Category Archives: Library

Greens Farms Spirit Shop Sold; After 50 Years, We Toast Jack Riley

In November 1969, Jack Riley opened Greens Farms Spirit Shop in a Post Road strip mall near Turkey Hill South.

The holiday season is every liquor store’s Super Bowl. For nearly 50 years Jack has spent nearly every waking hour — including Christmas Eve — making sure his many loyal customers have all the whiskey, wine and beer they need.

There’s always something going on at Greens Farms Spirit Shop.

This year is different. Tomorrow — Saturday night — Jack will close up for the last time. The next day, he and his wife Eileen Proulx Riley — well-known too in town, for her long service with the Westport Library children’s department — head to California. Their 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law and 4 grandchildren are there.

For once, Jack won’t think about inventory, deliveries, or anything else work-related. Earlier this week, he sold his store.

After half a century as one of our town’s favorite merchants, he’s moving west for good.

That’s bad news for countless Westporters who started as customers, and became friends. But 50 years is a long time to own a business.

Particularly one as demanding — and in demand — as a liquor store.

Jack’s roots in the area are long and deep. He grew up in Fairfield. After graduating from Christ the King High School, he worked for an electrical distributor.

His father was the last of 4 generations of rye makers. In 1969 Jack and his dad — also a Sikorsky engineer and tool-and-die maker — found a great location for a liquor store. They spent that summer building it out.

Jack Riley at Greens Farms Spirit Shop, on the first day of business: November 10, 1969.

Jack had a great run. In a town in which many businesses have the longevity of fruit flies, Greens Farms Spirit — and its next door neighbor, Fortuna’s — have been not just consistent, but consistently good.

Jack’s store is well known not just for knowledgeable help, wine tastings, a wide selection at all price points, and the many young Westporters he’s hired and mentored, but for its genuine friendliness.

If “Cheers” was the bar where everyone knew your name, Greens Farms Spirit is the liquor store equivalent.

The wide aisles and square sales counter are places of constant banter. It’s not quite a country store with pot-bellied stove, but for a spirit shop it comes close.

In October 2012, the power was out all around town. But Jack Riley’s Greens Farms Spirit Shop was open.

Customers know Jack’s family well, because he talks proudly about them. His son Kevin and wife Genoa own a wine business. They have 3 boys, ages 13, 10 and 9. Jack’s other son Tim works for the Navy as a computer engineer. He and his wife Amy have a 6-year-old girl.

Both families live within 2 hours of each other, on the sparsely populated, beautiful central California coast.

Back row (from left): “Jack” Nelson Riley, Eileen Riley, Jack Riley. Front:
Finley, Westley and Barrett Riley. 

Jack and Eileen have bought 10 acres. They’ll build a new house. He’ll play a lot of golf. They’ll be bi-coastal until she leaves her job at the library.

And he’ll connect with a new set of customers, at Kevin’s tasting room. (He’ll no doubt see plenty of old ones too. That area — and those wines — are popular draws for Westporters.)

Most of all, Kevin says, “he looks forward to learning to drive a tractor, and be the cowboy he’s always dreamed of.”

The new owners will run Greens Farms Spirit Shop. Rob Pelletier — Jack’s longtime assistant manager — will still be there. The friendly, helpful fun vibe will continue.

But before they take over on Sunday, let’s raise our glasses one last time — in person, or online.

Here’s to you, Jack Riley: for 50 years, the true spirit of Greens Farms.

Pop (Up) Goes The Library Shop

The Westport Library’s Transformation Project roars along. It’s on schedule to be finished in June.

Of course, the library is still open. But to make sure that holiday shoppers don’t miss a chance to buy goodies from its store, the library has opened a pop-up shop.

It’s in Bedford Square — across from the Spotted Horse restaurant, and most recently the site of the CronArt gallery.

