Category Archives: Local business

Unsung Hero #3

If you’re a Westporter, you probably know Mike Calise.

The 1958 Staples High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran runs the longtime and very successful Settlers & Traders real estate firm. He’s a frequent attendee at town meetings, making sure nothing slips through our boards and commissions’ cracks.

Mike Calise with his sweetheart, Sally.

You can find him almost any day — in any weather — at Compo Beach. That’s where he hangs out, by himself or with his extended family. He keeps a loving eye on it too.

Mike and his grandkids. Cookouts on the beach are a family tradition. The food often comes from Calise’s deli — the market his family established in the 1930s,.

Mike has a great back story. While still at Staples, he boxed in the New York Golden Gloves tournament.

While stationed at Camp Lejeune, he bought a 9-passenger Pontiac Safari station wagon. Each weekend he ran a North Carolina to New York transport service ($15 each way; 658 miles in 11 hours).

His mother Louise — of Calise’s market fame — packed a large bag of delicious meatball and eggplant sandwiches for every trip back.

Mike Calise, Staples Class of 1958.

As a Marine from 1958 to ’63, he was assigned to Force Recon — an elite group that was always first on shore. They trained with daily long distance runs and swims.

Mike started an Arnold bread truck route in 1963. He founded Settlers & Traders in 1967. In 2008, he received a Historic Preservation Award for the restoration of  his office building at 215 Post Road West. This year, his real estate firm celebrates 50 years.

For all his life — going back to his family’s stores on Post Road West and East — he’s been an important part of life here. He’s a longtime member of the Republican Town Committee; a former delegate to the state Republican convention, and served on the RTM and Architectural Review Board.

Mike loves nature, gardening and canoeing. No morning at the beach is complete without his “Compo Gumbo.”

He loves Compo so much, he’s got it on his license plate:

Mike cherishes his family: his longtime sweetheart Sally; his 5 children (Catherine, Sandra, Maria, Bettina and Frank), and 7 grandkids (Francesca, Trent, CJ, Reed, Charlotte, Cameron and Caleigh).

They love him right back.

As does the rest of Westport — the town he’s loved for over 70 years.

Mike Calise, in a familiar pose.

Staples Interns Rock The Real World

Once upon a time, Staples High School 12th graders marked the month before graduation with boredom, pranks and trouble-making.

Now they build homes and websites. They help bakers make cakes, and bankers make money. They work in corporate offices, on sustainable farms, in recording studios and dance studios.

They use the math, writing, analytical, computer and common sense skills they’ve honed during a dozen years of school. For perhaps the first time in their lives they solve real-world problems with bosses, colleagues and clients.

They learn how to communicate — and how to commute.

On Friday, over 400 Staples seniors completed their 5-week internships. They work hard, at real work. They learn a lot, met new people, and (for the most part) had fun. Many call the program one of the most valuable experiences in their entire school careers.

On Thursday, they graduate.

Thanks to their teachers, administrators, coaches, club advisors and counselors — and their Staples Senior Internship — they’re as ready for the real world as they can be.

Colin McKechnie and Hallie Lavin capped their internship at the Weiser Kitchen by preparing and hosting a delicious party.

Claudia Lagnese does environmental work at Harbor Watch.

Alice Sardinian with a young patient at Village Pediatrics.

During their internship at Oliving Experience — a builder of energy-efficient luxury homes — Josh Berman and Teddy Lawrence worked on spreadsheets and handled social media. They also did lots of manual labor.

Faiza Qureshi gets into position at Kaia Yoga.

Becky Hoving and Jillian Stefani get into the mood for the Long Lots School field day.

Grace Wynne at Whittingham Cancer Center.

 

Stew Leonard Jr.: Amazon Purchase Of Whole Foods “A Game-Changer”

Amazon’s proposed $13.4 billion purchase of Whole Foods has rocked the grocery and retail industries.

An hour ago, Stew Leonard Jr. was one of the experts CNBC called on for expert reaction.

