Category Archives: Library

Westport Means Business

The event was called “Westport Means Business.”

But the crowd that packed the Westport Country Playhouse barn Tuesday night enjoyed plenty of laughs — plus wine and food — as 4 women described the many highs and few lows of owning a local business.

They ranged in age from 30s to 50s. They’ve been in operation from 20 years to just 1. Yet the quartet share joy in what they do, gratitude for the opportunity to do it — and a firm belief that Westport is a great place to pursue their dreams.

Second selectman Jennifer Tooker’s shirt motto — “Be Bold” — set the tone for the evening.

The evening was sponsored by the Westport Library, with support from the town. Second selectman Jennifer Tooker moderated, with ease and grace.

Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily — founders of The Granola Bar — are rock stars on the entrepreneurial scene. In 6 years they’ve gone from making desserts in their kitchens to owning 6 restaurants, here and in Westchester.

Interrupting each other, finishing their partner’s sentences and laughing often, the pair talked candidly about the challenges women face, from banks to stereotypes. They even pulled the plug once before they started, then forged ahead after Dana’s husband encouraged them to follow their dream.

When a mentor suggested that their planned granola manufacturing facility include something in the “front of the house,” they did not know the term.

Today they do. Proof of their success came a couple of weeks after they opened their first restaurant. It was filled with people they didn’t recognize. Their friends and family had supported them along the way — but now they had real customers.

Julie and Dana are proud to be setting an example for their young children, as “stay around” — rather than “stay at home” — moms. As they grow their business, there will be more obstacles — family and professional — to overcome. But they’re confident, excited, and proud that their journey began in their home town.

Jamie Camche has owned JL Rocks for 3 times as long: 18 years. Opening a jewelry store was a leap of faith. But her husband has supported her. She’s developed a strong and loyal clientele.

She noted the importance of having local ties too. Jamie was on a buying trip in Europe last September, when heavy rains flooded her Post Road East store.

Thankfully her landlord Mike Greenberg was there, hoisting buckets and bailing her out. He was at the Playhouse barn on Tuesday as well, supporting Jamie.

Participants in the “Westport Means Business” event included (from left) Kitt Shapiro (West), Jamie Camche (JL Rocks), 2nd selectman Jennifer Tooker, and Dana Noorily and Julie Mountain (Granola Bar).

Kitt Shapiro is 57. Yet she calls herself “the new kid on the block.” She’s owned West — the cool Post Road East clothing store — for only a year.

She’s been a 20-year resident of Westport, though. Those ties propelled her “leap of faith” into something she’d never done before.

“I feel so committed to this town, to small businesses, to being part of the tapestry of the community,” Kitt explained. “It’s my home.

West is just around the corner from Main Street, on Post Road East.

“We all know retail has changed,” she added. “But I truly believe local retailers are not going away. People want to touch, see and feel merchandise. They want to interact with other human beings. They’ll seek out people who are kind and smile.”

When Tooker asked for questions, an audience member wondered why none of the 4 businesses were on Main Street.

“We can’t afford it,” Julie said. “But we can’t afford a lot of Main Streets.”

“A town is more than Main Street,” Kitt added.

Third selectman Melissa Kane agreed. Getting the word out about options beyond that small, chain-dominated stretch of downtown is important to retailers and town officials alike, she said.

“We have not done a great job of that,” she admitted. “We need a professional initiative.” Kane said the town is working with a national wayfaring firm, developing signage and strategies to help residents as well as visitors realize the wealth of small, local businesses surrounding Main Street — and where to park, and walk to find them.

Julie praised Westport officials from departments like Fire and Health, for making life easy for entrepreneurs. Westport is the easiest to work with, of their 6 locations (Westchester is the toughest).

“The first health inspection could have been the scariest experience of our life. It wasn’t,” she said.

In her opening remarks Tooker noted that the town, library, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce are all spreading the news: Westport is a great place to live, raise a family — and grow and launch a business.

Or, as Julie Mountain, Dana Noorily, Jamie Camche and Kitt Shapiro reiterated: Westport is open for — and to — business.

 

Pic Of The Day #717

Library lights, by the Riverwalk (Photo/Peter Barlow)

Pic Of The Day #711

Thanks to great donors, new (and gently used) books are on sale (cheaply!) at the Westport Library (Photo/Gene Borio)

Friday Flashback #133

As the Library races toward the June 23 grand opening of its Transformation Project — a full-throated, very cool reimagining of the space — this is a good time to remind Westporters that the current location between the Levitt Pavilion and Taylor Place is not its original home.

It was built in 1908, on the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street) and Main Street. Its original name was the Morris K. Jesup Memorial Library. He died just 4 months before its dedication, after donating both the land and $5,000 for construction.

The original library still stands, though an addition built just to the west hides its grandeur.

It included a very quiet reading room.

An addition in the 1950s — around the time Parker Harding Plaza was built — accommodated the booming demands of post-war Westport.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

The “new” library may not have worked particularly well at its current site — the former town dump — where it moved in 1986.

But the third time’s the charm. The “new new” one will blow you away.

Morris Jesup would be very proud.

Kings Highway’s “Masterpiece”

Much of the town just finished WestportREADS. This year’s novel — “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid — focused on 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run.

A great book — but a bit much for elementary school readers.

No problem. Kings Highway just finished something very similar.

Everyone in school — all grade levels — read “Masterpiece,” Elise Broach’s mystery novel about friendship and stolen art.

Entire families were encouraged to read together at night. There were school-wide assemblies and online activities. Teachers recorded chapters on computers, so youngsters could listen at home or in the car.

