Category Archives: Economy

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)

Here’s The State Of Westport

The state of the town is strong.

The state of our schools is too.

Those verdicts were delivered by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education chair Candice Savin yesterday.

A large, inquisitive crowd packed the Westport Library. The 3rd annual State of the Town meeting was sponsored by our 2 Rotary Clubs.

Marpe began by citing 2 newly improved facilities: the library itself, and the Senior Center.

He also mentioned that Westport has the highest life expectancy in Connecticut, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Our neighborhood averages range from 82 years all the way to 89 (Old Hill area). Who knew?!

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, at yesterday’s “State of the Town” meeting.

Among the 2019 accomplishments, Marpe pointed to:

  • New accessibility projects at Compo beach, and environmentally friendly turf fields
  • Wakeman Town Farm improvements
  • Sasco Brook’s de-listing from the state register of impaired waterways
  • The town’s new mobile-friendly website
  • The Police Department’s innovative technology and equipment, including increased capability to respond in a crisis, and the groundbreaking Tesla 3 patrol car
  • Improvement projects at our 2 railroad stations
  • A 7% decline in Fire Department 911 calls, in large part due to proactive efforts in schools and the construction industry

The Westport Fire Department has made a determined effort to educate Westporters about fire safety.

  • Ongoing investments to upgrade commercial properties downtown and on the Post Road
  • 3rd Selectwoman Melissa Kane’s leadership of improved town wayfinding
  • 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker’s leadership of the “Westport Means Business” series
  • Commitment to be a NetZero community by 2050; rebranding “Sustainable Westport”; the RTM’s legislation on replacing single-use plastics; adding new solar energy capacity; switching 1,300 street lights to LED bulbs, and a “Zero Food Waste Challenge,” which includes a free pilot program for dropping off food waste at the transfer station (beginning April 1).
  • Consolidation of police, fire and EMS public safety dispatch centers with Fairfield
  • Automating building and land use processes with the Planning & Zoning, Building, Conservation, Public Works, Health District and Fire departments.

Building in Westport is becoming easier, with enhanced communication among town bodies. (Photo/Jaime Bairaktaris)

Of course, there are challenges. Marpe mentioned:

  • Traffic. He, the police and Public Works are scheduling RTM district public meetings to identify practical, realistic solutions.
  • Affordable housing. We have 3 years left on our moratorium under the 8-30g state statute.
  • The need to enhance Longshore, and other town facilities
  • Keeping the tax mill rate flat, as it has been for about 5 years. Marpe noted that financial reserves are at or ahead of “our conservative targets,” and that pension and post-employment benefit assets are “very well-funded.”

Marpe concluded his prepared remarks by noting:

Westport is and will continue to be among the most attractive towns in the tri-state area to raise a family, educate children, create and grow a business, and retire.

We are a truly rare and wonderful combination of a small, charming New England town committed to celebrating our past and preserving our history, and also a cutting-edge community that fosters innovation, creativity and progress.

Westport preserves its past and looks to the future, says 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. (Photo/John Videler for VIdeler Photography)

Board of Ed chair Savin said that the Westport School District is “strong, and getting stronger,” in areas like academics, arts, special education and athletics.

She noted the district’s focus on social and emotional health, safety and security — and combating vaping.

Among the challenges: reopening Coleytown Middle School, the budget, and the search for a new schools superintendent.

She said the board and community must “continue to invest in students, professionals and infrastructure.”

Board of Education chair Candice Savin’s presentation included slides like these, showing renovations to Coleytown Middle School.

Moderator Jeff Wieser then read questions from audience members.

Marpe was asked about his biggest budgetary challenge. “The capital forecast — school and town projects,” he said.

Regarding empty storefronts on Main Street, he pointed to new businesses coming in, along with “mom and mom” stores owned by local residents. He noted that the P&Z wants to improve efficiencies of town processes, and praised Regency Centers — owners of several large Westport shopping areas — for recent upgrades of their properties.

Marpe also said that the Downtown Merchants Association and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce are working hard to attract new businesses.

