses, Kelly was asked to join the Fairfield University faculty. He taught economics for 30 years — while running his stores.

The college scheduled all his classes in the morning. Kelly spent afternoons at Torno. “They did fine without me here,” he says.

He retired from teaching 10 years ago. It was the depths of the financial crisis. Torno was hit hard.

“I never wanted to run a big company,” Kelly says. “But we got whacked. There were big chances in our industry.”

Small stores like his always had a price disadvantage. But if Torno was within 10% of bigger places, he’d always done fine.

Almost overnight, that model no longer worked.

“To be an independent now, you have to be very big,” Kelly says. “Big companies buy better. Now, companies we’ve dealt with for 50 years don’t want to deal with us.”

Torno Lumber

So — 46 years after he bought Torno Lumber and Hardware, and 73 years after Bill Torno set up shop — the businesses will have their 4th owner.

The buyer is Interstate Lumber. Shelly Kahn — president of the Greenwich-based firm — was raised in Westport.

“He’s a very good guy,” Kelly notes. “They’ve got several lumberyards, and a distribution center. They were one of the guys eating our lunch. This will be very good for Westport. I have no doubt Shelly will do a better job than I did.”

But only on the lumber front. Kahn plans to replace the hardware store with a showroom.

Torno Hardware. Bob Kelly moved the hardware store from the lumberyard to a standalone location several doors down around 1990.

Of course, the Torno name will go. Interstate Lumber is the new name.

Kelly has 120 days to sell his inventory “and get my butt out.”

“I’m 78 years old,” he says. “I’m a reader. I like to exercise. I like being in the woods. My favorite tools are a chainsaw and lopping shears. I’ll confront and attack nature.”

He made the move with no regrets. He has many great memories.

“I made the right choice to here,” he says. “It’s been a wonderful time. I’m very, very happy I did what I did.”

For nearly 3/4 of a century, Westport has been very, very happy with what Bill Torno — and Bob Kelly — did too.

Cliff Robinson Revives Revo

If you were a certain age in the late 1980s, you knew how cool Revos were.

Created with technology first developed by NASA — as solar protection for satellites — the stylish sunglasses quickly became hot. The polarized lenses were innovative. And they looked really sharp.

But after a decade or so, the sun set on Revo. The independent company was gobbled up — first by Ray-Ban, then Luxottica.

The glasses became one small brand in a large portfolio. Revos were still around. But, Cliff Robinson says, “they needed some TLC.”

He should know. B. Robinson – his family’s 93-year-old business — designs, manufactures, sells and distributes high-quality designer brand eyewear.

Cliff Robinson had grown up in New York City. He lived in Soho, and jokes, “I never thought I’d live above 14th Street.”

But while visiting friends in Scarsdale — with their 3rd child on the way — he and his wife said, on a whim, “Let’s look at houses!” That day, they put a bid on one.

The town was not a great fit though. They knew of Westport, and liked it. But it seemed too far for his daily New York commute.

A bit over 3 years ago, Robinson and his wife visited a friend from his Brown University days, now living in Westport. They decided to move here — and that he’d telecommute.

Robinson crossed paths here with Bill Sweedler. A few years ago his firm — Sequential Brands — bought Revo from Luxottica. Last year, B. Robinson bought out Sequential.

So now, Cliff Robinson says, “this great American heritage brand is being brought back.” And he’s the one leading the re-brand.

The other day, the website was relaunched.

The timing is auspicious. This is the 50th anniversary of the first men walking on the moon. Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad — the 3rd man there — was Revo’s first ad representative. The current ad campaign reprises the brand’s late-’80s marketing.

Ahead, Robinson says, is “more TLC”: marketing, PR, perhaps pop-up stores in New York, the Hamptons — and Westport.

“Plenty of people here remember Revo,” Robinson say. “It was part of their lives. We’re making it relevant again.”

 

When $30,000 Property Taxes Hit A Little Harder

That’s the headline on a CNN story posted yesterday to its website.

The piece — about the effect of the new tax law on high property tax states like Connecticut — was illustrated by a stock photo that seems to show Westport.

Whether that’s our town or not, there’s no denying that residents here have been hit hard — along with our counterparts in places like New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

The CNN story concludes with this assessment from a local realtor:

While many towns in Connecticut also have relatively high property taxes, some towns further up the Long Island Sound — like Westport or Fairfield — have lower bills than Westchester and are still a commutable distance from Manhattan.

“In Westchester County — towns like Larchmont, Rye, Mamaroneck — the taxes are crazy high,” says Mary Ellen Gallagher, a real estate agent and partner of Compass Westport Team KMS Partners in Connecticut.

