Category Archives: Local business

Katelyn And Solenne: Now Hear This!

When Katelyn Bouchard was born 12 years ago, she failed the screening test for a hearing disorder.

But her eyes were lively, and quick to react. Her parents did not think anything was wrong.

But a second test 5 months later showed profound hearing loss. “She couldn’t hear a jet engine if it was next to her,” says Katelyn’s mother Gen.

Gen Bouchard

Gen — a former hedge fund executive who now owns Scout & Molly’s in Playhouse Square — and her husband contacted Diane Shannon. The longtime Westporter is a birth-to-3 service coordinator at Soundbridge, a regional program providing resources and services to children with hearing loss.

Diane explained 2 options: sign language and cochlear implants. The couple chose the latter.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices. Unlike hearing aids — which amplify sounds — implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear, to send sound signals to the brain.

Katelyn had her 1st implant at 10 months. Used to a world of silence, she tried to throw it off her face.

But Diane began working with Katelyn. She started from the ground up, introducing sounds, words and sentences.

Katelyn’s sister Solenne arrived 15 months later. Her parents knew then that — despite no family history of hearing loss — their newborn had a 1-in-4 chance of the genetic disorder.

Kately and Solenne Bouchard

Tests revealed that she too suffered hearing loss. She too would have implants.

Katelyn’s other implant was done the same day Solenne had 2. At 10 months, she was one of the first children that young to have surgery on both ears simultaneously.

At first, Solenne was very sensitive to sound. Once again, Diane patiently helped the Bouchards’ baby adapt to a new environment.

“We could hardly wait for them to start saying words,” Gen recalls. “Now they don’t stop talking.”

The girls have thrived. Katelyn — a 7th grader at Bedford Middle School — plays lacrosse. Solenne is a 5th grader at Saugatuck Elementary School; she plays basketball. Both are excellent students.

Katelyn and Solenne Bouchard

Though the only sign of cochlear implants are processors, “kids are kids,” Gen says. “Sometimes they ask, ‘What’s that on your ear?’ The girls just explain.”

Katelyn and Solenne are strong advocates for themselves. In loud environments, they’re not embarrassed to ask someone to repeat what’s been said.

Otherwise, their lives are no different from many other Westport youngsters.

But they — and their mother — have not forgotten the importance of helping other hearing-impaired kids.

Every year, Scout & Molly’s picks a non-profit to help. Last month, the store offered a silent auction, raffle items and refreshments, to support the Hearing Health Foundation.

The organization provided educational materials — including information on how to prevent hearing loss. (One way: Turn down the loud music!)

Katelyn and Solenne were there.

Then they went back to their own active, well-rounded — and sound-filled — lives.

 

Jack’s Last Day

Yesterday — when “06880” broke the news that Jack Riley has sold his very popular Greens Farms Spirit Shop — I posted this photo:

It showed a young Jack Riley, on his first day in business: November 10, 1969.

Today — December 15, 2018 — was Jack’s last day.

The store — which will continue with new owners, and many familiar employees — was packed.

Jack opened a bottle. The large crowd of customers — aka “friends” — raised their glasses to nearly 50 years of neighborly service and smiles.

Then Nico Eisenberger asked Jack to pose once again, for posterity.

(Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

The hair is gone. But the passion for what he did — and the joyful way he did it — remains.

A simple toast was the least the large crowd could do.

But — like everything Jack did — it came from the heart.

John Dodig: “Forget The Malls. Shop Locally!”

For years, John Dodig and his husband Rodger have done their holiday shopping on Amazon. That often means gift cards for their many children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings and friends.

This year — with memories of years gone by — they headed to a mall. But after 2 hours in Trumbull, they’d found exactly 2 gifts.

Depressed, they left.

Driving home, they decided to try downtown Westport. They parked in the Baldwin Lot behind Brooks Brothers, and headed to Church Lane.

On a whim, they walked into Savannah Bee Company. The manager greeted them warmly.

John and Rodger learned about bees, honey, sustaining the environment, and the store’s strong support for the community. They also found several perfect gifts.

The bright interior of Savannah Bee Company.

They put them in their car, then browsed more stores in Bedford Square and on Main Street.

“We found something for everyone on our list — and had a great time shopping,” says John, who retired in 2015 after 11 years as Staples High School’s well-respected principal.

