Category Archives: Local business

Friday Flashback #164

I’m not sure why a funeral home thought it was a good idea to send out clocks with their name on it. Can you imagine seeing this, every time you checked the time?

(Photo courtesy of Seth Schachter)

On the other hand, if you ever needed to call them — well, their 4-digit number was right there, staring you in the face.

Willkommen, Westoberfest!

If you’ve ever been to a German Oktoberfest — a real one — you know the drill.

Volks enjoy beer from steins the size of kegs, and sausages larger than pigs. They dance in lederhosen to oompah bands. It is quite a party, no?

Westport is not Munich. But if you want great fun without a passport, Westoberfest is the place to be.

The 2nd annual event — set for this Saturday (October 19, 1 to 5 p.m., Elm Street) — builds on the success of last year’s inaugural event.

A slew of restaurants, businesses and non-profits joins together for this fun afternoon in the heart of downtown.

A scene from last year’s Westoberfest.

It’s family-friendly, but let’s start with beer. Beginning at 2 p.m., over 30 New England craft breweries will offer more than 50 pours, for unlimited tasting.

But man does not live by beer alone. Rothbard Ale + Larder (of course!) and Kawa Ni (surprise!) provide traditional brats and pretzels, and untraditional spicy miso ramen, tofu pockets and sesame noodles.

Live music comes from StompBoxTrio. Nearby, there’s a classic car rally.

Meanwhile, kids enjoy pumpkin decorating, face painting, apples and a live animal exhibit.

Westoberfest is sponsored by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, with support from The Grapevine, Westport Farmers’ Market, Air-cooled Car Company, Earthplace, Westport Museum of History & Culture, Artists Collective of Westport, One River, Gault, Princeton Review, Southern Tide, Lux Bond & Green and the Goddard School.

Prost!

(Advance ticket prices are $40 for 1, $70 for a pair, $320 for a party pack of 10. Click here to purchase. Single tickets are available for $45 at the gate.)

Fresh Market “Freshens Up”

This summer, Westporters focused on a state Department of Transportation plan involving special left-turn-only lanes, curbing, sidewalks and more at the Fresh Market shopping center.

That’s far in the future. We should have been focused on a more immediate plan to renovate the facade. And the parking lot.

As customers have noted this week, work involved the installation of spiffy new old-fashioned light poles.

But there was a cost. Gone is some of the landscaping that once made the shopping center if not pleasant, at least tolerable.

(Photos/Michael Calise)

The work is not finished. Perhaps beautiful new trees and shrubs will be planted.

And perhaps one day I will walk to the planet Zork, too.

Friday Flashback #162

The streetscape looks the same.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

But Fine Arts I and II move theaters, Fine Arts Art Supplies, Westport Smoke Shop, Schaefer’s Sporting Goods, Quick Copy, Village Coiffeurs, Ship’s Lantern bar — even the traffic island and crosswalk — are all gone.

That’s not unusual. A lot happens in 42 years.

So if Marty McFly suddenly traveled from 2019 to 1977 — when Fred Cantor took this photo — would he feel very disoriented? Or quite at home?

Probably both.

From Blight House To Bright Spot: Green Honors For Hillspoint Home

For years, only one thing marred the view from Old Mill Road and Elvira Mae’s, down Hillspoint Road. There — sandwiched between handsome beach homes and the beach itself — sat a blight house.

Unkempt and untended, it looked out of place. And dangerous.

When Robin Tauck bought the property, and an adjacent lot, she wanted to maintain the traditional beach community vibe. But she’s also an ardent environmentalist.

Her vision for the blight house was to maintain the same footprint for minimal impact, while creating a model for future homes.

Working with architect Michael Greenberg and TecKnow, the Bedford Square-based company that combines automation technology with green energy products, she built an innovative “guest cottage.” (Her own, similarly designed home, is next door.)

The new Hillspoint Road home.

227 Hillspoint Road uses sustainable building practices and innovative technology. Solar and battery storage is optimized, so the house is run almost entirely off the grid.

It meets many of the standards for a Green Building Award: rehabilitation, energy efficiency, innovation, conservation, sustainability, and modeling for the future.

So the other day — around the same time the United Nations hosted its Climate Action Summit — Governor Ned Lamont and Congressman Jim Himes were in town. So was Albert Gore III, from Tesla (one of the companies TecKnow works with), environmental leaders from groups like Sustainable Westport and Save the Sound, and all 3 selectmen.

Robin Tauck and Governor Ned Lamont, on the steps of 227 Hillspoint Road.

They presented Tauck, Greenberg and TecKnow with a Green Building Award. It recognizes this project, for its contribution to sustainability.

The honor signifies one more step on Westport’s path to being a net zero community, by 2050.

