Category Archives: Local business

Our Long Wait For United Bank Is Over

Patriot Bank recently relocated, from the South Compo end of Compo Acres Shopping Center. It’s now across the street near Gold’s, giving new meaning to the words “drive-thru banking.”

But fear not! Westport’s motto — “A Bank in Every Strip Mall — is still true. United Bank opens soon next to Jersey Mike’s — just a few doors down from the old Patriot Bank site.

(Photo/Molly Alger)

Which raises 2 important questions:

  • What’s the difference between this “United Bank” and “People’s United Bank,” which (surprise!) is also across the street (corner of Post Road and North Compo)?
  • When did Compo Acres Shopping Center change its name — dating back to the 1950s — to the bland-as-United Bank-sounding “Regency Centers”?

More Post Road Changes: Kowalsky Out, Assisted Living In

In the 1940s, Joe, Paul and Ed started Kowalsky Brothers Construction Company. Their headquarters was on the Post Road, where Westport Hardware is today.

In the 1960s they moved across the street, to the former site of Patio.com in the Fresh Market shopping center.

A decade later they moved again: down the Post Road, just east of what was then Parsell’s Garden Mart (and later, Geiger’s).

Kowalsky Brothers headquarters, 1141 Post Road East.

Kowalsky Construction — now owned by Jay and Edward, the 2nd generation — is once again relocating.

This time, it’s much further: to Stratford. They need more room than their current 5.4 acres. A spot near I-95 exit 30 is perfect.

Kowalsky — you don’t need the rest of the company name — has been part of the Westport community for nearly 80 years.

They built Parker Harding Plaza, behind Main Street. (Evan Harding — who helped plan the project — was friends with Joe Kowalsky.)

The company dredged and built Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. Every year, they provide the trucks and manpower to prepare Compo Beach for the summer.

After Hurricane Sandy slammed Westport in 2012, CL&P trucks were scarce. But Kowalsky Brothers was out early, clearing Compo Beach and environs.

“We’ve done literally hundreds of projects — parking lots, roadways, you name it,” Jay says.

Kowalsky gives back plenty too. They provide many of the flatbed trucks that serve as floats in the Memorial Day parade. When floats were a thing at Staples High School Homecoming, they donated those too.

“We’ll still bid on jobs here,” Jay promises.

Right now, they’re excavating the new apartment complex across from Greens Farms Elementary School — next door to their soon-to-be-vacated headquarters.

Those apartments are a visible symbol of a changing Westport.

So is what will move in when Kowalsky moves out.

The new owner — LCB Senior Living of Boston — is building an assisted living facility.

It will be 3 stories high, 97,194 square feet, and have 96 rooms.

If you think this fills a need in Westport: You’re right. The most recent senior facility in town is Westport Rehabilitation Complex next to Kings Highway Elementary School, clear across town.

Originally called Mediplex, it opened in 1964.

Kowalsky Construction has always been a good neighbor. For years, they’ve maintained the handsome garden at the Sherwood Island Connector, around the corner from their headquarters.

Sheraton Care Offers Art Therapy For Seniors

Sophie Slater’s mother Laura Plimpton — a 30-year-old widow — moved her family to Weston in 1985. Laura’s sister — Martha Stewart — lived here, and had recently published her first book about entertaining. Martha and Laura worked together for the next 30 years.

Growing up, Sophie took full advantage of the art and cultural offerings in area. She also enjoyed sharing the Slater house with her grandmother.

Sophie Slater

“She was an incredibly industrious and sharp woman,” Sophie recalls. “The extensive time I spent with her and her friends nurtured my passion for working with seniors.”

Sophie saw the ways in which creative involvement — from making crafts at the Westport Senior Center, to cooking or sewing — benefited their lives.

She also realized the importance of organized caregiving. So connecting with Gillian Isaacs shortly before Sophie completed her master’s degree in art therapy and counseling felt serendipitous.

Gillian moved to Connecticut from South Africa in the mid-1990s. To support herself while she studied finance in college, she became a certified caregiver for an elderly New Canaan couple.

