Category Archives: Local business

Business For Sale Or Lease. Cleanup Required.

Dozens of vacant stores line the Post Road.

But it’s doubtful any are as messy and cluttered as the one formerly occupied by SoNo Baking Company and A&J’s Farm market, near Goodwill.

Furnishings, freezers and other debris have sat in the parking lot for months.

Half-sawed logs, too.

It’s a great location, with plenty of traffic.

And the photos above are what every driver sees, every day.

Morgan Stanley Furniture Dump: The Sequel

Last week, Ken Bernhard was Paul Revere.

The Cohen & Wolf lawyer — a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney — was appalled that Morgan Stanley was tossing at least $100,000 worth of office furniture into a wood chipper, in preparation of a move from 320 Post Road West to new digs on Post Road East.

Last Friday, a contractor tossed Morgan Stanley furniture into a wood chipper.

Bernhard contacted Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. The Westport housing non-profit managed to save “1/20” of the cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas and other perfectly good goods.

This week, Bernhard was Kojak.

He spent the past few days trying to get answers from Morgan Stanley: about why they had thrown away so much furniture, and whether there was any truth to the rumor that a similar dump — though 4 times as large — is planned for this Friday, at the financial firm’s Nyala Farm site.

Bernhard said he hoped that Morgan Stanley would follow its own policy of “relocating” unneeded furniture “within other MS facilities,” then reselling or donating the rest to a third parties. He urged the company to work with Westport, other local communities and non-profits, allowing access to Nyala Farms for inspection and perhaps recycling of what the firm is about to discard. He even offered himself as a facilitator to help make it happen.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley threw away …

Bernhard was not pleased with the hemming, hawing and eventual silence from corporate headquarters.

Yesterday, he sent another email. He noted that a hospice facility in Stamford said it needs office furniture. They were happy to send a truck to pick it up.

Bernhard added:

In all honesty, I don’t understand MS’s perceived intransigence in not giving away some of what the company plans to destroy. In some communities the waste of valuable, useful assets might go unnoticed or overlooked, but Westport citizens aspire to do better than that. We have a strong, vibrant recycling program, a Green Task force, and municipal goals to reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Morgan Stanley is a part of our community.

Again, I offer my services to act as facilitator in identifying not-for-profits or others that might benefit from the reuse of furniture that will otherwise be wasted.

So far, he has not heard back.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks toward Friday.

And whatever happens at Nyala Farm — the sprawling office complex tucked away in the rolling hills off the Sherwood Island Connector — will be a lot less visible than it was on Post Road West.

… and another.

Alisyn Camerota: CNN Anchor, Debut Novelist, Westporter

Three years ago — after 16 years with Fox, including co-hosting “Fox & Friends Weekend” — Alisyn Camerota left the network.

She joined CNN. She co-anchors the “New Day” morning show. She reports on breaking international stories. She’s one of their top journalists.

It’s not easy. Camerota leaves Westport — where she has lived since 2012 — at 3:30 every morning. On the plus side: With very little traffic, her commute is just an hour.

If she was still at Fox, Camerota would be one of President Trump’s favorite TV personalities.

At CNN, she — and the entire network — are in his crosshairs.

That’s fine.

“With some regularity, we report a story in the morning, and a tweet comes out directly correlated to something we or a guest said,” Camerota notes.

“We know the president is watching. And we know he sometimes objects to a question or angle we take.

“It comes with the territory. We’re not there to curry favor. But I don’t see us as the ‘opposition,’ or an ‘enemy of the people.’ Our job is to hold people accountable for what they say and do.”

That’s not to say working at CNN is easy.

“If it’s been a particularly rough day — if we got called out at a press briefing — we’ll remark on it,” Camerota admits.

“But it hasn’t changed how we do our job. I don’t sense any chilling effect. In some way, it’s invigorated us. It’s helped us define our role, and sharpened our purpose.”

Alisyn Camerota

In fact, Camerota says, wherever she is, people thank her for doing what she does.

In Westport, some are friends. Others are strangers.