Asked about the relationship with the Westport Museum for History & Culture, the 1st selectman said that the town no longer stores records there, eliminating a $7,500 storage fee. He said that although this year the town helped fund the Museum’s First Light celebration, he was “troubled” when he realized some of the money went toward employees’ salaries.

“We are working with them to recover that portion” of the funds, he said.

However, Marpe added, “the tone of a lot of comments (on ‘06880’) were not what Westport is about. It was like cyber-bullying. I appeal to residents to step back. You’re talking about people who live down the street from you.”

Regarding traffic, Marpe said the most significant impact comes from Waze. He acknowledged frustration with timing of Post Road lights, and said the town is in “regular communication” with the state Department of Transportation.

When the highways get crowed, Waze sends drivers through Westport.

As for Joey’s at the Shore, Marpe described the town’s 30-year relationship with the former beach concessionaire. He said they parted ways “without hard feelings.” An RFP has been issued for Compo, the skating rink/pool and golf course halfway house.

Seven or eight “well qualified” responses have been received. Bids will be open this week, and Marpe is optimistic that the new concessionaire will continue Joey Romeo’s “warmth, style, sensitivity and food.” He warned though that it may not be “fully operational” by the start of beach season.

In response to Board of Ed questions, Savin said that there are contingency plans in case CMS is not ready to reopen next fall; that pushing school start times back 30 minutes for all schools will be on the February 3 and February 10 agendas, and that declining enrollment is more challenging at the middle school level (because of the team approach) than in elementary schools and Staples High.

When the meeting was over, the town officials were not through. Members of the audience continued to ask questions. Marpe and Savin kept answering them.

Fairway’s Woes Began In Westport

Fairway is a beloved institution in New York.

But yesterday the 14-store supermarket chain filed for bankruptcy. According to the New York Times, a Westport company is to blame. The newspaper says: 

The origins of Fairway’s struggles date to 2007, when the company sold an 80 percent stake to Sterling Investment Partners, a private equity firm based in Westport, Conn., for $150 million, including $71 million in debt on the company’s balance sheet. Under Sterling, the company expanded into new markets, opening stores in New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island.

Sterling Investment Partners’ office is in this Riverside Avenue building.

That expansion plan became more aggressive after 2013, when the company had an initial public offering of stock at $13 per share. At the time, Fairway executives extolled the company’s unmatched sales of $1,754 per square foot.

But Fairway’s success in New York — which was largely driven by its two stores on the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, both high-income locations — could not be replicated elsewhere.

“This is another insidious example of private equity killing a business,” said (Mark) Cohen, the (director of retail studies at Columbia Business School). “These guys caused them to open stores that maybe were completely ill-advised.”

The rapid growth brought new challenges for a company that had never managed a regional chain, which required a reliable roster of suppliers and complicated logistics to stock stores with perishables, the main revenue driver at Fairway, before they spoiled….

The expansion failed to generate enough sales to pay down Fairway’s debt. Searching for new revenue, it slowly implemented a new pricing model: Long known for value, Fairway raised prices.

Despite filing for bankruptcy in 2016, there were no real changes — no renogotiated store leases or union contracts, no evaluation of stores. In addition, legal fees at more than $1,000 per hour mounted. Sterling then “walked away from Fairway,” The Times said, adding:

M. William Macey Jr., managing partner and founder of Sterling Investment Partners, said in a statement that the private equity group invested in Fairway “to provide liquidity sought by the family owners, and to support their and management’s objective to expand Fairway’s platform.”

Sterling, he said, assisted Fairway “through a consensual reorganization supported by the company’s management, owners and creditors in which all employees, including union employees, were retained, all vendors were fully paid, all stores remained open and the company was left well capitalized under its new owners.”

Sterling “had no involvement” with Fairway after its 2016 reorganization, Mr. Macey said.

(For the full New York Times story, click here.)

Papyrus Folds

Main Street’s latest casualty is Papyrus.

