Category Archives: Local business

Daffodil Mile In Bloom

It’s been a long, hard winter. Sometimes this feels not like April 21, but January 111th.

Don’t tell that to the daffodils. Willowbrook’s famed “Daffodil Mile” is now in full bloom.

That’s great news for the thousands of drivers who pass the Main Street cemetery every day — and the many more bikers, joggers and walkers who wait patiently for the display.

Over the past 10 years, families and friends of Willowbrook’s “residents” (aka dead people) have donated 35,000 bulbs. Each year the line of yellow flowers grows.

Next year, 10,000 more bulbs will be planted.

And in the coming months, cemetery trustees will release details on a new cherry blossom mall.

PS: The cool weather is good for one thing. This year, the daffodils will bloom longer than usual.

(For more information, click here for the Willowbrook Cemetery website.)

Michael Connors Finds A Career

Michael Connors has had several careers.

Michael Connors

The Staples High School football player did not go to college. Instead, after graduating in 1999 he traded commodities, helped run Juba’s coffee shop, and got involved in skincare. Eleven years ago, he started an excavation constructing firm.

He began selling his own equipment online. Then he sold lamps, and a dining room table. 

The process attracted him. Last May, 2 Westport women offered him a partnership with their consignment shop.

It did not work out. But he loved the space.

Six months later, with construction work slow, his phone rang. The consignment space — on Taylor Place, across from Tiffany — was available.

Which is how Connors became the new owner of a consignment boutique, known simply as Taylor Place.

He enjoys helping people who have no idea what to do with items they own (or have inherited). He loves the challenge of “seeing pieces with character and craftsmanship find new homes.”

And he appreciates the chance to meet interesting people: artists, designers, anyone who wanders in the door. “This is never boring,” Connors says.

His shop is small. So he’s selective about the pieces he chooses — furniture, home decor, lighting, art and accessories — and how he displays them. He uses his walls to display the works of one artist at a time.

As a merchant on Taylor Place, Connors can apply for a permit to use Jesup Green for events. He anticipates a show with a bounce house, antique cars — the sort of stuff that makes Westport fun.

And that can’t fit inside 24 Taylor Place, the newest venture for a man who has finally found his true calling.

 

Friday Flashback #87

A local news site reported recently that the Post Road strip mall by North Maple Avenue — the one with Dunkin’ Donuts, a cleaners, tanning salon and much-loved Layla’s Falafel — would be torn down.

Not true. The demolition permit is for the hideous Quonset hut that has hulked behind it for decades.

A paint job in 2010 made it look at least a little more presentable.

So the strip mall will remain. It’s one of our many mini-shopping plazas.

The longest tenant — before sailing away in 2014 — was the Boat Locker. But back in the 1960s, that space was occupied by one of Westport’s first fast-food franchises:

(Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

KFC — or “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” as it was known then — was not the only quick poultry place in town.

Downtown, in Brooks Corner, Westporters enjoyed Chicken-a-Go-Go.

And yes, as the name indicated, they delivered.

Pic Of The Day #366

It rained the other day. Predictably, shoppers left their carts everywhere — including in the middle of 2 parking spots. Hey, it’s wet out — let these carts be someone else’s problem! (Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

Drag-gone: The Sequel

Earlier today, I ended my story on the move of Dragone Classic Motorcars from Post Road West to Orange by suggesting the 11,000-square foot property might be the site of a medical marijuana dispensary.

Some readers took me seriously.

I was kidding! It’s directly opposite Kings Highway Elementary School. You’d have to be smoking some heavy stuff to believe that would fly in this town.

But here’s something to consider.

Word around town — from reliable sources — is that a developer has closed on the former classic car showroom. He’s got his eye on the property next door too — where Villa del Sol planned to move.

Why? He wants to build 8-30(g) affordable housing there.

As in, 150 or more 2-bedroom apartments.

The former Dragone property and its neighbor, on Post Road West.

There’s already a plan in the works for the other side of Post Road West — the former “blighted homes” site on the crest of the hill heading downtown. That’s on the Planning and Zoning Commission agenda, for 81 8-30(g) units.

For a while, most Westport zoning battles have been waged on the other side of the river.

Westward ho!

Drag-gone!

After nearly 8 years in Westport, Dragone Classic Motorcars has driven off from the Post Road.

It’s not rent. It’s not lack of interest. The popular vintage auto dealer just needed more space.

A lot more space.

There was 11,000 square feet in the Westport showroom, and another 10,000 square feet in a Bridgeport restoration facility. Vice president George Dragone hauled himself — and Packards, DeSotos, Bugattis, T-Birds and more — back and forth, several times a day.

The Dragone showroom in Westport.

They’re consolidating everything in a 66,000-square foot building in Orange. That’s great news for them.

But not so great for their many loyal Westport customers.

“I hope they’ll continue coming to Orange,” Dragone says. “I still have a lot of connections to Westport. I was just at the Historical Society, in fact.

“But we needed a larger facility. We couldn’t show off our cars the way we wanted to.”

The site on Post Road West, across from Kings Highway Elementary School, has a storied automotive history. The Small Car Company — a Volkswagen dealer — moved in around 1959. Dragone took over from its successor, Saab of Westport.

There’s no word yet on who will move in there. Maybe a medical marijuana dispensary?

Oldtime Newcomer: Art, Marketing Still Thrive Here

Westport may no longer be chockablock with illustrators.

