Category Archives: Local business

Garelick & Herbs: “Filled With Gratitude For 27 Amazing Years”

Paola and Jason — longtime owners of Garelick & Herbs — send this message to the “06880” community:

We are filled with gratitude for 27 amazing years of business serving the Westport community. We have grown together sharing in many joyful celebrations, milestones and the inevitable sad moments.

Our first store opened 27 years ago at 1799 Post Road East, where we grew (and later outgrew) the location. After 24 years we took a leap of faith to purchase and build an urban, modern-style store, with ample space to continue growing our in-store and catering businesses for years to come.

We also added a secondary commissary bakery and kitchen in the lower level of our existing building. Our new location at 3611 Post Road, Southport is a stop light away from our original store locate (2 stores down from Michaels and Home Goods).

Garelick & Herbs’ interior, in Southport.

As we were building our new Southport store, we were approached by Gault to entertain opening a satellite shop in their tastefully built shopping plaza in Saugatuck. We fell in love with the space and were very excited, as we have always had an affinity for Westport. Many of our loyal customers who live closer to Saugatuck/Norwalk had always wished we were closer to their homes.

Our high hopes were that this location would allow us to accommodate our client base, and also have a store presence in our home town of Westport. However, we soon discovered parking was limited for our needs, as we share approximately 12 spots with 2 other stores in the plaza.

Although there is additional parking in the underground garage behind the building as well as the commuter lot, many people are unaware. Some feel it is inconvenient.

We also found the area to be saturated with restaurants and food shops, limiting reasons other than food to attract more daily traffic in the area.

The Saugatuck location.

On the upside, it is a seasonal area with quaint charm that lends itself to walking, which brought more activity during the summer months.

Lastly, many of our customers who frequent the Saugatuck location also shop in our Southport store regularly. We therefore decided to not renew after our 5-year lease expired.

We will always have an allegiance to Westport, with our dedication to serve our customers, the community, schools and places of worship. We are committed to being an integral part of many happy moments of celebration, wonderful charities and community events.

In the meantime, we have very exciting embellishments in progress at our Southport flagship store.

A “Market Place” with various food vendors consisting of fresh meat, fish, cheese, and florist designer will be partnering with G & H in the coming months. Our concept is to bring together local community-based businesses, while making a one-stop convenient shopping experience.

Our vision and business direction has always been driven by our customers’ needs and requests. We are local, fresh and convenient, with sustainable local businesses collaborating to serve surrounding communities.

We have also expanded our catering and now operate at the Westport Inn, as well as Norwalk (Mora Mora and Wall Street Theater), Fairfield  (Birdcraft Sanctuary) and Bridgeport (Redline Restorations warehouse). Expansion to New York City is on the horizon!

We are humble, hard-working and grateful people who know we could not do all this without the support of amazing customers, dedicated employees and G-d’s/universe light upon us and all the people we serve.

With that, although we are no longer married, we are dedicated to each other, our children and our business. All of which will never falter.

Gratefully,
Paola & Jason

Great Westport Soup Contest: Mmm Mmm Good!

If you thought the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce’s Best Pizza and Best Burger contests were great, you’ll really enjoy this year’s menu.

It’s guaranteed to be super.

Well, at any rate, “souper.”

March is “Westport Soup Month,” the Chamber says. First Selectman Jim Marpe makes it official on Monday (March 2, 12:30 p.m., Mystic Market).

All month long, 19 soup-making restaurants and markets will compete in 7 categories. Westporters can visit the venues (see below), then vote for

  • Best Chicken Soup
  • Best Beef Soup
  • Best Vegetable Soup
  • Best Asian Soup
  • Best Onion Soup
  • Best Matzoh Ball Soup
  • Best Chowder.

The contest runs March 1 to March 31. Voting can be done online (click here). All voters are entered into a drawing, to win free soup from one of the victors.

Winners will be announced in April.

Here’s wishing the Chamber — and all participants — many soupy sales.