And it also shows that a small, blighted house need not be replaced by a bigger, more energy-sapping one.

Especially at such a well-known, beloved and lovely spot by the shore.

Phil Levieff of TecKnow, Albert Gore III of Tesla, and Robin Tauck. (Photos/JC Martin)

Town Invited To Big Block Party

The 3 restaurants — one Japanese-inspired, another featuring tacos, the third specializing in meatballs — could not be more different.

But OKO, Bartaco and The Meatball Shop have already joined forces with valet parking. This Sunday (October 6), they’re collaborating on a family afternoon — for a great cause.

National Hall is the site of the 1st-ever Push Against Cancer Block Party. From 2 to 5 p.m. there’ s appetizers from all 3 spots, drinks courtesy of TUCK Gin, and fun activities like Cornhole and an obstacle course for kids and adults, thanks to Upper Deck Fitness.

National Hall and Upper Deck Fitness: the site of Sunday’s block party.

It all benefits the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps — the wonderful site in Ashford, Connecticut for children with life-threatening illnesses founded by Westport’s own Paul Newman.

OKO chef/owner Brian Lewis participated in this spring’s Push Against Cancer push-up contest at Staples High School — also a Hole in the Wall Gang fundraiser. He was so moved by what he learned that he offered OKO — or his other restaurant, The Cottage — for a future event.

PAC organizers Andy Berman and Sherry Jonas were happy to oblige.

Bartaco, The Meatball Shop, Upper Deck Fitness and National Hall’s landlord were equally eager to join in.

There’s a lot going on in Westport this weekend. But if you can, block out time for this great block party.

And yes, there’s plenty of parking.

(Tickets will he sold at the “door.” The cost is $40 per adult, $10 per child under age 12.)

Unsung Heroes #117

Alert “06880” reader — and very talented graphic designer/artist/ arts supporter/amazing civic volunteer — Miggs Burroughs writes:

The Drew Friedman Community Arts Center sponsored free art classes last spring and summer for middle school kids in town. They were developed and run by local artist Katherine Ross and her daughter Rebecca.

Randy Herbertson — president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — hosted the classes at his Visual Brand office on Church Lane.

The most recent class project was a collaborative mural. It was conceived and executed by the students, based on the idea to “Shop Local.” That’s been a mantra of (among others) David Waldman, who developed Bedford Square across the street on Church Lane. Each youngster created a different letter.

When Waldman saw the mural, he asked to display it in Bedford Square. It now hangs in the window of #11.

It’s very satisfying to have some of Westport’s biggest players come together to support art, created by some of our youngest talents.

Rebecca Ross, David Waldman and “Shop Local” art.

Backyard Dumping In Front Of Westfair Village

An alert “06880” reader living in Westfair Village — behind Westfair Center, between Post Road East and North Bulkley Avenue — writes:

This is a fantastic neighborhood. In the last few years, many homes have turned over to new families with young children. There is almost a full school bus just for our little area. There are also families that have lived here for decades.

All of the houses are on lots of about 1/3 acre, so there is a tremendous feeling of community. It’s common to see kids and parents walking the streets each day.  Of course, there’s an annual block party. It’s a Halloween destination for many families who live elsewhere, because it’s so easy to walk to so many homes.

Westfair Drive. (Photo/Google Maps)

We (and many of our neighbors) truly love the area — and its proximity to the Post Road.

However, Westfair meets the Post Road near the shopping complex that houses Shanghai Gourmet, Gaetano’s and Yamafuji Sushi. Over the years, the back parking lot has become progressively more of a dumping ground.

An oil dumpster has leaked for years.  The lot is littered with boxes, bottles and cans — no one looks after it. A bin of soiled aprons is a permanent fixture — along with a discarded refrigeration unit.

The building needs a good paint job. And the roof fence needs fixing.

It’s unclear whether anyone has complained to the owner: 1701 Post Road East LLC (registered to a parent company with an address of 30 Shorehaven Road, Norwalk).

If so, and they’ve done nothing: Shame.

If no one has contacted them: They should know what’s going on with their tenants, anyway.

And be good neighbors, regardless.

Billy Senia: A Tale Of Two Talents

Among the many things that separate Trader Joe’s from other grocery stores, its relentlessly upbeat, smilingly chatty and genuinely helpful employees are at the top of any list.

Billy Senia is one of the many Trader Joe’s folks whom Westporters love. Whether dishing out samples, checking out customers or answering questions, he’s always got a smile, a kind word and a joke.

Few people know that this is only one of his gigs. Billy is also a longtime, well respected and very talented video editor, advertising writer and director. He’s traveled the world, won countless awards, and worked with clients like Michael Jackson, MC Hammer and Aretha Franklin.

