Category Archives: Local business

Welcome To Westport!

The Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street rotary — the first real bit of Westport people see as they get off Merritt Parkway exit 42 — has been spruced up nicely.

Thanks, Tony Palmer, Dan and Maureen Aron, and an anonymous helper!

But — as an alert “06880” reader points out — the view a few yards south is not exactly welcoming.

daybreak-nursery-4

The reader asks:

Do you know when when the Daybreak Nursery lot will be improved? The buildings are falling down, the weeds are overgrown, there is garbage in the driveway. It’s been this way for almost 2 years. What an eyesore. Do the owners have to at least maintain it in any way?

daybreak-nursery-1

Meanwhile, drivers who get past that sight — and want a pumpkin latte at Starbucks, quinoa salad at Freshii or a new outfit at one of our 27,284 Main Street women’s clothing stores — are grossed out by this view of the Parker Harding dumpster:

parker-harding-dumpster

That’s been an eyesore a lot longer than the Daybreak property.

It’s time — the “06880” reader says — for Westport to clean up its act.

Who wants to take charge?

New York Sports Club Lives On

When the Westport branch of New York Sports Club closed in July, they left behind a number of disappointed clients.

They also did something wonderful for a 16-year-old boy.

new-york-sports-clubMorgaine Pauker was one of those customers. Her husband Mark works with a man from Easton whose son Zach had just been paralyzed from the waist down, in a car accident.

Mark and Morgaine wondered if NYSC would donate some upper body strength equipment.

The club usually distributes excess machines to other NYSC locations. But they considered the request, and said they were happy to help

Then they went the extra mile. The other day, a machine was delivered to Zach’s house — and installed.

New York Sports Club is gone from Westport. But in one nearby home, it will never be forgotten.

(Click here to contribute to Zach’s medical fund.) 

Delivering the strength machine to Zach's home.

Delivering the strength machine to Zach’s home.

Friday Flashback #7

Earlier this week, I wrote about the exciting transformation plan for the Westport Library. If all goes well, the newest iteration of the library will be finished in 2019.

The Jesup Green building opened in 1986 (on the site of the former town landfill). A bit more than a decade later, it underwent its first renovation.

Westporters of a certain age think they remember the original library. Most of the stacks — and the famous art collection, and children’s section — were housed in the sterile Parker Harder building that now includes Starbucks, Freshii and HSBC Bank:

library-old

But the real first library — built in 1908, called the Jesup Library in honor of its benefactor Morris Jesup, and then in the 1950s incorporated as part of the “new” library — was located just east of that building. It sat on the corner of the Post Road and Main Street:

library-original

But our Friday Flashback digs even deeper than that.

Here’s what that 1908 “Jesup Library” replaced:

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

(Photo/Seth Schachter via Bill Scheffler)

This view looks west, at the corner of the Post Road (left) and Main Street (right). You can see the outlines of the buildings that are there today, lining the left side of Main Street.

If you’ve got any Westport Library memories, we’d love to hear them. Click “Comments” below.

High School Tutors Expand Scope, Services

Top Hat Tutors could rest on its reputation.

The after-school service — conceived of and created by Staples High student Charlie Jersey, then sold for $1 to Nick Massoud and, after him, Vig Namasavayam — is thriving. Nearly 40 Stapleites help a few dozen clients. The tutors are sharp, and relate well with their tutees.

But this year’s senior owners — president Jay Mudholkar and vice president Evan Feder, who purchased Top Hat for the now-traditional $1 from Vig — are doing more. They’re expanding their business: reaching out to students as young as elementary school; offering more areas (like computer science and music), and moving beyond Westport (to Fairfield, Norwalk, even Greenwich).

Jay and Evan — friends since 6th grade, who spent most of the summer fine-tuning Top Hat — point with pride to a 4th grader who loves sports. He’s now working with a tutor who shares that interest — and is a great role model, for both books and balls.

“It’s not only about getting an A on a test,” Jay says. “We also want younger kids to connect with older ones.”

Eric Feder and Jay Mudholkar take a break from organizing tutors.

Evan Feder and Jay Mudholkar take a break from organizing tutors.

Two elementary school brothers love chess. Top Hat found a chess-playing tutor — and another excellent role model.

“Anything we do at Staples, we can provide a tutor for,” Evan says.

Not everyone can be a Top Hat tutor. Sixty students applied for positions this summer. Only 38 were chosen.

Some clients are tutored weekly. Others call for one session — when, for example, there’s a big test ahead.

Tophat Tutors logoWhatever they need, Top Hat can help — with a special Staples touch.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Jay says. “We don’t want a stressful environment. We think we’re pretty chill.”

Though Top Hat is headed in new directions, one thing has not changed. The standard rate of $40 is the same as when Charlie began several years ago.

And when Jay and Evan sell their expanded company next spring, the price will once again be just $1.

(For more information, click on www.tophattutors.com, or email tophattutors@gmail.com)

GiGi New’s Caboose Muse

Every writer needs a favorite place.