Earlier this year, she moderated a panel with diehard Trump supporters. One was convinced that 3 to 5 million people had voted illegally. As Camerota pressed her — and the woman’s answers grew “increasingly illogical” — the journalist involuntarily slapped her forehead. A video of the moment went viral.

The next day, while shopping in a local store, a woman approached Camerota, and slapped her own head. Neither said a word.

Camerota’s days are full. But with the publication yesterday of her 1st novel — Amanda Wakes Up — her life is about to get even busier.

The book was 6 years in the making. In 2011 — as the ’12 presidential campaign was getting underway — Camerota was intrigued by the cast of candidates. They included colorful folks like Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

“There was no dearth of stories to cover,” the journalist says. She began taking notes.

She did not know her vignettes would become a book. But — because she was a weekend anchor and “could actually have a hobby” — she began writing.

Amanda follows an ambitious young reporter who lands a plum gig at a big-time cable news station — and quickly learns her “dream” job may be a nightmare.

Samantha Bee calls it “a hilarious, eye-opening glimpse into the TV news trenches, from one who’s had to navigate them backwards and in heels.”

Booklist adds, “Camerota’s timely send-up will engross readers from both sides of the political spectrum.”

“It was fun to assign my own ethical dilemmas to a fictional character,” the author says. “I let her figure stuff out.”

So how much of Amanda is Alisyn?

“All of it,” she answers quickly. “But the difference is, she figures everything out in 1 1/2 years. It took me 25 years.” That includes pre-Fox stints with ABC and NBC.

Amanda, it turns out, “is not me. She’s a distant cousin of mine.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 27, 7 p.m.), Camerota hosts a book signing at the Westport Barnes & Noble.

As for the rest of the summer, Camerota jokes: “I’m going to take a long nap.”

But, she continues, “My ‘day job’ has a breathless pace. I’m writing furiously during a 2-minute commercial break, trying to update a story or introduce the next guest.

“There’s something therapeutic and relaxing about sitting with my keyboard, trying to figure things out while writing a novel. I’m not sure — but I may have more stories to tell.”

Of course, she will also take time to appreciate summer in Westport.

“It’s stunningly beautiful,” Camerota says. “It’s so green. The flowers are in bloom. I love the beach, and Saugatuck Sweets. This is a glorious time to be here.”

So true. That’s definitely not Fake News.

Westport’s Quiet Role: Addiction Recovery Hub

It was a simple dental procedure..

Back in 2005, Al Samaras was a healthcare sales executive. He owned a large home in Madison, where he and his wife were raising 2 kids.

He loved the opiates that lessened the post-operative pain. Within 8 months, Samaras lost his career. His wife. And his kids.

It took a while to recover. But while still living in a sober house in North Haven, he was asked to manage it.

“I was in my late 30s. I had life skills to fall back on,” Samaras says.

Al Samaras

Yet the model he used for recovery almost never worked for 18-22-year-olds. Most of them start abusing substances — drugs or alcohol — around age 13. Their emotional development stalls.

The financial model most recovery centers use does not support the level of staffing and services — with constant support and oversight — young men need to succeed.

So Samaras helped develop a 2-pronged system aimed at young male addicts.

Very quietly, both are succeeding.

And both are right here in Westport.

With a felony cocaine conviction, Samaras could not go back to his old life. Gradually — as he remarried his wife, put his family back together and built a new house — he developed an extended care sober-living model.

He knew Westport has a strong recovery community. Though he understood possible resistance to establishing a sober house here — not in my backyard! — he searched for property.

The 2nd homeowner he contacted — “We want to rent your house, and put young addicts there” — was willing to talk. “That’s all I ask,” Samaras says.

The 1st “Westport House” opened in 2014, on Fragrant Pines Court (opposite Coffee An’). A 2nd house followed on the same street. A 3rd is around the corner, on Cross Highway.

One of the Westport Houses, not far from downtown.

The homes are large, with plenty of privacy. Several residents live in each, 1 to 2 per room, plus support staff. There are 35 beds in all.

They are life-changing places.

“These are not just ‘sober houses,'” Samaras explains. “They are programs for young men in their teens and 20s who lack life and coping skills. They come in overwhelmed and anxious. They can’t navigate the world without drugs in their system.”