And we’re certainly no longer the Marketing Capital of the World.

But artists and marketers still work here. Sometimes, they’re the same person.

You just have to know where to look.

Elliot Gerard is still young. He was raised on the Upper East Side. But he remembers the Westport of “old.”

Elliot Gerard

His grandparents Philip and Lillian Gerard had a summer place here. His uncle and aunt, Darko and Jena Maric, are longtime residents. His parents were married here. Gerard spent plenty of time in Westport, and loved it.

After graduating from Pratt Institute, he worked in design for a gaming company.

He loved the New York Knicks. They loved his freelance artwork about the team. So did players, who reposted it on their personal social media accounts.

ESPN called. Then CBS, Vice Sports, Bleacher Report and Major League Soccer.

A Major League Baseball illustration by Elliot Gerard, for Vice Sports.

Soon, Gerard was creating animations for the Madison Square Garden Jumbotron.

As LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the playoffs, Gerard designed a digital magazine cover that perfectly captured the star’s kinetic energy. James used the artwork on his social media.

LeBron James, by Elliot Gerard

“That put me on the map,” Gerard says.

When the Cavs won the NBA title, he was a natural choice to design the team’s enormous mural. It was displayed at their arena.

Elliot Gerard, with his Cleveland Cavaliers’ mural.

That helped land Gerard a job with MKTG. The marketing firm has over 2 dozen offices worldwide. Most are in major cities.

But there’s one in an office park on Greens Farms Road. Over 100 people work there.

As vice president, creative director he works with corporate partners like IBM and AT&T. He’s involved in events like the Super Bowl.

Gerard is well aware of the links between his current job, and Westport’s arts and marketing heritage.

Now he’s a Westporter too. He and his wife Meredith recently moved here, with their young daughter and son.

“I’m a city kid,” Gerard says of his new hometown. “But I played in my uncle and aunt’s backyard. Now my kids play in their own.”

Elliot Gerard’s poster for last summer’s MLS All-Star game.

Pic Of The Day #355

West Elm — the Main Street home decor store — offers great suggestions to customers. The sign hangs just inside the Parker Harding entrance.

“Taps” For Liberty Army & Navy

One of Westport’s oldest and most beloved businesses is closing.

This time, it’s not because the rent is too damn high.

Liberty Army & Navy will sell its last jeans, Boy Scout uniform and camping gear at the end of May. It’s been here since the early 1970s.

Now it’s time for Eve Rothbard — the longtime owner, who took over from her father — to retire.

She carried on a long Army & Navy legacy. Her parents, Hank and Julie Mayer, started the store on Bridgeport’s East Main Street in 1950.

Twenty years later Hank added a Westport location: the small shopping plaza near North Maple Avenue, where Layla’s Falafel is now. (Its neighbor then was Kentucky Fried Chicken.)

The store quickly outgrew its space — even after a renovation. Mayer bought a vacant lot a couple of hundred yards west, and built a new Army & Navy.

His 3rd store was in Stratford. After he closed his Bridgeport location, he opened in Norwalk.

Eve had begun working as a kid in Bridgeport. She and her sister Iris came to Westport in the early ’70s. When Iris retired, Eve became sole owner.

Liberty Army & Navy owner Eve Rothbard, in her well-stocked store.

For 20 years, manager Jennifer Talapa has been by her side.

And for nearly 50 years, Eve says, the formula has been the same. She knows her customers by name. She provides great service. Prices are fair. “Quality and service equal satisfaction,” she says.

Some things have changed, of course. Online commerce has siphoned off some customers.

There’s less surplus goods, more well-known brands like Under Armour and Merrell.

Closing is “bittersweet, but exciting,” Eve says. “It’s a new chapter in my life. This is just the right time.”

She has no definite plans, beyond relaxing. And not getting up early to make 7:30 a.m. deliveries.

The interior of Liberty Army & Navy: familiar to generations of Westporters.

Loyal customers were stunned by the closing news. But, says Eve, they’re understanding.

“People are happy to see where I am in life. Still, there’s a lot of concern about where they’ll find certain items. Everyone wonders where they’ll buy Levis.”

Eve knows there are few options — particularly for men working in Westport. “When their feet get cold or wet, they come right here,” she says proudly.

She wants her customers — and her many other accounts, like construction companies, utilities and Boy Scouts — to know how grateful she is for their many years of support.

That was her final message.

But as I walked out the door, a man walked in.

“Thank you for being here,” he said.

Decades’ worth of other customers add, “Amen.”

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries: Yes, There’s A P&Z Meeting Tonight, Too

A posting earlier today noted that on Thursday, April 19 the Planning & Zoning Commission will hear 2 more proposals for medical marijuana dispensaries in Westport.

As alert “06880” reader Phil Perri commented, there is also a P&Z meeting tonight (Thursday, April 5, 7 p.m., Town Hall).

They’ll hear applications for dispensaries at the current sites of the Westport Dance Academy (Post Road West, near the Norwalk border) and the DXL men’s store (Post Road East, former Blockbuster).

A proposal for the old Bertucci’s property (Post Road East, near Sherwood Island Connector) has been pushed back to April 19.

Perri explained that on the 19th, the P&Z will also discuss a proposed change to the medical marijuana text amendment to change the definition of a “public building.” That’s because Bertucci’s is within 1,000 feet of one.

What “public building” is that? It’s a small shed on the state-owned salt storage property next to Walgreen’s.