“Everyone in every store went out of their way to be helpful. They were beyond friendly.”

John and Rodger finished their shopping, feeling like “supportive and thankful Westporters.”

John’s advice: “Forget the malls. Shop locally! Our shop owners need our support. And they provide everything we need during this gift-giving season.”

Greens Farms Spirit Shop Sold; After 50 Years, We Toast Jack Riley

In November 1969, Jack Riley opened Greens Farms Spirit Shop in a Post Road strip mall near Turkey Hill South.

The holiday season is every liquor store’s Super Bowl. For nearly 50 years Jack has spent nearly every waking hour — including Christmas Eve — making sure his many loyal customers have all the whiskey, wine and beer they need.

There’s always something going on at Greens Farms Spirit Shop.

This year is different. Tomorrow — Saturday night — Jack will close up for the last time. The next day, he and his wife Eileen Proulx Riley — well-known too in town, for her long service with the Westport Library children’s department — head to California. Their 2 sons, 2 daughters-in-law and 4 grandchildren are there.

For once, Jack won’t think about inventory, deliveries, or anything else work-related. Earlier this week, he sold his store.

After half a century as one of our town’s favorite merchants, he’s moving west for good.

That’s bad news for countless Westporters who started as customers, and became friends. But 50 years is a long time to own a business.

Particularly one as demanding — and in demand — as a liquor store.

Jack’s roots in the area are long and deep. He grew up in Fairfield. After graduating from Christ the King High School, he worked for an electrical distributor.

His father was the last of 4 generations of rye makers. In 1969 Jack and his dad — also a Sikorsky engineer and tool-and-die maker — found a great location for a liquor store. They spent that summer building it out.

Jack Riley at Greens Farms Spirit Shop, on the first day of business: November 10, 1969.

Jack had a great run. In a town in which many businesses have the longevity of fruit flies, Greens Farms Spirit — and its next door neighbor, Fortuna’s — have been not just consistent, but consistently good.

Jack’s store is well known not just for knowledgeable help, wine tastings, a wide selection at all price points, and the many young Westporters he’s hired and mentored, but for its genuine friendliness.

If “Cheers” was the bar where everyone knew your name, Greens Farms Spirit is the liquor store equivalent.

The wide aisles and square sales counter are places of constant banter. It’s not quite a country store with pot-bellied stove, but for a spirit shop it comes close.

In October 2012, the power was out all around town. But Jack Riley’s Greens Farms Spirit Shop was open.

Customers know Jack’s family well, because he talks proudly about them. His son Kevin and wife Genoa own a wine business. They have 3 boys, ages 13, 10 and 9. Jack’s other son Tim works for the Navy as a computer engineer. He and his wife Amy have a 6-year-old girl.

Both families live within 2 hours of each other, on the sparsely populated, beautiful central California coast.

Back row (from left): “Jack” Nelson Riley, Eileen Riley, Jack Riley. Front:
Finley, Westley and Barrett Riley. 

Jack and Eileen have bought 10 acres. They’ll build a new house. He’ll play a lot of golf. They’ll be bi-coastal until she leaves her job at the library.

And he’ll connect with a new set of customers, at Kevin’s tasting room. (He’ll no doubt see plenty of old ones too. That area — and those wines — are popular draws for Westporters.)

Most of all, Kevin says, “he looks forward to learning to drive a tractor, and be the cowboy he’s always dreamed of.”

The new owners will run Greens Farms Spirit Shop. Rob Pelletier — Jack’s longtime assistant manager — will still be there. The friendly, helpful fun vibe will continue.

But before they take over on Sunday, let’s raise our glasses one last time — in person, or online.

Here’s to you, Jack Riley: for 50 years, the true spirit of Greens Farms.

Unsung Hero #78

The other day, a woman came into Ryan Meserole’s store.

He owns Quentin Row — formerly Suited.co, a men’s custom clothing shop on Railroad Place — so she wasn’t looking to buy.

In fact, she was crying.

Through her tears, she told Ryan that Sarah Kennedy had been her best friend.

Sarah Kennedy

Sarah was the owner of Cellar Workshop — a much-loved custom jewelry store that previously occupied the space opposite the train station.

The woman was upset that Ryan had changed the interior. It was all she had left to remember Sarah by.