The space is filled with greeting cards, reading glasses, cards and notepads, socks and scarves, booties and onesies, toys, games, building sets, novelties, bags and pouches, jewelry, umbrellas, tech gadgets, decorative lighting, maker kits and more.

A few of the many items available at the Westport Library pop-up store …

Some items are handmade. Some are quirky. There’s something for everyone, of any age.

This being the library shop — even off-site — there are even books for sale. Fiction, mystery, coffee table, children’s books — you’ll find them all. The selection changes weekly.

The pop-up shop is open through the end of the year: weekdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 12-5 p.m. All proceeds benefit the Westport Library.

… and some of the books.

Unsung Hero #74

Pamela Einarsen moved to Westport 26 years ago. She was pregnant with her first child. She and her husband Paul raised 2 boys here.

A former oncology nurse, Pam switched careers in 1998. She started a photography business in her home. With Paul by her side, and sons Connor and Carson as assistants, it’s grown to 2 studios. Clients adore her wonderful eye and attention to detail, and return year after year.

Pamela Einarsen loves photographing children and families. 

As she did in her oncology work, Pam connects with people. She learns their stories, then tells them through photographs. She is creative, warm and loving.

Pam Einarsen is also giving. Every year, she donates her time and talents to worthy organizations and causes: A Better Chance of Westport. Staples Tuition Grants. Al’s Angels. The Westport Library. Near & Far Aid. Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.

Pam has photographed many local favorites, like Paul Newman, Michel Nischan, Maxine Bleiweis and Bill Derry. Her A-list of celebrities includes Alan Alda, Salman Rushdie and Deepak Chopra.

For the Westport Library’s “I Geek…” series, Pamela Einarsen photographed Miggs Burroughs wearing a t-shirt with the Westport flag he designed. 

Fellow photographer Katherine Bruan — who nominated Pam as this week’s Unsung Hero — says, “I’ve never met anyone who enjoys her work more. Every new client brings a new experience and a new story. Pam comes back from her shoots exhilarated, every single time. She appreciates life, and loves connecting with people so she can document their stories.

“Pam uses her photography to help people chronicle their lives and experiences. She captures the moments that matter, and sees everyone as beautiful and necesssary. Her photographs are priceless. It’s a gift to love your work as much as she does.”

For her 20 years photographing Westporters — and giving back to us all, through so much superb pro bono work — Pam Einarsen is this week’s Unsung Hero.

Picture that!

Pamela Einarsen

Photo Challenge #199

Old library card catalogs never die. They just get recycled.

At the Westport Library, the repurposing is particularly creative. For a few years now, the cafe has filled the now-obsolete wooden drawers with utensils, sugar packets and the like. It’s a great way to save space — and save what was once an integral part of the library experience.

Fred Cantor, Seth Schachter, Arleen Block, Nancy Bloom, Rich Stein, Joyce Barnhart, Nina Streitfeld, Ronna Zaken, Karen Como, Molly Alger, Mary Palmieri Gai, Ellen Wentworth, Arlene Gottlieb, Arline Gertzoff, Trammi Nguyen, Jessica Newshel and Karen Kim all identified last week’s Photo  Challenge. (Click here for the photo.)

Sure, it was easy. Let’s hope it was fun.

This week’s Photo Challenge shows several security cameras, and other electronic equipment. They’ve become part of our lives, so now we barely notice them.

But have you noticed this particular set? If so, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Diane Lowman Masters Shakespeare

Diane Lowman always had a crush on Shakespeare.

For as long as she remembers, the Westporter loved the long-dead English author.

But when her sons Dustin and Devin graduated from Staples High School, Diane — who kept busy in her 20-plus years here by volunteering in school libraries, tutoring and substitute teaching Spanish, and doing nutrition consulting with groups like Homes with Hope and Project Return — found herself with empty-nesting time.

For “brain stimulation,” she read all 38 of her crush’s plays. She blogged about the experience in “The Shakespeare Diaries.”

When that was done, Diane says she had “post-partum depression.”