For some it’s a home office — a converted bedroom perhaps, or the attic. For others it’s Starbucks.

For GiGi New, it’s a caboose.

Since the early 1970s, the red, real train car has sat in the woods off Newtown Turnpike, between the Country Store and Bette Davis’ old house. For anyone driving, biking or walking by, it’s an object of wonder and awe.

GiGi New's caboose.

GiGi New’s caboose.

For GiGi, it’s a special, creative sanctuary.

She and her husband — actor/director Nicholas Sadler (“Scent of a Woman,” “Disclosure,” “Twister”) — moved to Westport in April, with their young son Cooper. They fell in love with the house and caboose, and sent a heartfelt letter to the owner promising to honor and take care of both.

GiGi New

GiGi New

GiGi was already a well-established TV and film writer. In Minneapolis, where she lived during the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, she began teaching her craft. Garrison Keillor became an avid pupil.

She continued to teach after arriving here — first with the Westport Writers’ Workshop and through area libraries, now on her own.

Which  brings us to the funky, not-quite-level caboose, where Gigi works with individuals and groups, and continues writing for TV and movies. (Her current project is in development with Killer Films.)

The caboose is said to have been some sort of “payment” to Alan Abel, a well-known prankster who 40 years ago owned GiGi’s 1847 house. (One hoax: Following the Watergate scandal, he hired an actor to pose as Deep Throat. The press conference drew 150 reporters.)

The caboose was delivered via 3 flatbed trucks, and a crane. It sits on actual tracks, though those were brought in too. Someone had a permit for it — and it’s been grandfathered in ever since.

The interior, from the back of the caboose.

The interior, from the back of the caboose.

GiGi says the caboose belonged to the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad. One wall is filled with actual P&LE tickets. (They were placed there by HGTV, which gutted the interior, and re-decorated it for one of their shows — click here for the fascinating video.)

However, “DWP” is emblazoned on the side. The letters stand for the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific Railway.

That’s just one of the many mysteries surrounding the caboose.

What’s not in dispute is what GiGi has done with it, and what it means to her.

She’s brought in a conference table and desks — including the one she writes at. It faces woods, and a pond. She watches her son at play, along with ducks and deer.

GiGi's view, out the caboose window.

GiGi’s view, out the caboose window.

“If I can’t create here, I can’t do it anywhere,” she says. “This my safe, nurturing little haven. When I sit here, I tap into a quiet place. That’s essential for my writing.”

Like a child’s treehouse, the caboose allows her imagination to run wild.

Her students find the caboose to be a “healing, inspiring, creative” place too.

GiGi New’s writing and teaching careers are going place.

Fortunately, her little red caboose is not.

GiGii New, peacefully at work.

GiGii New, peacefully at work. Railroad memorabilia are on the rear walls.


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!

Oscar’s Update

When Oscar’s closed last month, many devotees were devastated.

And several long-time employees were suddenly out of jobs.

Fortunately, it’s hard to keep good men (and women) down.

Alert — and gratified — “06880” reader Kevin Rakin reports that Joaquin, Javier and Lilly are all working at Greenfield Hill Market.

Oscar’s fans know what a great job they do. Now its Fairfield’s turn to find out.

Back at work, at Greenfield Hill Market.

Back at work, at Greenfield Hill Market.

Slicing Up Saugatuck

Today was hot and humid. But it’s never too hot for Saugatuck’s great Italian food, from places like Tutti’s and Tarantino’s.

Or Mexican (Viva’s, Cuatro Hermanos), Thai (Rainbow) or Japanese (Kawa Ni).

Every restaurant — including Dunkin’ Donuts — was represented at this afternoon’s Slice of Saugatuck.

So were stores, ranging from liquor (99 Bottles) to sports (Attic) to my favorite — not just in Saugatuck but all of Westport (Indulge by Mersene).

The 5th annual event was sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce. Funds benefit the Gillespie Center food pantry. Slice is nice!

The line to sample Julian's pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

The line to sample Julian’s pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

Tutti's served up -- among other favorites -- spicy chicken.

Tutti’s served up — among other favorites — a tasty chicken dish.

Al DiGuido's Saugatuck Sweets scooped ice cream, on the plaza.

Al DiGuido’s Saugatuck Sweets scooped ice cream, on the plaza.

Things were quieter on the river, where Downunder offered kayaks.

Things were quieter on the river, where Downunder offered kayaks.

Bands -- rock, acoustic, even Caribbean -- played throughout Saugatuck. This group had a prime spot, at Bridge Square.

Bands — rock, acoustic, even Caribbean — played throughout Saugatuck. This group had a prime spot, at Bridge Square.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen hung out at the Black Duck.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and his wife Mary Ellen hung out at the Black Duck.

Cuatro Hermanos added a sombrero their rice and beans.

Cuatro Hermanos added a sombrero to their rice and beans.

A tae kwan do demonstration livened up Railroad Place. Shattered boards lie on the left.