Stew Leonard Jr. (Photo courtesy/Westchester Magazine)

The president and CEO of the small but influential chain called the deal — which includes a store on the Westport border just a mile from Stew’s Norwalk flagship location — “a game-changer in the industry.”

Amazon’s technological know-how “will revolutionize how people buy food and get it delivered,” he added.

Leonard — whose grandfather Charles Leo Leonard founded the store’s predecessor, Clover Farms Dairy, and personally delivered milk straight from the farm to local customers — saw today’s announcement as a return to those days.

“The cost of the last mile of delivery has been dropping,” he noted.

Leonard also cited the growing number of millennials as a factor. Using his 31-year-old daughter as an example, he said that her generation expects every purchase to be deliverable.

However, he continued, “retailers have to get snappier” about how they present the purchasing experience.

“We try to make it fun,” he said, with plenty of animation and the chance to see mozzarella balls being made fresh.

However, he acknowledged, buying cereal and water in a store is far less exciting.

(Click here for the full 4:42 interview.)

When Amazon gets into delivery of Whole Foods products, will the animals at Stew’s be less of a draw?

Remembering Art Marciano

Westport has long been an educational pioneer. From the 1950s on, our school district’s many assets included its high number of superb — and highly respected — male elementary school teachers.

One of the most well known — to thousands of students, and their grateful parents — was Art Marciano.

Beginning in 1959, and for over 3 decades, he taught 4th through 6th grades. Marciano died Monday, at 88.

Art Marciano

A Waterbury native, and the youngest of 7 children, he owned a flower store before entering the military. He attended Central Connecticut State College on the GI Bill, then earned 2 master’s degrees from Columbia University Teachers College.

After being hired by the Westport school district, Marciano supplemented what were traditionally low teachers’ salaries by working at Ed Mitchell’s.

But those were the days when many teachers — even men — lived in Westport. He and his wife Suse — a German native — raised 2 sons, Martin and Tristan, here. He passed on his love of classical music to them.

Marciano and Suse were married for 56 years. Long after retirement, when they walked at Compo Beach, former students would rush up, talk, and say thank you for all he had done for them, many years ago.

He cherished those students, and his long friendships with colleagues. His obituary singles out Sid Birnbaum — another in Westport’s outstanding list of male elementary school teachers.

A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated for Marciano on Saturday, June 24 (11 a.m.), at St. Luke Church. A reception follows, in the community room.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory can be made to Staples Tuition Grants or St. Luke  Church Community Outreach Fund.

[OPINION] Keep Tesla Out Of Saugatuck!

Alert “06880” reader Mark Kirby is an organizer of Saugatuck Neighbors. As outlined below, he is opposed to the plan for a Tesla service facility in his neighborhood.

Two months ago I got a letter from Mel Barr, former Westport Planning and Zoning director, now a zoning consultant. Tesla Motors wanted to change town zoning to allow a “service center” at one of two sites in Saugatuck, including one that abuts part of our backyard. Would I attend a meeting to learn about the proposal?

I had mixed feelings. I was excited to have Tesla in Westport. I support its vision for a less carbon-reliant future; I signed up for a Model 3 before it was officially announced.

But as a neighbor, I worried about noise from tools like compressors and pneumatic wrenches. A service center isn’t what I’d imagined in the neighborhood—in fact, it’s prohibited. But because it was Tesla, I wanted to keep an open mind.

20 Saugatuck Avenue — the proposed site for the Tesla facility.

The meeting was held on a Tuesday night. Mr. Barr was there, along with the building’s landlord, Bruce Becker (a Westport architect and Tesla enthusiast), 4 Tesla representatives, and Tesla’s realtor.

Mr. Barr handed out his proposed zoning amendment. Something jumped out immediately: the zoning change was for a dealership. I asked him and the Tesla representatives about it.

Me (reading their amendment): “Said establishments may also provide vehicle sales of new and used electric motor vehicles, subject to a State License.

Them: Well, we can’t actually sell cars in Connecticut right now.

Me: But I’ve just signed a petition supporting legislation that would allow you to.

The conversation went on from there, but you get the idea: It was a challenge getting forthright answers from this group. At one point, I asked whether Tesla would be willing to go forward without the dealership. Their answer was no.