Then a friend mentioned a cousin was earning a master’s degree in English. A light bulb flashed.

“I’d been out of school hundreds of years. It was crazy,” Diane recalls. “But I applied to the Shakespeare Institute.”

The research group is part of the University of Birmingham (England, not Alabama). Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, it offers a 13-month master’s program in Shakespeare studies.

So a year ago, Diane says, “I ran away from home.”

Diane Lowman with her crush, at Stratford-upon-Avon.

The experience exceeded even her lofty expectations.

“I pinched myself every day,” she reports. She lived in the beautiful West Midlands, surrounded by farms, sheep and swans. The Cotswolds were close.

It was not Disneyland. It was “Shakespeareland.”

The Institute’s professors were “Shakespeare’s brain trust,” Diane notes. Yet they were exceptionally accessible, caring and helpful.

Her flat was 2 blocks from the Church of the Holy Trinity, where the writer is buried. Diane visited often. “I would just sit and chat with him,” she says.

The Royal Shakespeare Company was half a mile away. She saw every play they produced.

Diane also volunteered at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. She had access to the full archives — including rare, barely seen materials.

She flipped through a 1623 folio of the playwright’s works — the first time they were compiled together. “I actually cried,” she says of that experience.

Diane Lowman held this rare Shakespeare folio.

Now — 13 months later — Diane has her master’s degree in Shakespeare. What does that mean for her life?

“That’s my big quandary: What do I want to do when I grow up?” Diane admits.

She has met with the creative director of Shakespeare on the Sound, and contacted Norwalk Community College about teaching a lifetime learners’ course. She’d also like to do a “Kids’ Introduction to Shakespeare” through the Westport Library.

The renowned author’s works “are really not daunting,” she claims. “I read Shakespeare to both boys starting around 2. They knew ‘Hamlet’ better than ‘Goodnight Moon.'”

As Diane Lowman starts to figure out her next steps, there’s one literary certainty. Her memoir, “Nothing But Blue,” has just been published.

It’s a trip back to the summer of 1979. Diane — a 19-year-old Middlebury College student — spent 10 weeks working on a German container ship, with a nearly all male crew.

She traveled from New York to Australia and New Zealand and back, through the Panama Canal.

The voyage changed her perspective on the world, and her place in it. She left as  a “subservient, malleable girl,” and returned as a confident, independent, resilient young woman.

That long-ago journey was not much different from her recent one.

“I went far from home, on what seemed like a crazy idea,” Diane says of both. “But ultimately my time was so enriching.”

Her time in England was “wonderful.” Her shipboard experience was “scary, lonely and weird.”

Ultimately though, Diane learned and grew from both.

All’s well that ends well.

 

Saugatuck StoryFest: The “Write” Way To Celebrate

From F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger to John Hersey and Peter De Vries, then on to current residents A.E. Hotchner and Jane Green, Westport has long been a writer’s town.

Back in the day, a special Rabbit Hill festival celebrated the works of local children’s author Robert Lawson.

But there’s never been a community-wide event, for all ages, dedicated to every genre imaginable: young adult, sci-fi, novels, romance, horror, even graphic novels.

Until now.

October 12-14 marks the first-ever Saugatuck StoryFest. A collaboration between the Westport Library and Westport Public Schools — held at the library, in downtown restaurants, the Senior Center and Westport Woman’s Club and Staples High School — it is wide-ranging. Interactive. And very, very cool.

Saugatuck StoryFest has been in the works for a year. Staples English teacher Kim Herzog and literacy coach Rebecca Marsick had the idea. Library executive director Bill Harmer had been thinking of the same thing. He offered the help of library manager of experiential learning Alex Giannini and program/events specialist Cody Daigle-Orlans.

A $25,000 grant from the Board of Education Innovation Fund helped secure authors like Newbery Honor recipient Jason Reynolds (a keynote speaker) and National Book Award nominee Nic Stone.