Ryan chatted with her for an hour. As she got ready to leave, he said he had something that might cheer her up.

In the back of the building — where store owners and staff park — a sign said “Reserved for Sarah Kennedy.” Ryan got a screwdriver, took down the sign, and gave it to the woman.

Her tears turned from grief to joy.

Ryan says, “I realized then that I didn’t just lease any old space for a suit shop, in any old town. Westport is filled with legacies. Even though the signs on many buildings have changed, it’s up to local shopkeepers to share the stories of the past. I feel privileged to know and pass on the history of Railroad Place, and of Sara.”

So this week’s Unsung Hero is Ryan Meserole, and the many other local businesspeople like him — men and women who understand that being local storeowners means a lot more than just selling suits and jewelry.

It means you take something from this town. And then you give it back.

Ryan Meserole, with an apt saying on the wall of his store.

It’s Official: State OKs Medical Marijuana Dispensary In Westport

In June, Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to allow 1 medical marijuana dispensary in Westport.

But that was not the final step on the long road traveled by the applicant, Bluepoint Wellness. Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection still had to approve the application. It was one of 73 submitted to the state.

This afternoon, the DCP announced the approval of 9 new dispensaries. Bluepoint is on the list. The site — the lower level of 1460 Post Road East, in the shopping center with Rio Bravo restaurant — is currently occupied by Coco Spa.

David Lipton — a Westporter, and president of Bluepoint Westport — said the interior will be “tastefully done. The dispensary will reflect the town.” The target date for opening is September 1.

1460 Post Road East: the site of Bluepoint Wellness’ new medical marijuana facility.

Today’s action by the DCP doubles the number of pharmacist-led medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. There are currently 9.

Lipton is also CEO of Advanced Grow Labs, a research and production facility in West Haven. They are a joint venture with Bluepoint Wellness, which already operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Branford.

Lipton calls the Westport approval “very important” for patients in this area of Fairfield County. Today, the closest dispensaries are in Bethel or Milford.

“Right now, that’s a long ride for people who need medical marijuana,” Lipton says. “This means a lot more access for those in the Westport, Weston, Fairfield, Norwalk area.”

There are 30,500 registered medical marijuana patients in Connecticut. The state has certified 31 medical conditions for adults to use the drug, and 8 for patients under 18,

The DCP also approved a medical marijuana dispensary in Stamford today. The other 7 locations are spread throughout the rest of Connecticut.

(For a detailed list of questions and answers about medical marijuana, click here.)

Downtown Field Trip: Jerky Rejuvenates Westport

When I say “jerky,” odds are you don’t immediately think “Brooklyn.”

Or “Westport.”

You should. 

Field Trip — the hot producer of healthy, protein-rich snacks in sticks and bites ranging from beef, chicken, turkey and pork to jalapeño, cracked pepper and everything bagel — has just moved its headquarters here, from New York.

The Field Trip office on Post Road East is directly opposite Design Within Reach.

They’ve just opened a store too. They’re in 50,000 retails outlets nationwide — including Target, Stop & Shop, Walgreens and CVS. Field Trip is also served on Jet Blue and United Airlines.

But this is the only Field Trip store in the world. And they won’t open any more.

Hot jerky just made Westport a whole lot cooler.

The story begins with Matt Levey. Now 37, he grew up partly in Weston. He spent nearly 10 years in finance, but 7 years ago — after loving the jerky sold at Singleton’s, a country store near Okemo Mountain where hunters brought meat to be smoked, then sold as jerky — he and 2 partners quit their jobs.

They pooled their money — all $11,500 of it — and began testing recipes. Field Trip was born.

“New York is filled with people who wanted healthy food, like jerky,” Matt says. “But all they could buy was gas station junk.”

Field Trip offers a wide variety of jerky. It is definitely not junk.

He and his partners rode bikes all over the city. They sold their product — literally — store by store.

Field Trip is big now. So big that they’ve moved from Brooklyn to Westport.

Matt always liked this area. He, his wife and young kids just bought a house in Greens Farms. One of his partners is moving here too.

The new headquarters was not a hard sell for his employees. One commuted 2 1/2 hours from Long Island to Brooklyn. Surprisingly, his drive to Westport is half that. Another found it’s only a few minutes more from Harlem than before.