What’s so bad about a dealership? I’ve heard lots of reasons from neighbors but I’ll share only mine here.

My wife and I settled in Saugatuck because we liked the easy access to transit, and that it was a walkable neighborhood. Many families in Saugatuck have done so for similar reasons.

It’s not just the immediate neighbors who want to preserve this area. Creating a walkable Saugatuck is a priority for both the current Saugatuck Transit-Oriented Master Plan and the town’s draft 2017 Conservation Plan of Development.

I can’t think of a single example of a walkable neighborhood with a car dealership smack in the middle. Our kids are young, and we’re especially concerned about test drives in cars that are fast, silent and accelerate in ways that startle new drivers. While there may be virtues to having a pioneering company like Tesla in town, I wouldn’t count bringing car dealerships to residential areas as one of them.

I realize that some people will read this and cry NIMBYism! But the kind of zoning change proposed here isn’t just bad for Saugatuck; it’s bad for Westport.

Some Saugatuck residents fear this is what the Tesla facility will turn into.

Saugatuck is already a chokepoint for the town — and that’s predominantly from local trips. Tesla would mean additional cars from out-of-towners hopping off I-95 for gas, a rush-hour service appointment or a test drive.

The fact that Saugatuck has the village character it does today is the result of decades of zoning decisions aimed at keeping highway services out of the area. There’s also the question of why we’d want a car dealership (which even for green cars aren’t pollutant-free environments) either on the river or alongside a stream feeding directly into the river.

While learning about zoning rules and knocking on neighbors’ doors weren’t things I anticipated doing this spring, I’m glad for it. It’s been a great way to meet neighbors, get to know town officials, and learn about the many fights over neighborhood preservation that have made Westport what it is today. We’re pleased that Save Westport Now and the Greens Farms Association are supporting neighbors in protesting this zoning change. If you’d like to support us too, you can here.

Westport is investing a lot of time and effort into studying Saugatuck. Will it be a well-planned, cohesive community with local businesses and residents supporting each other, or will we pre-empt all that by dumping a dealership right in the middle of the village?

My hope is that the Planning and Zoning Commission will listen to the neighborhood at the hearing tomorrow (Thursday, June 15, 7 p.m. Town Hall), and make this decision wisely.

Jim Comey: A Friend Reflects

For nearly a year, James Comey has been in the headlines. First, the FBI director upended the presidential election. Now the former director may upend the president.

Before all that, Comey lived inWestport. Residents knew him as a neighbor, and a Greens Farms Academy parent.

One Westporter knew him long before that. He’s asked for anonymity, in order to talk about his friend. But it’s clear he thinks very highly of a man who may determine the course of American history. In fact, he already has.

The “06880” reader writes:

I met Jim Comey 32 years ago. We were law clerks in the federal courts in New York’s Foley Square. My $26,381 salary was stretched thin because I was supporting my young child.

Money was tight for Jim too, but he convinced his friends to let me be a free rider at a group beach house in Spring Lake, New Jersey on the weekends I wasn’t with my daughter.

James Comey, Class of 1978 at Northern Highlands High School in New Jersey.

We played basketball at area courts on most Saturday and Sunday mornings. Jim could take an elbow or a hard screen without complaint, but later made that opponent pay with a nifty inside move that allowed us to stay on the court for another game in the absolute meritocracy of playground basketball.

Okay, it’s just basketball. But Jim earned another game on the court playing fair and square with skill, tenacity and drive.

Life off the court was no different. Jim flourished in his career – first at the United States Attorney’s Office in New York, then later at the Department of Justice by taking on the toughest cases, working long hours, and, with skillful trial advocacy, gaining the convictions of criminals. Jim didn’t inherit his place in the world – he earned it.

Living in Westport, I’m sure many “06880” readers have experienced the acquaintance who looks over their shoulder during a function or party to see who may be more notable in the room.

James Comey

Not Jim. He looks you in the eye and speaks to you. You are the most important person in the room.