Those writers drew in others. National and local authors quickly jumped on board. Over 100 authors will participate, in a variety of ways.

The planning committee included a dozen students from Staples and Bridgeport, a Bridgeport teacher, and Fairfield University’s Connecticut Writing Project director Bryan Ripley Crandall.

Jason Reynolds

They’ve created a remarkable lineup. The 3-day celebration of reading, writing and ideas kicks off Friday, October 12 with a keynote by Emmy-winning documentarian Sheila Nevins, and a concert/storytelling session with Drama Desk-nominated composer/lyricist Joe Iconis.

Saturday, October 13 includes Reynolds, Stone, best-selling children’s author Chris Grabenstein and National Book Award winner Robin Benway, plus “Game of Foams” performances on Jesup Green recreating epic battles in the “Game of Thrones” books, and hands-on activities with comic creators.

Meanwhile, the Senior Center hosts “Writing Your Next Chapter: Inspiration and Support for Those Who Have Lived Many Stories.”

Saturday night features a lit crawl and pub trivia in downtown restaurants and bars. The evening ends at the Woman’s Club with a celebration of the legacy of Ray Bradbury, courtesy of author Sam Weller and Westport’s Play With Your Food.

On Sunday, October 14 StoryFest moves to Staples. A full day of workshops, panels and a mini-BookCon kicks off with a local authors’ breakfast, and conversations between our own noted writers like Charlotte Rogan and Nina Sankovitch.

Sunday’s keynote is delivered by National Book Award nominee Ibi Zoboi. Other headliners that day include Peter Blauner, Andrew Gross and Riley Sager.

There’s much more — too much in fact for even this local writer to cram in to this story. For full details, click here.

All kinds of books are featured at Saugatuck StoryFest — including “Yes: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania.”

Bernstein On Broadway — And The Westport Library

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth. The legendary composer/conductor had a profound impact on Broadway, the Philharmonic, television, young people. You name it, he touched it.

He also had strong local ties. For much of his life he had a home in Fairfield, just over the Westport line. Area residents knew him well.

Leonard Bernstein

Andrew Wilk did not. But like many children of his era, he loved Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” on CBS. They inspired his career in music and TV.

At New York University, Wilk was the only student who could read a full conductor’s score. When the CBS music coordinator was sick prior to a Lincoln Center show, Wilk’s professor got him to fill in.

The network paid him $50, and fired the other guy. At 19, Wilk won an Emmy for his work on the “Young People’s Concerts.”

He now has 4 more. And — in addition to his noted career as executive director of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts — the Westporter serves as a trustee of the Westport Library.

Last year he produced the organization’s Malloy Lecture in the Arts, one of the library’s signature annual events. Past programs have featured Arthur Miller, Christo, Joshua Bell, Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Plummer and Salman Rushdie.

Andrew Wilk in the “Live From Lincoln Center” remote truck, during “Falsettos.”

Wilk had just produced the film version of “Falsettos” for PBS. He brought the director and cast to the library. It sold out the day it was announced.

So it’s only natural that this year he’s reprising his producing role for the Malloy Lecture — and focusing on Leonard Bernstein.

The event — set for Monday, October 22 (7:30 p.m., Quick Center at Fairfield University) has 2 parts.

The first focuses on Bernstein and Broadway. A panel discussion with his children Nina and Alexander will be moderated by conductor/composer/ producer George Steel. Rare family footage will be shown, including scenes from their life in Fairfield.

The second half of the evening features live musical performances of iconic shows like “West Side Story,” “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.” Broadway soloists will be joined by the Staples High School Orphenians.

Musical director Michael Barrett will also perform a 4-hand piano arrangement of the “Candide Overture,” with Westport’s own internationally famed Frederic Chiu.

It will all be “a unique perspective on an amazing man,” Wilk promises.

Susan Malloy

It’s one more in the series named after a remarkable person herself. Artist and philanthropist Susan Malloy  died in 2015, age 91.