An “Everything Must Go” sign hangs in the store window. As first reported on WestportNow, all stores in the chain are being liquidated.

Papyrus sold greeting cards, wrapping paper, planners, ornaments, wooden music boxes, snow globes and the like.

No date has been set for the closing.

(Photo/Dan Woog)

Free Tax Help Offered

No one likes paying taxes. And almost as bad is figuring them out.

Plowing through all those IRS forms and regulations can be particularly tough for folks without accountants or access to other help.

Fortunately — in conjunction with AARP and the IRS — Westport’s Department of Human Services provides a free, full-service tax assistance program. Special attention is paid to senior citizens, and low to moderate income households. (It is available to all filers, regardless of income or age.)

Tax preparation and electronic filing of federal and state taxes is offered from January 27 (early) through April 15 (really, really late) at 2 locations.

The Senior Center program runs Wednesdays (9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and Thursdays (1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.). Call 203-341-5099 for appointments.

The Town Hall program runs Mondays, from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Call 203-341-1050 for appointments.

Nationwide, more than 35,000 IRS-certified volunteers help out, at nearly 5,000 sites. Last year, 748 returns were filed in Westport.

Tax forms can be daunting for anyone.

If married, both spouses should be present at the appointment. Taxpayers must bring:

  • Copy of last year’s federal and state tax returns
  • Government-issued photo ID
  • Social Security or ITIN numbers for all taxpayers and dependents
  • Bank account/routing numbers (blank check preferred) if expecting a refun
  • SSA1099 if you were paid Social Security benefits
  • W-2s from employers
  • W-2G from gambling winnings
  • 1099G from unemployment compensation payments
  • 1099s: bank interest, stock dividends, retirement distributions, broker statements
  • Receipts for deductible expenses, including real estate and vehicle taxes paid
  • Verification of the original purchase price of sold assets (home, stocks, etc.)
  • Receipts/canceled checks if itemizing deductions (charitable contributions, etc.)
  • Form 1095-A if health insurance was from the Access Health Connecticut Marketplace.

For more information, call the Department of Human Services: 203-341-1050.

NOTE: The “tax assistance program” refers to helping figure out your taxes — not actually paying them. Damn!

[UPDATE] No More Meatballs. Shop Closes Sunday.

Well, that didn’t last long.

The Meatball Shop — the Westport outpost of the New York-based restaurant that opened on June 22 — will serve its last balls on Sunday.

A hostess who answered the phone tonight laid the blame on “expensive rent and not enough customers.” She said the staff was informed yesterday.

The Meatball Shop took over from The ‘Port. That restaurant lasted 13 months — twice as long as The Meatball Shop. Before that, the ground floor of National Hall was home to Vespa. Before that, it was Cafe Zanghi.

It’s a wonderful space — but huge. Parking is tight.

On the other hand, 2 nearby restaurants — OKO and Bartaco — are flourishing.

There is no word on what will replace The Meatball Shop.

If anything.

The Meatball Shop in National Hall, just over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

After this story was posted, Adam Rosenbaum — The Meatball Shop CEO and partner — emailed this statement:

Yes, we will be closing our Westport location after dinner service this Sunday, January 12th.

We have really loved being a part of the community, and have been so lucky to have built meaningful relationships over the past 6 months. Breaking bread with neighbors is what we are all about, and we felt like Westport was the next spot for us. Unfortunately, although it was a tough decision, we have a lot on our plate for 2020.

We are currently focused on a large re-branding, to evolve and grow into our second decade. Highlighting our delicious, responsible and sustainably sourced menu…and also add a few more dishes that we know our loyal guests will be excited about! (https://www.themeatballshop.com/news-item/dear-ballers/ )

This means making some tough decisions to focus our efforts on the NYC market locations, with a few more exciting things to come this year!

We hope that the Westport community, and all of Fairfield County, will follow along on the journey, and we hope to revisit Connecticut soon.

Westport Means Business

Those are not just words. “Westport Means Business” is the name of an ongoing series of events bringing together local business owners — and those who hope to be — to share, learn from and support each other.

