Category Archives: Local business

Westport’s Oldest Bank?

The other day, alert “06880” reader Peter Tulupman noticed something strange on the side of the Bank of America building downtown.

bank-of-america-1

High up on the side was the numeral “1806.”

That’s not the street number — it’s 126 Post Road East.

And it’s certainly not the year it was built. Despite circling through a number of names (Fleet, anyone?) since its days as Connecticut Bank & Trust — the original tenant, I believe — this is not a 211-year-old property.

If anyone has any idea why this bank bears that number, click “Comments” below.

The first person with the right answer gets a toaster.

Friday Flashback #23

Alert “06880” reader Dana Pronti emailed this photo. It’s a 1930s view — looking east on Newtown Turnpike — at what is now the Country Store on Wilton Road. The photo was taken from where the Three Bears restaurant once stood.

wilton-road-lookingi-from-3-bears

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

That’s now the site of Chabad Lubavitch.

Here’s today’s view, from the same spot:

(Photo courtesy of Google Earth)

Has it changed much? You be the judge.

Lifestyles Of The Rich And Efficient

Congratulations!

You’ve just been given the keys to your new 10,000-square foot house. It’s beautiful!

You love the kitchen, with its high-end appliances. The master bathroom, with its fancy his-and-her showers, tubs and whatnot. The pool (and poolhouse!)

The last thing on your mind is how to maintain all that stuff. Not to mention the irrigation, roof and security system.

Plus everything else.

It’s the last thing on your mind because 1) you haven’t even finished unpacking; 2) you are a wizard of Wall Street but not an electrician, plumber, roofer, tile man, lawn guy or locksmith, and 3) you don’t even know what you don’t know.

Who you gonna call?

EfficientLifestyle!

It's tough to maintain a home like this on your own. Right?

It’s tough to maintain a home like this on your own. Right?

They’re a brand-new company — as modern as your home. Since moving into their breathtaking space overlooking the Saugatuck River in November (actually, for a while before that), they’ve been preparing to launch a web-based platform that will make Angie’s List look like the Yellow Pages.

And make the Yellow Pages look like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Tye Schlegelmich — founder and president of EfficientLifestyle — is an ex-hedge fund guy. He moved to Westport in 2010, and is passionate about his new role: making life more efficient, safe and fun for (among others) hedge fund guys.

Bill Green — vice president of operations — is a 1976 Staples High School grad. He’s spent his career building high-end homes in the area (and in similarly upscale locales, like Telluride).

Tye Schlegelmilch (left) and Bill Green, in their sun-filled riverside office.

Tye Schlegelmilch and Bill Green, in their sun-filled (and very efficient) riverside office.

At the heart of EfficientLifestyle is the belief that while everyone talks about the Internet of Things — the system of interrelated computing devices that in theory allows you to manage every aspect of your home digitally — the reality is far different.

You still have to change your air conditioning filters. Winterize your sprinklers. Clean your gutters. (Well, not necessarily “you.” Someone.)

And even if your house can tell you it’s broken, which local service provider around here is knowledgeable — and reliable — enough to fix it?

“Think of EfficientLifestyle as ‘Facebook for your house,'” Green says.

When you log in — after, that is, your address and credit cards have been verified — you see not a photo of you on the beach at Turks and Caicos, but a photo of your house.

The "home page" for your home.

The “home page” for your home.

You also see photos of your furnace, generator, oven, and many other appliances and pieces of machinery. That’s because the first thing Efficient Lifestyle does is send a “surveyor” to your home.

He takes those images — along with shots of the little plates bearing serial numbers — for 2 reasons. One is to create a database for your home.  The other is to make it very easy for service providers to provide service. If they know exactly where the water shutoff valve or control box is, they don’t have to spend valuable time searching for it. Or asking you where it is. (This also saves you from embarrassment, if your answer is, “Um….”)

Schlegelmilch notes another efficiency: Knowing makes and models allows service providers to pre-load trucks. The amount of time saved by not making multiple trips back and forth for 29-cent widgets on clogged I-95 is insane.