Participating restaurants:

  • Arezzo
  • Bankside Farms Kitchen & Bar (Westport Inn)
  • Calise Food Market
  • Chez 180
  • Dunville’s
  • Gold’s Deli
  • Joe’s Pizza
  • Kawa Ni
  • Little Barn
  • Match Burger Lobster
  • Mystic Market
  • Rive Bistro
  • Rizzuto’s
  • Romanacci Xpress
  • Rye Ridge Deli
  • Tavern on Main
  • Tutti’s
  • Viva Zapata
  • Wafu.

 

Acorn squash soup

Row, Row, Row Your Erg

Everyone can row.

It’s a low-impact activity that builds both aerobic endurance and muscular strength. Cardio and resistance workouts burn ginormous numbers of calories, and use every major muscle group.

But not everyone has the time to get out on the river. (Or wants to — particularly before dawn, and in our fickle New England weather.)

Now they don’t have to.

Row House is open to anyone, for 45-minute sessions on an ergometer.

It sounds like all the work, with none of the fun. Rowers have love/hate relationships with “ergs” — rowing machines. Workouts can be brutal — but at least the reward is a boat on the water. The Row House is just a storefront, in Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Yet there’s something about that workout — competing against yourself, while rowing with everyone else (“all in the same boat”), with music blasting, lights pulsing and a coach urging you on — that keeps people coming back again and again.

Westport’s Row House is owned by Dana and Rob Montefusco. The couple — her degrees are in speech and language pathology; his in architecture and construction management, and he was a personal trainer — were looking for an exercise-related project.

Row House — which grew from its first Columbus Circle location in 2014, to over 250 franchises across North America today — seemed perfect.

Dana Montefusco, at the Row House front desk.

They opened last April. Now the 25 machines are in constant use. The youngest rower is 13; the oldest, 80. There are husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters.

Some rowers work out at 5:30 a.m., before the train. Then come people with flexible schedules. Late afternoon draws the after-work crew. Weekends are a broad mix.

Feedback is great. “I’m surprised — it was fun and enjoyable,” one person said. “I’m not in pain!”

Another headed to Row House after surgery. It was the only exercise her doctor approved.

A third liked the fact that ergs give a full body workout. (Rowing is 60% legs, 30% core and 10% arms, Dana says.) “I don’t have to do something else afterward,” he noted.

One of the 25 Row House ergs.

Row House works hard to make workouts fun. One day there is a rowing relay race; another day, one side of the class competes against the other.

Row House coaches are an attraction too. An eclectic bunch — they include business executives, marketers and teachers — they create a welcoming environment. (They also instruct newcomers on proper technique.)

Colby Mello is one of the coaches. A 2008 Staples High School graduate whose day job is in consulting, she runs evening and weekend classes.

“There’s a huge misconception about rowing machines,” Mello notes. “People think they’re devilish machines. That’s why they’re usually empty at the gym.”

They’re not empty at Row House.

Row House offers monthly memberships (4 sessions for $99, 8 for $135, unlimited for $167), and class packs ($155 for 5 classes,$260 for 10). The drop-in fee is $32. For more information, click here.

Goodbye, Garelick & Herbs. Hello, GG & Joe’s.

After 6 years in Saugatuck Center, Garelick and Herbs is leaving.

Owner Jason Garelick told the Westport News, “I had a 5-year lease on our Saugatuck store and the past several months, we were going month-to-month, since our lease ended in 2019. It wasn’t drawing as many customers as it was in the past.

“Parking is tight in the area. You couldn’t get into the lot because of the train traffic. We were mostly only drawing customers from one section of Westport. In Saugatuck, you rely more on customers coming from the train station.

“Also, we were busier during the summer time. Closing a store is always a difficult decision and the area is great, but it just wasn’t worth it for us.”

The final day is Saturday, February 29. The flagship store in Southport, and the Greenwich location, will remain open.

Meanwhile, a new place is getting ready to open on Parker Harding Plaza. It’s near the rear door of Rye Ridge Deli, closer to TD Bank.

GG and Joe’s will feature acai bowls, coffee and toast. Yes, toast.

The sign in the window says they’ll open this winter.

They better hurry. Spring arrives in 24 days.