Westport House’s 2-phase system helps reintegrate them into society.

Phase I lasts about 90 days (with various goal-oriented levels for residents to attain). The homes are staffed 24/7, with 3 case management managers, and program aides. There are 17 employees in all.

Though half of the young men come from the tri-state area, nearly every state has been represented.

The interior of the Cross Highway house.

Residents take classes at Fairfield and Sacred Heart Universities, and Norwalk Community College.

They also work. Jim Gabal places each young man at a site. Some volunteer at the Gillespie Center. Others are at non-profits; Christ and Holy Trinity Church; businesses like Sperry Top-Sider and Vineyard Vines, and in law firms.

Given the chance, they can handle it. Some residents attend schools like Cornell and Vanderbilt. One recent “grad” is headed to Yale.

In Phase II, the staff is on site from 9 a.m. to midnight.

“We’re super-fortunate that Westport has been so great to us,” Samaras says. “From the zoning department to neighbors, we’ve been welcomed warmly.”

The program is very conscious that they’re in a residential neighborhood. Cars are not parked on the street. “Hanging out” is prohibited.

“We want to be enmeshed in the community,” Samaras says. “We like manning booths at civic events, and participating in life here however we can.”

Westport House is not cheap. Costs starts at $12,000 a month in Phase I. Insurance may cover some or all of the expense.

The 2nd component of Samaras’ work is Clearpoint Recovery Center. Dual-licensed to treat substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, and located nearby on Kings Highway North — in the former Internal Medicine Associates suite — this is where Westport House residents meet 3-4 hours a day, 3-4 days a week for intensive outpatient groups.

“In recovery, environments matter,” Samaras says. “That’s why we chose large, professionally decorated homes. It’s the same with Clearpoint.”

Treatment centers are typically sterile, he notes. Clearpoint features reclaimed barn lumber, and comfortable furniture.

A Clearpoint meeting room.

Clearpoint’s 20 employees include experienced therapists, and — in administrative roles — several program graduates. “They come in here, and can’t look anyone in the eye. Now they work here,” Samaras says proudly.

But Clearpoint has another component. While it’s used mornings for Westport House residents, the rest of the time it offers services for the rest of Fairfield County.

For example, there are female-only groups. “Women in recovery have different issues than men — there’s often trauma and psychological disorders,” Samaras explains.

One women’s group meets 3 times a week, for 3 hours per session.

There are professionals groups, for those struggling with alcohol. (In most AA groups, Samaras notes, alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds mix together. Westport House residents may also be involved in AA.)

There are also young adult groups, and one centered on medication management.

A small Clearpoint meeting.

“I love Westport for many reasons — including its recovery community,” Samaras says.

“There are a lot of people here recovering from drugs and alcohol. They are amazing human beings. And they’ve been very supportive of us.”

Before today, you may not have heard of Westport House, or Clearpoint.

That’s okay. For hundreds of people who need them, they’re there for them.

And how wonderful it is that “there” means “right here.”

[OPINION] Questioning The Good In Goodwill

An alert “06880” reader named Jennifer writes:

I frequent Goodwill in Westport, both as a donor of my kid’s outgrown clothing and a shopper looking for unique items. I am a single mom often in search of a bargain. (I love estate sales, so I enjoy the thrill of the chase). My favorite pair of shoes are Kate Spade hot pink velvet flats, proudly purchased at Goodwill.

More and more I notice that drivers dropping off Goodwill donations then make a U-turn in the parking lot, find a spot, and go in to shop. I am one of them.

It seems that Goodwill has adjusted their prices to the Westport clientele. For instance, a man’s Orvis or Tommy Hilfiger polo goes for $25 a shirt, rather than the usual $2 to $11 Goodwill price. It seems like the store is appealing to those donating (who end up parking the car to shop), rather than those who actually need clothing at discounted prices.

I have not done any research on how Goodwill uses the income from the goods we purchase. I recently read on a Facebook Moms group that a local mom was looking for a place to donate clothing that actually went to a family in need, rather than Goodwill.