In his 90 to 120-minute inspection, the surveyor looks at everything: the roof, siding and interior of your home.

So far, Green notes, nearly every inspection has turned up something the homeowner did not know about, including chimney cracks, wiring problems and leaky pipes.

When you log in, you’ll also see a customized list of scheduled maintenance tasks — everything from exterior maintenance to moving outdoor furniture in for the winter.

There’s another list for unscheduled maintenance (uh oh).

Efficient Lifestyle also tracks major projects.

Efficient Lifestyle also tracks major projects.

To access a provider for any service — there are 47 categories — you click on the menu. Up comes a short roster of vendors, with pertinent information and reviews.

All have been vetted well. Very well. It’s an A-list for sure.

Once they’re approved — their licenses and certifications checked, their business reviews run — service providers get plenty. There’s full calendar integration. Payment processing. And an email/text system that allows customers and service providers to communicate quickly and efficiently. (No more voicemail, telephone answering services and other 20th-century technology.)

Currently, there is no fee for homeowners. EfficientLifestyle will be rolled out to other communities soon — but even if the firm eventually charges other homeowners for the initial survey, Schlegelmilch promises that Westporters will “never, ever” pay.

The list of repairs includes

The list of services you can access is long and comprehensive. It includes exterminators, generators — even garage doors.

The company charges service providers 5% of their fee.

It’s an efficient way to manage your lifestyle. It’s equally efficient for the service providers who make the cut.

And though the first part of this story talked about “your new 10,000-square foot house,” EfficientLifestyle can make life easy for any homeowner.

They know a thing or two about old places.

After all, their headquarters — 49 Riverside Avenue — was once Horace Staples’ lumberyard. Back in the 1860s.

You know — before electricity, Sub-Zero wine cellars and swimming pools that can’t survive a Westport winter on their own.

(To reach the EfficientLifestyle website efficiently, click here.)

Proud Townees Offer Westport Wear

Last summer, Ted Vergakis was on vacation in California. He saw someone wearing a simple T-shirt, with 2 words in beautiful script: “King’s Highway.”

Ted’s a Westporter. He had no idea what the shirt referred to. It could have been “a San Diego biker gang,” for all he knew.

No matter. He wanted one.

His oldest son Theo went to Kings Highway Elementary  School. His youngest son Alecko is a student there now. The family calls it “a special place,” and seeing those words crafted on a T-shirt seemed both cool and rare.

Ted realized that though there are places to buy things that say “Westport,” they don’t feel as if they were created specifically for here.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

Ted and Stephanie Vergakis.

So he and his wife Stephanie decided to create a hand-drawn script for Westport, and a unique illustration that can’t be found anywhere else in town.

This was not a total stretch for the couple — but not exactly what they’d been planning either.

Both grew up in small Massachusetts towns. Both started their careers in advertising, managing creative departments and producing campaigns.

Stephanie went on to work in fashion, at Donna Karan. Ted spent several years running the global creative group at IMG — with clients like the Olympics, NCAA, sports stars and models.

Now they run their own studio, called Offmad. They provide creative and strategic support to clients like Kayak.com, PwC, Vroom and others.

Ted and Stephanie's Westport hoodie.

Ted and Stephanie’s Westport hoodie.

Their route to Westport — via Manhattan and Hoboken — was similar to others’. When they felt the need for more space, and realized the commute would be longer, they wanted someplace special.

“More of a destination, not just a suburban town,” is how Ted describes it.

Work colleagues suggested Westport. On weekend trips here, Ted and Stephanie “pretty much knew it was the perfect place.” They loved it all: seeing houses in the morning, then lunch at the Mansion Clam House, a trip to the Compo Beach playground, a stop at Trader Joe’s.

“We were really taken by how much at home Westport made us feel,” Ted says.

“It felt very New England and familiar. We both loved where we grew up and vacationed — Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard. Westport really reminded us of all those special things from home.”

But — like most Westporters — when Ted had his aha! T-shirt moment, he also realized that Main Street has become flooded with retailers that do not offer anything authentic and Westport-special.