They became like family, and inspired Gillian to commit her life to improving the lives of seniors and people with disabilities. She went on to found certified nursing assistant schools, and Sheraton Homecare in Bethel.

Sheraton Caregivers opened in Westport in January. They offer personal care assistance, companionship, medication reminders, and meal planning and preparation.

Gillian became intrigued by the ways in which art therapy improved the lives of seniors, including those with cognitive impairments. She discovered Mneme therapy — an activity designed for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy — and implemented it at Sheraton.

Art intervention reduces anxiety and depression, encourages pain reduction, increases cognitive stimulation and socialization, promotes self-expression and improves self-esteem.

Art therapy can also be used by seniors and their families in times of transition, such as a change in caregivers, a move to an assisted living facility or the loss of a loved one.

Sheraton caregivers are the first credentialed providers of Mneme therapy in Connecticut. Sophie is the art therapy director.

At a time when the elderly population is increasing — we’re all getting older, right? — Sophie hopes she can provide a service for a community that gave her so much, when she was just a kid.

Friday Flashback #102

Some things never change. The only constant is change.

Those 2 adages — which, like so many, sound completely contradictory — are expressed well in this fascinating photo:

The Post Road looks much as it does today. There’s traffic, stores, even the same trees, buildings and vistas.

But back when this photo was taken, the Post Road was called State Street. The shops and automobiles were different.

Look closely at the biggest building. That’s not even the Fine Arts Theater. In those days, it was called “Fine Arts Photoplay.”

Since 1999, of course, that property has been Restoration Hardware.

That may change too. Word on the street — State, Post Road, US 1, whatever you call it — is that the upscale home furnishings shop is slated to close.

If that rumor is true, I’ve got the perfect tenant. The Westport Cinema Initiative could convert it into — ta da! — a movie theater.

Rachel Doran’s Journey

This month, Rachel Doran should be completing a summer internship in New York. She should be looking forward to her senior year at Cornell University, as a fashion design major with a minor in business.

Instead, the 2015 Staples High School graduate — a National Merit Commended Scholar, talented Players costume designer, and founder of “Rachel’s Rags,” a company that makes intricate cotton and fleece pajama tops and bottoms — is in critical condition at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital’s Center for Acute Respiratory Failure and ECMO Program.

Last month Rachel was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a rare reaction to common medications that resulted in severe burns to 95% of her body.

Rachel Doran

She was treated at Bridgeport Hospital’s Connecticut Burn Center for 2 weeks, before being transferred to New York for the treatment of Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome — another rare and life-threatening syndrome. She is in the ICU, on a special lung protocol called ECMO and dialysis.

Her skin is slowly beginning to heal. But Rachel has a collapsed lung and renal failure. She is being kept as comfortable as possible, and is supported by a superb hospital staff.

Rachel’s family has been by her side for 3 weeks — and faces a long road. She could be at Columbia Presbyterian for months.

Her parents are staying in a New York hotel, while their extended family tries to maintain a sense of normalcy for Rachel’s sister Ellie in Westport.

Between hospital bills, the hotel and loss of wages, the financial ramifications will be vast. Friends created a GoFundMe page to lighten the load.

Everyone who knows Rachel calls her “amazing.” Now is the time for Westport to offer her and her family some amazing help.

Click here to contribute to the Dorans’ GoFundMe page.

When The Cribari Bridge Closes …

Starting Monday, contractors will make emergency nighttime repairs to the William F. Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River.

That means closures and detours, from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The tentative schedule calls for 6 weeks of work — weather permitting.

That’s bad news for commuters. And for businesses that depend on bridge traffic for customers: restaurants, bars and Saugatuck Sweets, for example.

So the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is spreading the word: “The Bridge May be Closed, But Saugatuck is Open!” Miggs Burroughs has donated artwork to help folks realize that despite detours, you can still eat, drink and enjoy all the places that make Saugatuck fun.

Speaking of Saugatuck and the Chamber: The next “Tuesday @ the Train” event is this coming week (August 6, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.). Luciano Park is the spot for music, food, beer, wine and games. All commuters, their families, even the many Westporters who work at home and need a break are welcome!