“Westport Means Business” is about connections, not competition.

Last year’s inaugural session included Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily, founders of The Granola Bar; Jamie Camche, longtime owner of JL Rocks jewelry store, and Kitt Shapiro, whose 2-year-old West is already an established downtown presence.

The next event is tomorrow (Thursday, January 9, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum; networking begins at 6:30 p.m.).

Panelists include Bill Taibe, executive chef and owner of The Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall; JoyRide’s CEO and co-owner Becky Cerroni and co-founder and chief brand officer Amy Hochhauser, and Maria Pooya, founder and CEO of Greenwich Medical Spa.

All are local residents. All own multiple-location businesses. All are very different. But their focus on community, generosity and success crosses all boundaries.

Last year’s topic — “Jumping Off” — explored the moment the women decided to start their own businesses. This year it’s “Lessons Learned”: sharing advice on what to do — and not do.

Jen Tooker — Westport’s 2nd selectman, whose portfolio includes speaking with local business owners — will once again moderate. As she did last year, she will encourage panelists to tell their stories.

And suggest what our town can do better, to help local businesses.

Tooker says that feedback she’s heard falls in 3 general areas. One is that we have a successful and vibrant local business community. But owners want ways to meet, learn from, challenge, support and cross-promote each other.

Another is that among our many talented residents, many men and women are looking to start second, third, even fourth careers. How can we capitalize on this talent pool, and connect them with others who have already started businesses?

A third area is that Connecticut has a reputation of being anti-business. How can we turn this narrative around, and highlight our diverse, vibrant business community?

“I’m inspired by every local business owner I meet,” Tooker says. “I can’t wait to continue celebrating our business community. We’re partnering with the Westport Library on this, and are working together with the herculean efforts of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association. Just as we want Westport to be a great place to live and raise a family, it can also be a great place to start and grow a business.”

“Westport Means Business” plans 3 panels this year, and monthly podcasts.

Thursday’s event is free, and open to all. Pre-registration is not mandatory, but click here for a link so that organizers can get a sense of numbers.

Another Westport Closing: This Time It’s Chef’s Table

For nearly 70 decades, Christie’s Country Store served the Cross Highway/Bayberry Lane neighborhood well.

It went through a couple of changes after Christie Masiello and her nephew Don Masiello sold the store — including, very briefly, a dry cleaner. But when John and Renee Hooper bought it in 2009, they quickly brought back the comfy, community gathering place vibe.

They ran it that way for nearly a decade — adding, among other things, burritos, prepared foods, Frosty Bear ice cream and a Sunday morning farmers’ market.

The building is a non-conforming use, in a residential neighborhood. Zoned as a retail food establishment, it can operate as a takeout deli, with limited seating indoors.

The Hoopers wanted to offer brunch in the winter by the fire, and on the porch in the summer, plus a limited dinner menu. But state regulations prohibit expanding the septic system — a prerequisite for the changes — so last December, after 9 years, the couple closed Christie’s.

The classic front porch.

The good news: Chef’s Table took over. Rich Herzfeld — who opened his first store under that name in 1995, at what is now Aux Delices on Church Lane, before moving to Fairfield — added Cross Highway to his menu.

He opened April 1 of last year. Today came the stunning news: He’s closing January 15.

Chef’s Table was here less than 10 months.

It’s a tough location. There’s not a lot of traffic — at least, not a lot that stops for premium sandwiches, soups and a salad bar.

As much as the neighborhood loves it, they don’t always support it. Students from nearby Bedford Middle School and Staples High love it too, but they’re not high-margin customers.

Middle schoolers hang out in 2015– near a menorah, moose and reindeer.

Rich says, “Very simply, the location didn’t work out for us. We appreciate the folks who have supported us. We hope to see them at our Fairfield location. Many of our crew will come back to Fairfield with me.”

Tim Purcell owns both the store and the adjacent auto repair business. He is already negotiating with a new tenant to replace Chef’s Table.

It’s a food service. Not a dry cleaner.