Many law clerks in the Southern District knew the judges at Foley Square. How many knew the janitors and the elevator operators by name? Jim did. And they all knew him. Maybe that was because he’s 6-8. I think it was because his character was and remains 10 feet tall.

A fair bit has been written about Jim’s time at Bridgewater Associates – the large hedge fund located in Westport. What hasn’t been written is that Jim and his family believe that Jim’s work at Bridgewater was the least impressive thing that was accomplished during their time here.

Jim Comey and his family. (Photo/Facebook)

Jim’s wife Patrice took on the profoundly selfless duty of caring for an infant whose mother, because of drug addiction or other serious problems, was incapable of caring for her newborn.

Patrice couldn’t take on that task alone, because it impacted the whole household. It meant a baby’s cries at any hour, dinners at home, and feedings and lack of sleep at night. All was fine with Jim, Patrice and their wonderful children – because they gave a child in need a chance to thrive.

Jim has spent a good part of his life in the halls of power, but Jim and Patrice have never sought to cater to the rich and powerful. They’ve spent their lives fighting injustice, righting wrongs and making life better for those in need.

The Comeys’ former Westport home. They sold it in January. (Photo/MLS)

Connecticut Club Has ImPRESSive Revival

In Donald Trump’s eyes, “the press” is a vile, lying scourge that’s destroying America.

Lynn Prowitt and Michelle Turk love their profession so much, they’ve revitalized the dormant Connecticut Press Club.

Neither woman is a political reporter. But they welcome them — and anyone else who considers him or herself a journalist — into their revitalized organization.

Prowitt once wrote work for the Washington Post. But the bulk of her writing life has been in the health and food fields, as a magazine editor, freelancer, web developer (dLife, a Westport-based diabetes site) and book author.

Turk just returned from her Columbia Journalism School 25th reunion. She’s been a freelancer (parenting, education, women’s health), PR person, Quinnipiac University instructor, and founder of the cleverly named A Bloc of Writers.

Lynn Prowitt and Michelle Turk. (Photo/Andrew Dominick)

The women met 2 years ago, at a content marketing seminar. With similar interests and experiences, they hit it off.

Back in the day, Turk recalled, she had been a member of the Connecticut Press Club. It thrived, offering panels, workshops and networking with agents and TV personalities.

But as membership aged — and the leaders concentrated on events like sit-down dinners — it failed to attract new members.

When Turk clicked on the club’s website to get re-involved, the home page was all about vitamins — in Chinese. It had been hacked, and no one noticed.

The president gave Turk her blessing to try to revive the group.

An email blast produced a frustrating number of bounce-backs.

Turk started from scratch. She began the process to reincorporate (though there were no funds).

Then Prowitt offered to help. Together, they’re reaching out to a broader, younger audience.

The goal is to help professionals — and those aspiring to be — “be a journalist in today’s world.” With blogging and multi-media platforms — and the need to not just write, but post photos and videos — Prowitt says, “this is not the same one we were brought up in.”

Recent events focused on podcasting and how to monetize blogs.  Though it’s called the Connecticut Press Club, most attendees came from Westport, Fairfield and Norwalk.

Looking ahead, Turk and Prowitt plan meetings addressing social media for writers, and book publishing. This fall, Columbia University professor and Times columnist Samuel Freedman will talk about the future of journalism.

The big moment recently was a reception — not a sit-down dinner! — at the Boathouse restaurant, featuring special guest (and Westporter) Jane Green.

Celebrated author Jane Green, at the Connecticut Press Club’s recent Boathouse event. (Photo/Andrew Dominick)

Winners of the Connecticut Press Club’s Communications Contest were announced. Categories included editorials, features, columns, headlines, page design, photos, websites, speeches and books.

The Connecticut Press Club casts a wide net. They want all journalists — in every form of media.

And that’s not fake news.

(For more information, email ctpressclub@gmail.com) 

Pic Of The Day #55

2 girls at Joey’s by the Shore (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Emily Driesman Embraces Orthodontics

In most orthodontist offices, kids smile only when the dentist tells them to.