A tae kwan do demonstration enlivened Railroad Place. Shattered boards lie on the left.

Arts Lovers: You May Not Want Wells Fargo As Your Bank

Wells Fargo thought they were being cute. A new series of ads — promoting “teen financial education day” — showed (of course) happy young people.

One headline read: “A ballerina yesterday. An engineer today.”

Another: “An actor yesterday. A botanist today.”

The idea — that to become successful one should jettison the arts, and focus on something much more STEM-related — was not cute. It was idiotic.

Josh Groban, Anthony Rapp, and tons more folks — famous and not — pounced, on social media.

Almost as quickly, Wells Fargo apologized. The company said they were “deeply committed to the arts,” admitting that ads intended to “celebrate all the aspirations of young people…fell short of that goal.”

No word on whether the Post Road branch plans to make a nice contribution to the Westport Arts Center.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

The Wells Fargo Westport branch.

FUN FACT: There’s another area connection to this story. Remember the “Wells Fargo Wagon” song in “The Music Man”? That show is Staples Players’ fall production. Enjoy!

(Hat tip: Lee Scharfstein)

Our Town Crier Gets An Upgrade

Back in the day, the Town Crier was Westport’s must-read, twice-weekly newspaper. It covered all the usual local stuff — politics, sports, entertainment — as well as lots that would never be in a paper today. (“New Folks in Town” described new arrivals’ jobs, hobbies and religions. Police Reports included stop sign violations. And Divorce Reports cited names and reasons: abandonment, intolerable cruelty, whatever.)

The Town Crier is still around. And — though it has nothing to do with its predecessor, except the name — it is equally compelling reading.

Our Town Crier is Betsy Pollak’s website. It’s filled with business listings, upcoming events, classified ads and more — just like an old-fashioned newspaper. Of course, it’s a lot better looking. And much more interactive. (The calendar is searchable by day, week, month, and categories like “kids” or “music.”)

Our Town Crier - 2

Now, Our Town Crier has been upgraded. That’s good news for local business owners. Any store, restaurant, veterinarian, personal trainer, yoga instructor — you name it — can have his or her (or its) own page.

Non-profits are welcome too. The Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Historical Society and Homes With Hope are on there already.

And it’s absolutely free.

(The fine print: It’s free if you create it yourself — which is astonishingly simple. If you want Betsy to do it for you, there’s a small fee.)

On your business page, you can post info about hours of operation, sales, featured merchandise, new hires, photos, videos — whatever.

Our Town Crier is open to all Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Easton businesses. It’s limited to mom-and-pops though — locally owned, in other words. No big-box stores allowed!

Our Town Crier

Betsy’s upgrade has been accomplished with help from several Staples High  School interns. A couple of talented Westport women have helped too.

A lot of businesses don’t have their own website, Betsy notes. Our Town Crier becomes their web presence. Party Harty is a great example.

Click here for Our Town Crier. It’s a worthy successor to the newspaper of the same time.

Though without the divorce news.

Slice Is Nice!

Every year — with new shops and new residents joining established stores and longtime residents — Saugatuck gets better than ever.

You can say the same about Slice of Saugatuck.

The 5th annual event — set for Saturday, September 10 (2 to 5 p.m.) — is already one of the street fair highlights on the Westport calendar. A few tweaks this year will make it the best one yet.

The sponsors — the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — has added beer gardens on Bridge Street and Railroad Place. A later start time allows restaurants to offer happy hour for food and drinks after the festival.

From Bridge Square to Railroad Place -- and everywhere else -- Slice of Saugatuck is packed. (Photo/Terry Cosgrave)

From Bridge Square to Railroad Place — and everywhere else — Slice of Saugatuck is packed. (Photo/Terry Cosgrave)

Speaking of Railroad Place: Every business there is participating this year. All told, nearly 50 restaurants and merchants will open their doors (or put food samples and wares out on the sidewalk).

New music at 6 venues will rock the Slice — including high school bands promoting a fundraiser for Toquet Hall.

Slice of Saugatuck — a fun combination of food tasting and retail experiencing — draws over 2,000 people a year. They wander the narrow streets of this vibrant neighborhood, visiting favorite restaurants and stores and discovering new gems.

The Slice is a kids’ delight too, with an obstacle course, bouncy houses, a climbing wall, balloon bender, dance demonstrations and a Maker Faire area.

What kid doesn't like getting in a fire truck?

What kid doesn’t like getting in a fire truck?

There’s a $10 admission fee ($5 for kids) — but funds go back to the Gillespie Center food pantry. So far, over $14,000 has been raised.

“Slice” refers to both the physical boundaries of Saugatuck — it looks like a pizza serving — and the area’s many Italian restaurants.

Pizza can be served both traditionally, and in new, creative ways.

You can say the same about Slice of Saugatuck.

(For more information, and to see participants and a “Slice of Saugatuck” map, click here.)


Click here for “06880+”: The easy way to publicize upcoming events, sell items, find or advertise your service, ask questions, etc. It’s the “06880” community bulletin board!