PS: I am curious how Tina Dragone now feels about her neighbor. In 2012 she was not pleased Goodwill was moving closer to her boutique. Has she warmed up?

The Goodwill store in Westport, on opening day.

Take $100,000 Worth Of Perfectly Good Furniture. Then Throw It Out The Window.

Ken Bernhard is a principal in Cohen & Wolf’s municipal, real estate, and business and corporate groups. He works in the firm’s office at 320 Post Road West.

He’s also a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney.

He’s nobody’s fool.

This morning, Bernhard heard an enormous crunching sound coming from the building’s top floor.

Morgan Stanley — the tenant there — is moving out. Workers were methodically moving every piece of furniture — cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas, you name it — onto the ground.

A chipper then chewed every single piece up.

Into the chipper it goes.

Bernhard — who helped create the Syria Fund, which provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations — was appalled.

He asked the foreman of the company — Total Relocation Services — what was going on. The man said they had a contract. Morgan Stanley’s floor must be “broom clean” by the close of business today.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley is throwing away …

Bernhard asked the foreman to check that the financial services firm really wanted to toss at least $100,000 worth of perfectly good furniture away.

Yep, the forerman reported. A Morgan Stanley representative repeated the claim: “Broom clean” by the end of the day.

… another shot …

Bernhard swung into action. He called Jeff Wieser. The CEO of Homes With Hope raced over. He salvaged what Bernhard estimates is “1/20” of the furniture being demolished.

Bernhard also called 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. He said he would send someone over, to see what he could do.

The foreman said he’d had no real notice of the project. But, he told Bernhard, next week the company is scheduled to do a project “4 times as big,” not far away. That may be Morgan Stanley’s Nyala Farms complex.

Bernhard hopes to organize non-profits, and save some of what is there.

“It’s a collective effort,” he says.

It certainly is.

But what does it say about Morgan Stanley — and our society — that it has to be?

… and a 3rd. (Photos/Ken Bernhard)

David Pogue Finds A Renovation Angel

To the rest of the world, David Pogue is a tech guru. He’s a writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American), TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) and author (“Missing Manual” series, “Pogue’s Basics”) who has won 3 Emmy awards, 2 Webbys and a Loeb for journalism.

To Westporters, he’s a neighbor.

Which means he worries about the same things you and I do: traffic. How his kids do in school. His kitchen renovation project.

Here — because David Pogue is a neighbor, friend and “06880” fan — is his exclusive story about one part of that kitchen remodel:

When we decided to renovate our aging kitchen, one of my greatest stresses was: What happens to the old kitchen?

David Pogue’s kitchen, before renovation.

For most Fairfield County residents, I’d imagine the answer is, “it winds up in the landfill.” Occasionally, “Habitat for Humanity will take a few items.”

But I’m here to tell you about an amazing alternative that I wish everybody knew: Renovation Angel.

Our kitchen designer told us about this outfit. To be frank, it sounded too good to be true. Listen to this business model:

* They dismantle and haul away your old kitchen for free. You’re saved the cost of the demolition, disposal fees, dumpster rental, and so on.

* They give you a huge tax deduction.

* They then resell your entire kitchen, both online and at their huge showroom in New Jersey. All of it: cabinets, countertops, appliances, lights, chairs —whatever you can part with. Other people who are renovating their kitchens get luxury stuff for a fraction of its usual price.

* The best part: Renovation Angel then gives the proceeds to charity. They donate to programs for addiction recovery, at-risk children, job training, and social entrepreneurship.

David Pogue, wondering how to renovate his kitchen and help the world.

To me, this seemed like a win-win-win-win-win. You win (free demo and the tax writeoff); the planet wins (nothing thrown away); your kitchen’s buyer wins (saves a fortune); Renovation Angel wins (employs 135 people); and, of course, the charities win.

I decided to try it. I sent them photos; they sent a guy out to measure. They asked when we wanted them to show up, and recommended that we have the water and gas disconnected when they arrived. That was it.

Oh — except for the part where they said that our nearly 20-year-old kitchen would earn us a $40,000 tax deduction! Unbelievable.