And speaking of construction that impacts local businesses: I haven’t heard a peep of protest from the shops in Sconset Square. But they must be impacted hugely by the long-running Aquarion project that’s tearing up — and often closing — Myrtle Avenue.

So here’s another reminder: Sconset Square is not closed. Just park on the Post Road, Church Lane, or anywhere else downtown, and walk over for Le Penguin, Bungalow, Bespoke Designs, and all the other places at this popular, but now hard-to-park-at, shopping center.

There’s more than one way to get to Sconset Square. This view is from Church Lane.

Restaurant Churn? Not These!

A recent “06880” photo of the Compo Beach palm tree got an alert — and hungry — reader thinking about lobster rolls.

That reminded her of clam chowder, which made her think of Westfair Fish & Chips. She’s been a fan ever since she was a student at Staples High School, back in the mid-1980s.

The small, unassuming takeout-or-eat-in spot behind the strip mall opposite Stop & Shop has been a Westport favorite for over 30 years. And that got the “06880” reader wondering about other restaurants that have stood the test of time.

Three decades is a great achievement for many things: a career, a marriage. But it’s particularly remarkable in the constant churn that is Westport’s restaurant scene.

She and I came up with a list of places we think have been here for at least 3 decades. They include:

Gold’s. The anchor of Compo Shopping Center since it opened in the late 1950s, and the anchor 6 decades later for anyone who loves a quintessential deli.

Viva Zapata. Probably the oldest continually operating restaurant in town, especially when you consider its predecessor, at the entrance to what is now Playhouse Square.

Westport Pizzeria. Opened in 1968 on Main Street, where it stood proud and unchanging for over 45 years, “Westport Pizza” moved around the corner to the Post Road in 2014. Its special recipe thankfully remains the same.

The Black Duck. A star turn on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” has not changed this waterfront favorite one bit.

(Photo/Chou Chou Merrill)

Dunville’s. Around the corner from the Duck on Saugatuck Avenue, another down-home place that’s the same now as when its present owners grew up here.

Sherwood Diner. Or, simply, “the diner.” It’s no longer open 24/7, but is still the go-to spot for Staples High School seniors, senior citizens, every other human being in Westport, and anyone wandering in off nearby I-95.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Sakura. As steady as she goes. It — and the gorgeous cherry blossom tree outside, which gives the restaurant its name — has been a fixture opposite McDonald’s since the fast-food franchise was Roy Rogers. And before that, Big Top.

Fortuna’s. With limited seating, this is not really a restaurant. But stop quibbling. Its winning formula has filled the stomach of Staples students, Post Road workers and everyone else since the Ford administration.

Coffee An‘. If it’s good enough for Bill Clinton, it’s good enough for the rest of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a president or a peon. The donuts are the same — unbelievable — for all.

Little Kitchen. When it opened on Main Street, it really was a “little kitchen.” Now it’s bigger, and the granddaddy of all Asian fusion places in town.

Da Pietro’s. One of Westport’s best — and smallest — restaurants, earning praise and love since 1987.

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Tavern on Main. This cozy 2nd-floor Main Street spot has not been here as long as its predecessor, Chez Pierre — but it’s getting close.

I couldn’t find out for sure when a few other long-lived (though probably less than 3 decades) restaurants opened. But these too have stood the test of time: Tengda. Tarantino’s. Finalmente. Via Sforza. Planet Pizza. Tutti’s. Positano’s (at 2 different locations).

Special mention goes to 2 fantastic delis that offer a wide variety of hot and cold food, and serve as community centers: Elvira’s  and Christie’s Country Store. 

Plus, of course, Joey’s by the Shore. It’s not a restaurant or a deli. But the beach concession occupies its own special. much-loved niche. And if it hasn’t been here for 30 years, it’s at least 29.

Finally, 2 other downtown delis have been around for decades. They’ve changed names, and — particularly with one — substantially updated the interior.

But Rye Ridge (formerly Oscar’s) and Winfield Street Coffee (previously Art’s, and definitely not on Winfield Street but right over the bridge) keep doing what their predecessors have done.