So he and Stephanie decided to partner with skilled designers and illustrators. They wanted to celebrate their town, and the artists who created its legacy.

Townee's sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Townee’s sparkling Saugatuck Bridge t-shirt.

Creating the sparkling Saugatuck Bridge illustration for their “Townee” apparel — which now includes short- and long-sleeve T-shirts, hoodies, fleeces and rally caps, for adults, kids and toddlers — was particularly important.

“I don’t think there’s a soul in town who doesn’t love the way the bridge looks during the holidays,” Ted says. “It’s perfect from every view — from 95, driving over it, walking through it.”

As for the company name, Ted says, “We think being called a townee is a compliment — a badge of honor. It’s someone who knows the best things to do, see, when to go places.

“Loving where you live makes you a townee. We all spend so much time  here doing normal day-to-day things. We want to remind others of how special Westport is.”

Their reminder: a line of high-quality apparel that’s comfortable, can be worn every day, and shows the pride people have in their town.

Townee launched last month. You may already have seen folks wearing Ted and Stephanie’s gear.

Just call them townees.

(Ted and Stephanie offer free delivery to all addresses. For more information — including ordering — click here.)

Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Country Curtains: The Closing

Yesterday, I wondered whether the reason for Country Curtains’ closing later this month was because of low sales volume or higher rent.

Peter Jennings, director of Bayberry Property Management & Leasing of CT — the manager of the small shopping center that includes that store, Stiles and Carvel — writes:

Country Curtains is closing due to a drop in business. Doing more in internet sales these days, like everyone else in this virtual world.

It took me 3 years to convince them to come to 06880. This ended up being their #1 store in the chain for many years, but always a top producer. It’s owned by very nice folks in Massachusetts.

Another nearby tenant was The Great American Stamp Store. They moved across the street, but are closing too — for the same reason.

So now you can get your rubber stamps and curtains online.

Along with everything else you once bought locally, from nice, helpful folks.

Country Curtains photos with -- unfortunately -- plenty of empty parking spots.

Country Curtains with — unfortunately — plenty of empty parking spots.

Country Curtains Folds

Country Curtains — the “bedding, decor and more store” nestled between Carvel and Stiles — is closing. A sign on the door says the last day is January 31.

It’s not exactly a mom-and-pop. The website lists a couple of dozen other locations, and they’ll remain open. There’s also a catalog business.

But Country Curtains has been here since at least 1988, so it seems this has been a good market.

Though apparently not good enough for someone — either the chain’s CEO, or the strip mall owner.

country-curtains

(Hat tips: Amy Schneider and Patti Brill)

Gary Perelberg Cops Easy Sneakers

You know how hard it is to go online and buy a limited edition pair of sneakers?

Actually, I don’t.

But Gary Perelberg describes the frustration: You hear about a cool pair. You go to the site — say, Foot Locker. You keep clicking “Add to Cart.” Nothing happens — and then it crashes. No sneakers.

Actually, that’s what used to happen.

Gary — a Staples High School junior — has solved that First World problem. He developed a software program, with a bot that scrapes web pages. You put in the shoe you want, your size and shipping information — and bam! You’re in!

You can even purchase in bulk, in case you want to (ahem) resell.

easycop-logoGary’s program is called EasyCop (as in, “I copped these great sneakers on the web!”). It works with Foot Locker, Nike, East Bay and many more online stores.

Gary recently added many Shopify e-commerce sites, branching out into other apparel. You can now buy limited edition lipstick too!

Yet sneakers remain his love.

Gary’s not alone. Over 3,000 people have bought his software. He has more than 15,000 Twitter followers. Some are teenagers, like Gary. Others are adult collectors. Some are retailers.

Gary describes a recent success story: Kanye West introduced a very limited line of sneakers. They retail for $200, but command aftermarket prices of up to $4,000 (!).

“One guy bought 50 pairs,” Gary says proudly. They were promptly resold.

You’re wondering the same thing I am: Is this legal?

“Stores say they can cancel bot orders,” Gary explains. But they don’t, because such buying “drives hype. When a few people get tons of sneakers, the price stays high.”