But when Emily Driesman was 8 years old, her father took her to meet his friend Dr. Steven Scher. She thought his office was “a fun place to be.”

Unfortunately, the choo-choo train is now gone from outside the orthodontist office at 24 Imperial Avenue.

Three years later, when she actually got braces, her orthodontist was in Fairfield — closer to where her mother worked. But Emily never forgot Dr. Scher.

Years later — after graduating from Coleytown Elementary and Middle School, Staples (2001) and Emory University — she took a year off before grad school.

And worked as an assistant on the Upper West Side for an orthodontist.

The next stop was Columbia University Medical School. Both her parents are physicians, and Emily wanted a career in healthcare — but not as a doctor.

She’d always been good with her hands. She’d majored in psychology.

She liked the interaction between orthodontists and their patients — “kids just growing into themselves. Being part of that – and able to change their smiles — is important.”

Bingo! Emily realized she could have a career in orthodontics.

Dr. Emily Driesman, with a patient. Smile!

In 2013 — after completing her residency at NYU — she spoke to Dr. Scher. The time was not right for her to join his Imperial Avenue practice, so she worked at First Impressions in Fairfield. A number of patients were from Westport. She connected well with them.

A few months ago, Dr. Scher called. After 45 years, he was ready to reduce his hours. He’d always wanted to hand over his practice to his kids — but none went into dentistry. As a native Westporter, Emily was the next best thing.

This time, the timing worked out wonderfully.

In October, Emily bought the practice. She’s not making many changes. But she did need a new name.

Her father came up with a brilliant one: Embrace Orthodontics.

It implies Dr. Scher embracing his new colleague, and both of them embracing their patients.

It suggests “braces.”

And the new owner prefers “Dr. Emily” to “Dr. Driesman” — or just “Dr. Em.”

“It’s been great so far,” she says. “It’s really nice working with Dr. Scher — he’s a great mentor.

“We’re keeping the same ideals: a small, personal office where we know everyone. Dr. Scher makes it fun. This is a place of levity.”

Drs. Emily Driesman and Steven Scher.

Emily loves being back in Westport — both for work and her personal life.

“I see myself in many of the kids who come in here,” she says.

“This is such a tight-knit town. Everyone is welcoming. There’s the beach, downtown, amazing schools — and we’re so close to New York, Block Island and skiing.”

It’s been a year of change for Emily. A month after buying the practice, she got married. Her husband, Dan Keating, works in finance in the city.

“It’s scary being an owner,” Emily admits. “I was nervous. But it’s been a pleasant experience so far.”

That’s also what she hopes her young patients say about her orthodontist’s office.

The exact same office she loved the first time she saw it, nearly 3 decades ago.

From Poland To Westport: A Window Washer’s Life

You may not know the name Krystof Bondar.

But if you live in Westport and had your windows washed, you probably know “Polish Chris.”

Now you should hear his story.

In his native Poland, Chris trained as an electromagnetic technician. In 1987 he came to the US, seeking greater opportunities.

He tried Sikorsky, Avco and other manufacturers. They were not hiring.

He went to work in construction, doing roofing and siding. He polished brass in a small shop, and washed dishes in restaurants.

In May of 1995, his wife died.

A few months later, Chris moved to Westport and started his own window washing business. He worked hard, and earned a great reputation.

Krystof Bondar — aka “Polish Chris.”

In 2007 — just as the economy tanked — he had open heart surgery.

He worked less. His health insurance rose, to $900 a month. Unable to pay, he lost it.

Westport’s Human Services Department helped get Husky Care, which he is grateful for.

But this past January, Chris was diagnosed with bladder cancer. During chemo, he developed blood clots in his legs. They traveled to his lungs.

Today he is in chronic pain, and can barely walk.

For 22 years, Chris washed windows for a living. Now he stops 5 times on his way down the driveway to pick up his mail.

His medical bills are astronomical. (On top of everything else, last week he was hospitalized with kidney stones.)

Ten years ago, Chris says, “I cheated the devil. I won my life battle.”

Now he’s trying again.

(A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Krystof Bondar. Click here to donate.)