They’re finding downtown Westport to be fun. And Matt found that the empty storefront next door to his new office — directly across from Design Within Reach (the old post office) — was perfect for a Field Trip storefront.

Matt Levey, in his new Field Trip store.

“This area reminds me of when I was a kid, walking around downtown,” he says. “Little Kitchen had 2 little tables, a couple of doors down from Westport Pizzeria. Klein’s was like a mom-and-pop shop.

“We’re small, but fast growing. And nothing brings out a small town feel like a jerky shop.”

Last week, Matt was busy building a picnic table that will sit in the center. One counter and several walls were filled with jerky products (and Field Trip blankets and t-shirts).

He showed off his many grass-fed beef, gluten-free, no-nitrites, no-corn syrup snacks. There’s parmesan peppercorn, sweet chipotle and maple BBQ pork; mandarin orange, and sea salt and pepper beef, and lots more.

The Field Trip counter: fun, and filled with great-tasting products.

Matt is particularly proud of his everything bagel jerky. It’s a hot new flavor trend — and he’s trademarked the name.

But, Matt notes, the storefront is less about making money than bringing enjoyment to people — and life to downtown.

“This one is for Westport,” he says.

Brooklyn, eat your heart out. And Westport: Eat up!

(For more information on Field Trip, click here.)

Main Street, Bleecker Street, And The Future Of Retail

A year and a half ago, the New York Times said Bleecker Street “looks like a Rust Belt city.”

On 5 blocks from Christopher Street to Bank Street, more than a dozen storefronts sat empty.

“Where textured-leather totes and cashmere scarves once beckoned to passers-by,” the paper reported, “the windows are now covered with brown construction paper, with ‘For Lease’ signs and directives to ‘Please visit us at our other locations.'”

This past Tuesday, the Times changed its tune.

A headline trumpeted “The Return of Bleecker Street.”

Eighteen months after its obituary, that same 5-block stretch of the West Village is “full of cool, vibrant people doing interesting things.”

What changed?

“Big-name luxury labels” are gone. Their storefronts are now filled with “young, digitally native brands….a well-curated mix of small brands with big ideas.” Many are run by women.

Hill House Home on Bleecker Street shows that a bit of creativity can produce wonders — and entice shoppers. (Photo/Stefania Curto for New York Times)

The sudden switch was no accident. Brookfield Properties bought 4 properties with 7 storefronts last April — “after exorbitant rents and a dearth of shoppers had driven out most of the businesses.” The new owners “immediately set to work rethinking the landscape.”

A creative strategy firm helped plan short-term leases — and revenue sharing.

Nell Diamond — the founder of bedding and bath retailer Hill House Home, an early arrival — did not believe retail was dead.

Bad retail is dead,” she clarified.

Bleecker Street’s new stores have become destinations — and community centers. They offer hot cocoa, and host podcasts, educational events and book club meetings. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a book signing at Lingua Franca, which sells cashmere sweaters hand-stitched with political slogans.

So why is “06880” highlighting a story about 10012?

Because some of the descriptions about last year’s Bleecker Street resonate with this year’s Main Street.

There are some great, fun stores downtown. You can lose yourself — and find nearly every gift you need — at Savvy + Grace, and The Brownstone. Bedford Square is filled with shops like Savannah Bee Company. Serena & Lily has brought new energy and creativity too.

Serena & Lily draws crowds of shoppers, just off Main Street.

But there are too many “windows covered with brown construction paper.” Landlords still hold out for sky-high rents, and refuse to consider options like short-term leases and revenue sharing.

I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Westport is not New York. Main Street will never have the foot traffic of Bleecker Street.

But we don’t need all those empty storefronts either.

If Greenwich Village can find a way out of its retail doldrums, our village can too.

(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: Michelle Sinclair Colman)

America’s Story. In Just 6 Words.

No matter what your political views, it can feel as if there are no words to describe America’s current situation.

But all you need are 6.

Ernest Hemingway wrote the most famous 6-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Since then, writers of all types have tried their hand at the 6-word exercise.

Karin Kessler wants to hear yours.

She’s the upbeat, indefatigable owner of Backspace, the typewriter shop/writing space on Church Street South, behind Little Barn.

Karin Kessler, in her Backspace space.