Thirteen years earlier, she had endowed the lecture series. It’s a free, public annual discussion by a person with significant cultural influence, and whose work has enhanced the understanding and appreciation of the arts.

(The Malloy Lecture in the Arts has already sold out. Call the Quick Center at 203-254-4010 or email boxoffice@quickcenter.com to be put on the wait list. For more information, click here.)

 

Unsung Heroes #57

Last week’s Westport Library Book Sale went off without a hitch.

Thousands of visitors bought tens of thousands of books. And CDs, DVDs, even LPs.

The library earned thousands of dollars. Even yesterday — when everything was free (contributions gladly accepted!) — the library earned something just as important: grateful good will.

One scene from last weekend’s Book Sale.

But as easy as it all seemed — hundreds of volunteers hauling boxes, posting signs, pointing patrons in the right direction, smilingly totaling up purchases, answering idiotic questions (“Do you have …?”), handling setup, security and cleanup; volumes sorted superbly into categories from Art to Zoology; no problems despite the loss of the library space itself during the Transformation process — none of it would be possible without a few great leaders.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein are the Book Sale co-chairs.

Suzy Hooper and Heli Stagg have full-time library roles, in addition to their Book Sale duties.

They lead with inspiration — and by example. They give new (and literal) meaning to the phrase “heavy lifting.”

This is not the only Westport Library Book sale, either. There are others, in winter and spring. None would happen without the many volunteers — and these 4 at the helm.

(From left) Heli Stagg, Suzy Hooper, Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein yesterday. They don’t even look tired! (Photo/John Karrel)

We hope Mimi, Dick, Suzy and Heli enjoy being this week’s Unsung Heroes.

But they probably won’t see it. They’re finishing up last weekend’s book sale.

And starting work on the next.

(Hat tip: John Karrel. Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? email dwoog@optonline.net)

And The Worst Sign In Town Is …

Last week, “06880” reported on Planning and Zoning’s enforcement of the town’s longstanding ordinance against temporary signs.

The removal of dozens of placards — promoting everything from the Library book sale to (ironically) junk removal — drew dozens of comments.

It’s about time! praised some.

Governmental overreach! howled others.

Predictably, the discussion veered away from the direct topic at hand. Eric Bosch noted that there are 309 permanent signs at Compo Beach alone.

Chris Woods suggested that people send in photos of the “worst” signs in town.

Great idea! 

Here’s mine, from Wilton Road:

Hey — this is Westport! Every place here has a school bus stop ahead.

Besides, have you ever seen this sign flashing? How would that even work? Do school buses have a special method to switch on these lights?

That’s my worst/least favorite/most annoying sign (though there are many contenders). What’s yours?

Email photos to dwoog@optonline.net. And let us know exactly why that particular sign is worse than all the others.

Abstract Irony

Alert “06880” reader — and ace photographer — JP Vellotti sent me this shot, from the weekend’s Fine Arts Festival. He calls it “Abstract Irony.”

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

It took me a few seconds to figure out why he gave it that title.

When I realized the reason, it fit perfectly.

If you catch the irony in JP’s image, click “Comments” below.

Meanwhile, kudos to the Westport Downtown Merchants Association for this year’s 45th annual event.

Over 180 exhibitors in charcoal, watercolor, pastel, pencil, ink, photography, digital art, sculpture, printmaking, mixed media, glass, ceramics, jewelry and wood filled Main Street, Elm Street and Church Lane.

Live music, special performances, children’s activities, food and non-profit groups’ exhibits added to the flair.

Around the corner, the Westport Library‘s annual book sale drew plenty of bargain hunters (some of whom were also paying serious prices for art).

The book (and CD) (and DVD) (and more) sale continues tomorrow (Monday, July 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., half price day) and Tuesday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m., everything free but contributions gladly accepted).

It was a great weekend to be downtown.

And I say that without any irony whatsoever.