There was a surprise ending: Broach herself showed up, to read the final chapter to students.

Author Elise Broach reads to Kings Highway Elementary School students.

It was a fun project for everyone. But then they took things a step further.

The school’s motto is “Kindness Happens at our School.” (The acronym is KHS — get it?!)

So when they were done, the kids donated their “gently loved” copies to the James J. Curiale School in Bridgeport. Now everyone there is doing the same school-wide reading too.

One book. Two schools. Too cool!

A bulletin board shows some of the many ways Kings Highway students read “Masterpiece.”

(Hat tip: Lauren Turner)

Pic Of The Day #694

Wise words, at the Westport Library exit (Photo/Dan Woog)

Library Transformation Nearly Complete

June 23: Book it!

That’s the Sunday — just 3 1/2 months from now — when the Westport Library unveils its finished Transformation Project.

It’s on time. On budget. And on track to revolutionize not only the library itself, but Jesup Green, Taylor Place, and probably the rest of downtown.

The other day — as workers pounded nails, laid tiles and ran wires — library director Bill Harmer took “06880” photographer Lynn Untermeyer Miller and me on a tour.

A few months ago, we previewed the lower level. Yet with all due respect to the stacks and reading nooks, the upper level is where all the action will be.

The “Great Hall” gets a lot greater. Gone is the “battleship” circulation desk, clunky kiosks and scores of stacks.

Now, Harmer says, the library has “liberated” nearly 11,000 square feet of space.

The main floor becomes a grand space for working, collaborating, watching concerts and performances, and hanging out. It can be reconfigured for an art show, fashion runway — if you imagine it, the library staff will do it.

“You can even have a wedding here,” Harmer says. I don’t think he’s joking.

The centerpiece of the “Forum” — its new name — is a tiered grandstand. It faces 2 directions — one of which is a new performing (and extendable) stage. Behind it is a giant video wall that Harmer calls “unlike anything anywhere in the state.” Theater-quality lighting hangs above.

The grandstand, looking toward Jesup Green…

… and the view from the top of the grandstand, toward the stage (rear).

A close-up of the grandstand. Mechanicals fit underneath; the exterior will be used for periodicals.

The entryway —  now accessible from Jesup Green, as well as the Levitt Pavilion parking lot — will include a “Hub.” That’s where you’ll find popular, new material, and a very user-friendly service desk.

That new entrance is huge. With a heated landing and steps, and a sidewalk linking it to the police station parking lot, it overlooks a natural amphitheater by Jesup Green.

Harmer envisions programs taking place on the landing, and the green.

Library director Bill Harmer outside the new entrance. Jesup Green and Taylor Place are close by.

Suddenly, that part of downtown seems part of the library. We’ll be encouraged to walk more; to linger on the green; to see the library as part of — rather than apart from — downtown.

A path now leads from Taylor Place to the police station parking lot. A new library entrance is along the path.

The connection continues inside. Dozens of windows have been added on the northern side. Natural light will flood in.

Plenty of windows let in lots of light.

There are many new rooms. Each serves more than one purpose. A hangout for teenagers in the afternoon becomes a lecture room at night, for example. A production facility turns into a green room for featured performers.

The new MakerSpace has 24/7 access from outside. Creativity strikes at any time, so users can come and go even when the rest of the library is closed.

The Library Cafe has been expanded enormously. A view of the bathroom has been replaced by one of the river. There’s outdoor seating — and a “BakerSpace” for demonstrations and nutrition talks. (Yes, that’s a play on “MakerSpace.”)

Upstairs, the hallway has been widened by 5 feet. That makes a huge difference. Seven large conference rooms will be open to the public (along with 2 on the riverwalk level).

There’s more room to walk on the 2nd floor.

But the star of the top floor is the children’s library. Though the same size as before, but it feels much larger.

The renovated children’s library.

The ceiling has been raised, revealing a large skylight that no one knew was there.

A peek through the porthole, at the newly discovered skylight.

Kids can peer through portholes at the Great Hall below — or they and their parents can enjoy wonderful river views on the opposite side. Mobile stacks will make this one of the most exciting parts of the entire building.

Library director Bill Harmer, in front of one of the new portholes. Children will gaze out, at all the action below.

The view from the children’s library is not too shabby.

The Transformation Project is truly a 21st-century design. Power outlets are everywhere. That’s one thing no library can have too much of.

Architects also thought to raise the floor. Finally, you’re high enough to actually see out of the windows.

Seeing, as we all know, is believing. Mark your calendars for June 23. You’ll see a library you could never have imagined.

Its transformation will be wondrous. And complete.

(For more information on the Westport Library’s Transformation Project, click here.)

Even the light fixtures are dramatic. (All photos and video/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pic Of The Day #691

Westport Library (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pic Of The Day #681

WestportREADS ended a few days ago. But for 2 months folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Mohsin Hamid’s novel about 2 refugees who, against all odds, find life and love on the run. (Photo/Westport Library)

Unsung Heroes #86

A few weeks ago, Katherine Bruan’s son was in a serious automobile accident. Ever since, her days have been filled with whatever a mom can do to help.

When he was still in the hospital, Katherine got an email from the Westport Library. She had 2 overdue books.

Both had been in the car. When it caught fire, they were destroyed. Katherine said she’d pay for both of them.

Immediately, the library replied: There was no charge.

The library is here for the community, the email said. She did not need one extra thing to worry about.

Take care of your son, the library added. And if you need anything from us, please call.

After the accident, many Westporters have reached out to help Katherine and her son. She is grateful to all.

But that one email was particularly special.

Any library is an institution. How nice that ours also has a heart.