Customers always talk about the political climate, Karin says. They usually throw their hands in the air, and say they have no voice.

So this month, she invites everyone to come to Backspace and write their own 6-word story on any typewriter. There’s no charge.

(You can also write at home, and drop it off at Backspace. You can email it in too — backspacewestport@gmail.com — or post it on a special Facebook page. But if you haven’t seen the shop, you really should.)

Any and every viewpoint is welcome (except hate-mongering).

The 6 words should have something to do with the political atmosphere — and be a thought-provoking reflection of the times.

“We can show that right and left can coexist, and respectfully disagree with one another,” Karin says.

This is not a competition between parties, she notes. She’s looking for “a description, statement or feeling about politics today.”

Karin offers her own suggestion: “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

She hopes to compile the stories, to promote both thought and conversation.

December can be a stressful month. She hopes this can be a fun exercise, done during downtime on the train, while stuck in traffic, or anywhere else. (Except, I guess, watching Fox or MSNBC.)

“Let’s start a wave from Westport, using our right of freedom of speech,” Karin says. “Let’s all hear what everyone says.”

In exactly 6 words.

Co-Workers Swarm To Westport’s Hive

Co-working sounds like a high-tech concept. Folks sit hunched around their laptops, earbuds in, collaborating remotely with people they may never actually meet.

Nope, says Luke Scott. That’s not it at all. Co-working is all about being together, with other intriguing folks, in a space that is not an actual office.

Luke should know. The 1991 Staples High School graduate — whose real gig is owner of MadisonMott, a funky, kick-ass branding, advertising, digital and social media agency– also created, developed and runs B:Hive. That’s the cleverly named 5-year-old co-working space that’s helped bring great energy and creativity to downtown Bridgeport.

Luke just opened his 2nd co-working Hive. This one is in an even more cool, fun space: the old Sasco Mill, straddling the Westport/Southport line.

B:Hive — the rear view, from Sasco Creek and Bulkley Pond.

Over the decades the historic structure morphed from a cider mill to a yarn shop. Now it’s ready for its 21st century turn.

Owner Gerard Bernacchia had been looking to convert part of his building into a co-working space. David Cusa of Peoples Bank connected Gerard with his Staples classmate and longtime friend Luke.

Things moved quickly. Designers Madeline Rhodes loved the interior space. She worked with tech director Jordan Rabidou and creative director Marcella Kovac (Luke’s wife). Their design brilliantly blends features of the mill with the demands of technology.

There are 2 levels — both bright and airy, all equipped with high-speed WiFi.

The Hive boasts original beams — and the latest video conferencing technology.

When Luke gives a tour, he starts on the street level. He shows off the big individual desks, conference rooms, private phone booths (for cell calls), printer, storage space and kitchen.

It’s an inviting space — perfect for folks who work on their own but find a home office too limited and/or distracting, and crave just-enough contact with other human beings. (The business connections made with other co-workers is worth the monthly fee itself.)

But when Luke takes visitors downstairs, the Hive really hums.

There’s a long communal work table. Just beyond, large windows look out on a spectacular Sasco Creek waterfall.

The communal table looks out on a gorgeous waterfall.

If that doesn’t inspire you, you deserve your miserable fluorescent-lit cubicle.

The Hive opened just before Thanksgiving. The first co-workers, Luke jokes, were a great blue heron and white egret.

Humans quickly followed. They include writers, advertising and PR pros, an event planner, an apparel businessperson, a media consultant and a non-profit executive.

There’s an intriguing mix of ages and backgrounds. Right now, women outnumber men.

Among the features and amenities they enjoy: 24/7 access; free coffee and snacks; guest visits; access to the Bridgeport B:Hive; onsite printing; networking and social events, and mail service.

Oh, yeah: Kayaks and bike sharing.

And an Airbnb upstairs (for guests).

Luke Scott. Don’t be offended — this sign is in the bathroom.

Luke is a huge Bridgeport booster. That’s where he opened his first co-working space — just around the corner from his MadisonMott agency.

But he also loves his home town.

He’s excited to bring his 2nd Hive to the beautiful mill and waterfall on the Southport border.

And proud to offer a co-working space that is Westport’s latest buzz.

(For more information, click here; email swarm@bhivecoworking.com, or call 203-873-2008.)