Gary Perelberg at work, surrounded by the tools of his trade.

Gary Perelberg at work, surrounded by the tools of his trade.

Lest you think Gary is all about the money: He’s not. He could use his own program to buy and resell, but he doesn’t. He’s content just selling his software licenses.

Of course, he makes good money — enough to buy (at 16) his own car.

But he also has a social conscience. Each month, Gary gives a percentage of his income to Bridgeport public schools, so they can buy laptops and tablets. He’s already donated more than $5,000.

“They don’t have the same opportunity to learn technology,” he says. “I’m grateful for what I’ve learned. I want other people to have that chance too.”

Gary's Yeezy 350 Boost sneakers.

Gary’s Yeezy 350 Boost sneakers.

Of course, Gary has fun with his business. He used it recently to cop a pair of Kanye’s Yeezy 350 Boost sneakers (in pirate black).

Yet selling sneaker software is no walk in the park. Gary spends a good chunk of each day answering customer service questions. “Some people are just not tech-savvy,” he notes. Others have “legitimate questions.”

EasyCop has taught Gary a lot about dealing with the public. He’s also learned about programming, and how the web works.

He’s largely self-taught. But he gives shout-outs to Staples teachers like Dr. Nick Morgan, Dave Scrofani and Nate Dewey. “They’re not really into sneakers,” he says. “I talk to them a lot about programming though.”

He may expand EasyCop even beyond Shopify. “People request strange limited edition markets,” Gary says. “Like karate robes. And baby carriers.”

Soon though, he’ll start looking at colleges. His dream school is MIT.

One day, Gary says, “I want my own company.”

Sounds as if  he already does.

Want to know more about EasyCop? Click the video below.

Great American Stamp Store Closes Soon

It may seem like a strange, niche business.

great-american-stamp-storeBut for 25 years — now behind Little Barn; before that, tucked away past Carvel and Aux Delices — the Great American Stamp Store has provided Westporters with artful rubber stamps, from over 100 manufacturers. They also sell art tools, ribbon, punches, dies, pens and more.

Yet all good things must end. Owners Judy Ritchie and her daughter Jamie are retiring. The shop closes on January 27.

A longtime customer says:

Together they’ve written books, taught classes, and provided the large scrapbooking, journaling and mixed media artist community with a big variety of stamps, paper, inks and embellishments. They’ve brought in well known mixed media artists from around the country to teach classes. On Tuesday mornings, they have a free “make and take” where they teach you how to make a greeting card.

There are no stores like it in the area. People travel from all over to go there. To me, they are like family. I will be sad to see them go.

Judy Ritchie (standing), with customers hard at work during a class. (Photo/Michael Trent)

Judy Ritchie (standing), with customers hard at work during a class. (Photo/Michael Trent)

Another customer adds:

Judy and Jamie don’t blame the new Michael’s as much as the internet. It’s easier to buy online than travel 25 miles to the store. I’ll tell you this though: Nothing beats the advice and inspiration you got from going there in person.

There’s still a couple of weeks left to head over, and buy your final stamps.

Including the one saying “The End.”

Westport Stores Go To The Dogs

An alert — and perturbed — “06880” reader sniffs:

The latest Westport trend is: dogs in stores.

And we’re seeing it more and more.

This picture was taken the other morning at Terrain:

dog-at-terrain

These 2 women conducted a lengthy checkout. The entire time their Lab licked and nibbled the holiday packages of chocolates and peppermint bark on the lower shelf.

When the transaction was complete, the women and dog grabbed a choice table in the Terrain Cafe.

I reported what I saw to the cashier, who seemed completely disinterested.

Not one to give up easily, I found the store manager who said, “It’s probably something we should frown upon. But we’re owned by Urban Outfitters. It’s their rule to allow dogs in the store and cafe.”

She did say she would remove all of those boxes of candy from the floor.

I did not stick around to see if she made good on her promise. But imagine if I hadn’t reported this? Some innocent shopper would give quite a gift: a very germ-y box of candy.