Saving Main Street

Everyone talks about the empty storefronts on Main Street.

Evan Chevrier documented them.

The other day the 9-year Westport resident — a New York-based TV producer — went up and down the fabled artery, with a camera.

This is what he found:

“Most are quick to blame greedy landlords and their unsustainable rents,” he says. “And they may be right.

“But our only chance at saving Main Street is to take our fight to the people who can do something about it.

“Most building owners have no vested interest in the preservation of our downtown area. They only care about their bottom line. And for them an empty lot in Westport is barely a blip on the radar.

“It’s up to our town leadership to step up, and stop waiting around for things to get better on their own. And they need to do it before it’s too late, and Main Street becomes a ghost town.”

Thoughts? Is this a local government issue? Can town officials affect or impact landlords? Is there a citizen-oriented, out-of-the-box solution? Click “Comments” below.

40 Years Of Great Stuff

Forty years ago, Lori and Joseph Friedman were casting around for a business to start.

He worked with Caldor. She was a wholesaler in children’s wear, and the mother of 6-year-old twins.

Lori Friedman outside Great Stuff, in the early years.

They decided on a women’s specialty boutique. They wanted a mix of contemporary fashion to accommodates different generations — the latest looks and trends in clothing and accessories, from well-known designers to cutting-edge.

They’d call it Great Stuff — because “great stuff comes in many forms, and can be purchased at different price points.”

The Friedmans found space on Post Road West, behind what was then John’s Best Pizza. (It’s now The Naan, an Indian restaurant.)

“I had no credit. We did cash and carry with jobbers, not wholesalers,” Lori recalls.

In 1980, the hot items were Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Jack Mulqueen blouses. Lori put tickets on them at home, then brought them to the store.

“It was a work in progress,” says Lori. “I’d shop for things that were interesting, but not over-exposed. I knew who my customers were, and could picture each garment on them.”

Lori Friedman today.

These days, Lori makes 2 or 3 shopping trips a year to Paris. Her husband handles the financial side. The twins — now in their 40s — are in the business too. Dina takes care of buying and merchandising; Adam handles operations.

There are now 5 Great Stuffs (the others are in Greenwich, Rye, Scarsdale and Chappaqua). The Westport location has moved 3 times — to Sconset Square, Main Street, and its current location on the same street, #68 (next to Blue Mercury).

The customer base has evolved. Longtime residents move; new families arrive. Lori and her staff watch them grow up.

For 4 decades, the Great Stuff formula has worked. Congratulations — and on to 2060!

Final Indulgence By Mersene

Alert “06880” readers know that Mersene* is one of my favorite people in the world.

And her store —Indulge by Mersene — is one of the best on the planet.

It’s fun. It’s funky. It’s totally Mersene.

Yet all good things must end. Today, the popular, vivacious, beloved unofficial mayor of Railroad Place announces she’s closing. She writes:

In a few weeks, the corner by the train station will be a little less lively.

There will be one less place to buy pillows, ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want — all stashed in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine that looks so lovely you hate to unwrap it.

Mersene has been unfailingly generous and supportive — to “06880” (the blog) and 06880 (the community).

Her closing leaves a hole in our community, and our hearts. Happily, she’ll still be here — online, and in pop-up shops.

So we’ll keep indulging, the unique Mersene way.

*Like Cher, Madonna and Divine, she needs only one name.

Mersene, with a small sampling of her many great items.

Unsung Hero #135

For 40 years, Ruth Kuhn and her husband made sure that before tossing garbage bags into the transfer station pit, their keys were safely stashed in their pockets.

For 40 years, the precaution worked.

Last week though, Ruth was distracted. The instant it happened, she watched helplessly as her key chain — holding 4 car keys, house keys, garage key and mini-garage door opener — sailed all the way down, with her trash, into the dump far below.

She heard it all land. And then there was silence.

She feared all her keys were gone, forever.

The dump.

Other people came by. Unaware of her plight, they tossed their garbage onto hers.

Then a wonderful thing happened. Workers Mark Meyer and Buddy Valiante, and John Davis of Malone’s Refuse, noticed her distress.