“Younger people can’t afford those taxes and are looking [in Connecticut] where you get more house and pay less taxes, but you’re further from New York.”

She says for many luxury buyers, taxes don’t always play into their decision to buy a new home, but can be a deterrent for those looking to move up to a larger and pricier home.

“I think it is hurting the luxury market,” says Gallagher. “Because people aren’t trading up.”

(Click here for the full CNN story. Hat tip: Seth Van Beever.)

US Cities Stop Recycling. What Will Westport Do?

On Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story:”As Costs Skyrocket, More US Cities Stop Recycling.”

It turns out that because China — our former number one customer — no longer accepts used plastic and paper, because it’s mixed with too much other trash, towns and cities across our country have seen collection bills rise steeply. The result: They’ve ended their programs, or now burn or bury more waste.

Many readers’ first thought was: “Holy smoke!” 

Their second was: “I wonder what my community is doing?”

To find out the 06880 answer, I contacted 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He responded:

Pete Ratkiewich, our Public Works director, has been addressing this issue for several years.

The situation described in the Times article is also a reality here in Westport. In the recent past, international companies would buy US recyclables for reuse and repurpose abroad. As such, the town of Westport received compensation for its recyclable materials.

Recycling takes place all around Westport. This is the Farmers’ Market.

In 2018, China determined that US recyclables are too “contaminated” to be reused or repurposed, so that market has since ceased to exist (as well as in other countries such as India). So what was once a revenue generator here in Westport is now a cost to us.

The good news is that the town’s focus on recycling for several decades has “trained” all of us to think about what should be recycled and how best to do it.  Many of us still have and use our blue bins.

Up to the end of the fiscal year that ended July 2018, the town of Westport was realizing revenue from our recycling programs. But the cumulative cost effect for this fiscal year, and the next one we are budgeting for, is a total of $300,000.

We saw this coming, and have actively pursued alternative approaches along with a number of neighboring communities. Westport is in a consortium with approximately 14 other communities called the Greater Bridgeport Regional Recycling Interlocal Committee.

The GBRRIC — also called “the Interlocal” — aggregates all of our municipal recyclables, thereby increasing our purchasing power with private haulers. The GBRRIC recently negotiated a contract with Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling, and determined that the GBRRIC cost of recycling is now $75 per ton. As recently as 2017, that same recycling yielded a revenue of $25 per ton.

Annually, Westport residents generate 3,300 tons of recyclable waste. The total trash generated is approximately 10,000 tons from residents and 6,000 tons from commercial entities.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection sets guidelines on what materials should be recycled. We believe that glass products should be removed from the list of recyclables and set aside from the other materials, given their high level of contaminants. We have found that glass has become one of the most frequently rejected recycled commodities for that reason, and also a major contributor to our tonnage total.

Our Green Task Force, currently being rebranded as “Sustainable Westport,” is leading the charge to find alternate solutions that either cut our recycling expenses, or reduce the amount of waste that gets generated here in Westport.  Efforts underway include a composting program at Greens Farms Elementary School, which will roll out to other schools and hopefully other entities as the pilot proves the value of composting.

Also, we plan to lobby the state to allow glass to be placed in a separate recycling stream, and to change related recycling regulations.

The immediate challenge is that the Town’s fiscal year 2020 budget will need to reflect the increased cost of the recycling process.

Staples Tuition Grants: It’s A Family Affair

This month, parents in the Westport school district may notice a story from Staples Tuition Grants in their weekly PTA newsletter.

Since 1943, STG has provided college scholarship help to students with financial need. Last year, 113 June graduates and alumni already in college received grants totaling $304,000.

“Your donation opens a whole new door to my future,” is one quote in the newsletter.

Another — the child of a single parent — writes: “My mom does everything in her power to provide for my sister and me. She never had the opportunity to go to college, so this chance to attend a 4-year university is a wish I have always wanted for both of us.”

A third STG awardee notes that at her college, very few students have the ongoing support of their home communities.

These newsletter items run in conjunction with Staples Tuition Grants’ drive to help fund the Westport Families Scholarship Award.

Many STG grants are named for individuals. This one is funded by all 8 Westport schools’ PTAs.

But any family can help too (hence the “Families Scholarship” name).

Some of the awardees at a Staples Tuition Grants ceremony.

Despite Westport’s demographics, plenty of students here need aid to afford college. For over 75 years, Staples Tuition Grants has provided that help.

They’re a low-key organization. But they make differences in countless lives. You can help. Respond to your PTA newsletter. Or (even easier) click here. Checks can be sent to Staples Tuition Grants, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881.

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.

——————————————

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.

—————————————————–

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