And he loves both jobs: creative and culinary.

Billy Senia

Billy moved to Westport 26 years ago from Manhattan. He and his wife were paying $40,000 a year for their 2 young children to “finger paint in pretentious schools.”

He was already successful, making commercials and music videos. Working with top agencies like BBDO, McCann Erickson, Greg and J. Walter Thompson, he cut spots for clients like Bulova, Sears, Club Med and Disney.

Through relatives and colleagues, he heard that Westport was a magnet for creative people. They moved here, and he has not been disappointed.

Twenty years ago, Billy opened his own one-stop shop: Ice Pic Edit. He commuted to Chelsea, and built a home studio here. He was innovative, turning his laptop into a “Maserati” that he took everywhere.

But the advertising and video business evolved. Now everyone does everything — shooting, editing, graphics, sound. “It’s all solo,” he laments. “There’s no team.”

Billy is all about teamwork. So 4 years ago, he applied for a job at Trader Joe’s. He loved the company’s “spirit, positivism, food, giving back philosophy and focus on people.”

He thrives on making a customer’s day brighter, with a smile or quip (or extra sample). Working at the store — his main priority — gives him energy that feeds his creative side.

Not long ago, he joined forces with Dave Fiore. They’d worked together when Fiore was chief creative officer at Catapult in Westport. Their new company is called Massiv.

One of their first projects is “Union-Built Matters.” It’s a tribute to construction unions, and sounds an alarm against developers who cut corners by using cheaper labor.

Billy is a union man through and through. “My compassionate side is to help people,” he says. “This is not a sexy subject. But it’s very important.”

He and Dave are using social media, to get the word out that “union-built matters.”

Now it’s on to new projects.

And to serving up whatever samples Trader Joe’s offers today.

Morning Movies: There’s A Club For That

It’s tough owning a movie theater. Among many other pressures, you depend on brief windows of time for nearly all your revenue.

For patrons, time is tight too. Besides evenings, it’s hard to sneak away for a couple of hours to see a film.

Which is why theater owners and movie-goers alike love the Morning Movie Club.

The premise is simple: Organizers rent an entire theater. Once a month from October through May, promptly at 10 a.m., club members have their choice of any film being shown on that theater’s screens. There are no previews; you’re in and out. As the credits roll you head back to carpooling, the office or your other daily responsibilities.

The Morning Movie Club came to Fairfield County thanks to Kerry Anderson and Michelle Howe. The women heard of a similar effort in New Jersey, and figured it would be perfect for this area.

Kerry Anderson (left) and Michelle Howe.

Kerry’s background is in banking; she also served as director of Swim Across America. When her first son was born she stepped out of the workforce. But she wanted to engage her mind, in the limited hours she had.

Kerry and Michelle proposed a Morning Movie Club to their local Bowtie theater in Greenwich. That’s the same company the New Jersey club used; the owners knew the formula worked.

The Greenwich Bowtie has 3 screens. It’s an “arts theater,” so the films are targeted to adults.

Last year, the Morning Movie Club expanded to a 4-screen Wilton Bowtie. It’s a “family theater,” meaning many of the offerings were “kid-friendly.”

Too kid-friendly, in fact. Which is why this year, the Morning Movie Club has moved its Wilton chapter to Westport.

Well, Kerry calls it Westport. They use the Bowtie in Norwalk — just over the border on Route 1, which in our neighboring town is called Westport Avenue.

It’s a great venue. There are 6 screens; the seats are very comfortable, and there’s a full concession stand. (Including a bar. Kerry notes drily, “I hope our folks don’t use it at 10 a.m.”)

It really is a “club.” A yearly membership costs $100, for 8 movies. Non-members are not allowed in to the morning movies.

Organizers also partner with local businesses, offering amenities like discounts. In Westport that includes Shoes & More, Aux Delices and Green & Tonic.

A photo from the Morning Movie Club website.

Morning Movie Club members include stay-at-home parents, and those with paying jobs. There are also retirees, like Kerry’s father. He’s in his 80s; he doesn’t like to drive at night, so the show time — and lunch after, with friends — is perfect.

“The idea is so simple. You slow down, and take 2 hours for yourself, to see a film,” Kerry says. “You may be better in the office, or as a mom, afterward.”

It’s all pretty clear. In fact, the only question mark is which movie to see.

Theater managers make purchasing decisions on Mondays, Kerry says. As soon as they do, she and Michelle send an email with that month’s options to all members. They add preview links to all films on that theater’s screens.

Which is great. Because there are no previews at the morning movies themselves.

That in itself is worth the subscription price.

(For more information on the Morning Movie Club, click here.)