Without hesitation, they offered to help. While easing her anxiety with good-natured reassurance and support, they used long-hooked poles — from “seemingly out of nowhere” — to locate her keys. They extracted them, then returned them to Ruth.

“For Bud’s steady assistance, and to Mark and John who made it happen, I extend my very deepest appreciations,” Ruth says.

“And not only for what each of you did, but as well for who you are. It would have been so easy to walk away. I owe you each a very considerable debt of gratitude.”

Bud, Mark and John would probably say “it’s all part of a day’s work.”

It wasn’t. It’s part of what makes our town a community.

Thanks, guys. You are Ruth’s — and our — Unsung Heroes of the week.

Buddy Valiante in 2018, helping at the transfer station. (Photo/Cindy Mindell)

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

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.

The Art Of Changing Careers

Westport has plenty of art galleries.

But it may never have seen one quite like Bankside Contemporary, Steve Lyons’ new one on Post Road West.

Modeled on his successful gallery in Chatham on Cape Cod, this one — formerly Mar Silver Design, opposite Winfield Deli — is far from the very quiet/let’s examine the works/wine-and-cheese reception traditional gallery space.

Lyons prefers a “communal gathering space.” He wants people to wander in, say hi, enjoy cookies and candy and coffee, and just hang out.

“If you want art, we’ve got it,” he says. “But everyone is welcome.”

Steve Lyons’ art at Bankside Contemporary, 14 Post Road West.

If that sounds like a different kind of art gallery, well, Lyons’ path as an artist has been untraditional too.

Growing up poor in the foothills of Appalachia, he always painted. In college he minored in art and art history, but majored in something more career-oriented: journalism.

He moved to New York. He did PR for films and TV (and served a stint as critic Judith Crist’s assistant). He painted in his spare time, on weekends.

A job offer — corporate writing for a mutual fund — brought Lyons to New Haven. He bought a house on the Cape, and displayed his work at “casual shows” there.

He had some success. But he never thought about quitting his day job.

Steve Lyons

Eight years ago, Lyons began working on his back porch, painting on small pieces of scrap lumber. He put the finished art out front, with a sign asking anyone interested to put $40 or $50 in a nearby jar.

He sold 400 pieces that summer. Encouraged, he took a leap of faith to pursue art full time. “I know I’m one of the lucky ones,” he says.

Lyons opened a studio on Chatham’s Main Street — a homey place with a welcoming vibe.

In 2016 he was named one of the Top 5 Expressionist Artists in the World by the American Art Awards. The following year they named him #2 in the world for abstract expressionism. In 2018, Art Tour International Magazine listed him as one of the Top 15 Artists in the World to Watch.

It’s not quite a Grandma Moses story — she gained her first fame after age 80. But Lyons is 61 years old. Most “Artists to Watch” are not so close to Social Security.

Among the collectors paying attention was Phil Nourie. Last year — after a career in public relations and marketing — the 51-year-old Westporter started a new company.

Called GigSuite, its mission is to help people realize that after decades in a structured career, their skills actually are transferable. They can own, manage, advise and/or invest in a new, entrepreneurial field — even as their peers think about retirement.

The pair have formed an unusual business alliance. Lyons serves as Gig Suite’s art advisor. He helps clients who want to learn more about art, for aesthetic or business reasons (or both).

Steve Lyons’ “Dancing Clouds.”

Nourie, meanwhile, has helped Lyons open the Bankside Contemporary gallery.

“Steve changed careers in mid-life. He’s able to help others see it’s possible,” Nourie says.

Lyons’ artistic style is an important element in what both men do.

GigSuite’s research showed that “people need an open mind first, to overcome fear of trying something different later in life,” Nourie says. It also shows the human brain responds well to abstract expressionism.

So Lyons’ work hangs on the walls of Gig Suite’s office at 500 Post Road East, inspiring all who come to their workshops. And Gig Suite is the official host of the “Agility Through Art” series at Bankside Contemporary.

Grandma Moses, eat your heart out.

(For Steve Lyons’ website, click here.)