And so last week they showed up on schedule with a big truck and a 4-man, fully insured crew. Board by board, piece by piece, they dismantled our kitchen, protecting each piece as they loaded it into the truck. They worked nonstop for 4 hours, treated each piece like an heirloom, and left the place spotless. (Incredibly, ours was their 2nd kitchen of the day.)

Almost done!

Renovation Angel is the brainchild of Steve Feldman, who credits a drug addiction recovery program with saving his life when he was a teenager. About 12 years ago, he saw a 10,000-square-foot house in Greenwich being demolished — and watched all the fine marble, custom cabinetry and expensive appliances get tossed into a dumpster. That was the inspiration for Renovation Angel.

Now, a dozen years later, he’s recycled 5,000 kitchens, donated $2.2 million to charity, and kept 30 million pounds of stuff out of landfills.

The kitchen, after Angel Renovation got done. (Photos/David Pogue)

The experience for us was joyous, effortless and thrilling — not words you usually associate with home renovation. Seems like Westport is a national hub of nice kitchens and kitchen renovation. So I can’t help myself in trying to spread the word!

As I said, David Pogue may be world famous, but he has typical Westport/1st world problems. Like, how will he and his family eat while their new kitchen is being installed?

Click below for David’s great time-lapse video of the entire Renovation Angel project:

 

 

Main Street Merchants To Earth: Screw You!

The 1st selectman endorses it. The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce does too.

So do the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, Green Task Force and Earth Guardians, a Toquet Hall-based youth group.

All back an initiative asking local businesses to keep their doors closed on hot summer days. Air conditioning is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global warming.

And open doors are a major contributor to wasteful air conditioning.

Yet despite reminders from all those folks, this was the scene last Saturday on Main Street:

(Photo/Bob Mitchell)

That’s 3 stores in a row with wide-open doors — including Blue Mercury, which has been doing it since at least 2010.

There were many more as well.

I know the usual suspects will jump into the “Comments” section, declaring that unless there’s a law against it, stores can do whatever they want to attract customers.

Of course they can.

But that doesn’t mean they should.

Neighbors Oppose Aquarion’s Proposed North Avenue Water Tank

For nearly 2 years, on-again, off-again construction of a new water pump directly across from Staples High School slowed traffic and disrupted neighbors.

Now a group of North Avenue residents is alarmed at the next project. Aquarion wants to build 2 storage tanks — each holding 2.5 million gallons of water. They would replace the one current 1.5 million gallon tank, built in 1956.

Aquarion says the tanks are necessary to address future town growth. Fire chief Robert Yost supports the proposal.

Opponents disagree. Their petition to the Planning & Zoning Commission says:

We, concerned neighbors surrounding and adjacent to the area of the proposed water tank construction project on North Avenue, hereby urge you reject Aquarion Water Company’s Special Permit Application #17-043 to allow the installation of two 2.5 million above ground concrete water storage tanks at 63-67 North Avenue, Westport.

We believe that Aquarion’s construction of the tanks, along with their permanent siting on this property, will have a deleterious effect upon our quality of life, neighborhood safety, North Avenue traffic, visual landscape, and home values.

Our objections are as follows:

1)  The proposed 39 foot above-ground height of the two tanks far exceed the 24 foot height of the one existing tank, as well as the heights of all homes in the surrounding area. This will have a significantly negative impact on the character and quality of the residential neighborhood surrounding it, effectively changing its appearance from residential to commercial.

2)  As proposed, construction of these tanks will take 2 years but is very likely to take longer, based on Aquarion’s previous record of construction of its pump station, which was projected to take 6 months but actually took 18 months. During that time the ensuing noise of construction activity, all-night presence of high intensity construction lights, debris and operation of construction equipment had a severely negative impact on the peaceful enjoyment and quality of life of our neighborhood. Additionally, landscaping besides 6-foot trees, has never been restored since then. With the proposed project we expect this impact to be magnified due to its much larger scale, and Aquarion’s lack of concern for the neighborhood be repeated.

The Aquarion water tank, during recent pump station construction.

3)  Construction activity will severely exacerbate traffic conditions on North Avenue which already suffers from chronic traffic backups and congestion due to the daily volume of cars and school buses traveling to and from Bedford Middle School and Staples High School. This will make travel to and from the schools virtually impossible for both staff and students, and guaranteed to result in school delays.

4)  We are very concerned about the impact on the safety of this residential neighborhood, where so many children live and commute to school, due to the siting of two huge water tanks at this location. When at the June 28 informational meeting Aquarian was asked precautions have been taken regarding the storage of five million gallons of water in a residential neighborhood, Aquarion’s response was “nothing will ever happen.” We find this response irresponsible and unacceptable.

5)  It is highly objectionable that Aquarion did not adhere to the Site Plan and Special Permit requirements, as follows:

a) Aquarion informed and invited only 13 neighbors to the June 26 informational neighborhood meeting, instead of all 27 neighbors in the 250 feet radius from their property.

b) The neighbor list was not distributed to the neighbors in that invitation, as required.

c) Important details were not communicated during the meetings, such as the fact the application had already been filed.

6)  Siting of these highly visible, unsightly structures in our neighborhood will be unpleasant and will adversely affect our property values to a significant extent.\

7)  Given that Aquarion filed the Special Permit Application only on June 21, the last week of school when many families are involved in graduations or traveling, insufficient time has been given to neighbors to review and weigh in on the proposed project. Aquarion has thus far failed to provide answers to our questions including:

What is the basis for the project?
Capacity: Why is there a need to increase the current tank capacity by almost 400%, from 1.5 million gallons to 5.75 million? Population in Westport has been relatively stable since 1970, during which time we have not been made aware of any serious water shortages in our area.

Why situate two huge tanks next to each other in a residential area?
a) Alternative sites: What other options have been considered?

b) Can the second tank (if need has been proven) be situated on a different piece of land?

c) Why is such a large (62.5%) increase in tank height necessary?

A photo in the position shows the height of the proposed new water tanks.

Finally, we are dismayed and concerned that the Planning & Zoning Commission has agreed to review and presumably rule on this Special Permit Application along such a rushed time frame, with so little consideration given by Aquarion to neighbors who wish to review and weigh in on the application. Thus far, few of our questions have been answered to our satisfaction, and few of our concerns addressed. We would expect that in your roles as advocates for us, the Town’s residents, Planning and Zoning Commissioners will not allow this process to be rushed. We are counting on you to insure that our concerns are addressed and alternatives proposed.

In conclusion, we once again respectfully urge the Planning & Zoning Commission to reject Aquarion’s Special Permit application pending further review, consideration of alternatives, and input by Westport citizenry and other public officials.

Thank you for consideration of this very important matter. Yours truly,

North Avenue Neighbors including: Dr. Stefanie and Marc Lemcke; Michael and Kusumarn Fleming; Jennifer and Andrew Kobettisch; Claudia Steinman, Alfred and Mirian Popkin; David and Dawn Chaskin; Jodi and Russel Hardin; Jennifer and Jeffrey Watzman; Jennifer Stein, 12 Terhune Drive, and many concerned neighbors of Westport.

Friday Flashback #48

The news that Amazon is buying Whole Foods has everyone atwitter.

Perhaps the mammoth company that delivers nearly everything except babies will now make those pesky supermarket food runs obsolete too.

What could be better than, say, having fresh milk delivered right to your home?

Jeff Bezos, meet Marty McFly. And both you guys, meet the milkman.

(Photo copyright Paul Ehrismann)

Back in the day, Westport was awash in milkmen. Ferris (on North Morningside), Wade’s, Clover Farms* — they and many other local dairies brought milk straight to your doorstep. Sometimes, they’d even put it in your refrigerator icebox.

Sounds like a great idea whose time has come.

And gone.

And come again.

If that works, maybe we can also ask doctors to come to our homes too.

I’ve got just the name too. We could call them “house calls.”

*Never heard of Clover Farms? That’s because it turned into a slightly larger business called Stew Leonard’s. You know — “the worlds largest dairy store.” They don’t use an apostrophe — but they do sell cashmere.