And what every other place in this story does: provide excellent food and continuity to generations of Westporters.

(Have I missed any longtime restaurants or delis? Click “Comments” — and my apologies!)

Saying Adios To A Friend

Countless Westporters knew him as an ever-smiling, always gentle and kind man.

His boss knew him as an incredibly hard worker. He volunteered for every task, made sure it was done right, and helped make the entire store run well.

He’s gone now, back to his home country.

He was a legal immigrant. But his wife was undocumented.

They were so fearful of what might happen, they decided to leave. They loved America, and made the most of their lives here. Now though, the risks seemed too great.

His boss is devastated. So — when they heard the news — were the customers, who had become his friends.

I’m not using his name, or where he worked. I’ve been told that in his home country, gangs think people who worked in America have a lot of money. The fear of extortion or robbery is real.

The “06880” reader who told me this story says, “It’s one thing to read about something like this in the paper. It’s so different when someone you like is actually involved.”

The store owner has no idea what her former employee’s new life will be like.

She hopes he stays in touch.

Westport Is Really Anytown USA

Sure, we may be entering the mother of all global trade wars.

No, you probably don’t want to buy t-shirts or sneakers made by 9-year-olds in an overseas sweatshop.

But how can you know which products were made in a foreign country, and which come from the good ol’ USA?

Just click on AnytownUSA.

The website — which calls itself the first-ever “American Made Marketplace” — is Geralyn Breig’s brainchild. A high-powered Wharton grad who served as president of Clarks America, Avon North America and Godiva Chocolatier International, she may be promoting Anytown.

But she lives and works in Our Town.

The site went live less than a month ago. It offers thousands of products, and dozens of sellers. Its bread and butter is local artisans, small businesses and locally made products. They range from apparel and accessories to home goods, and from individually crafted one-of-a-kind pieces to large-scale manufactured merchandise.

The only requirement: Every product must be made in this country.

Geralyn Breig (right) and seller Michelle Ciarlo Hayes on the recent SiriusXM “Tastemakers” program.

Consumer Reports says that 80% of Americans would prefer to buy American-made goods than comparable, imported ones. Over 60% say they’d pay a slight premium.

Breig spent the past year traveling across the country, meeting people who make items domestically. She also found some right here, at last winter’s Westport Young Woman’s League holiday crafts show.

Now — from her office on Post Road West — she’s given them all a platform to connect with shoppers from coast to coast.

(Click here for AnytownUSA. Social media links include Twitter  @anytown_usa_; Facebook @AnytownUSA.marketplace; Instagram @anytown_usa_ and Pinterest: @AnytownUSAcom.

A Dog Named Misty Mae

Julie Loparo — president of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates — loves dogs. 

She loves dog stories too. Here’s one she shares with “06880” readers:

Winslow Park may not be the place where everybody knows your name.

But they do know your dog’s name.

Regulars at the downtown park are quick to share stories about their own dogs, and answer questions about yours.

When a dog gets distracted by a squirrel or another canine buddy, the group watches closely until it’s reunited with its owner.

Just another day at Winslow Park.

Several weeks ago however, the crowd discovered a little one that’s a poster dog for the ever-growing number of abandoned dogs (and cats) in Connecticut.

A senior, blind long-haired chihuahua was found in a beat-up dog carrier on a park bench. How she got there, and how long she’d been there, were mysteries.

But clearly, she’d been left there.

Westport Animal Control quickly responded. She was transported to Schulhof Animal Hospital for evaluation and care.

Once stabilized and treated for a possible flea situation, she was brought back to Animal Control.

It became clear she was not keen on the food being served (though it’s very high quality dog food). A Westport Animal Shelter Advocates volunteer prepared healthy meals of organic meats and vegetables. The little one liked that.

Misty Mae

On Wednesday, WASA officially adopted “Misty Mae” into their foster family.

With the help of Schulhof’s staff, WASA will bring her up-to-date on vet care, with vaccinations, and detailed blood and dental work. They’ll consult with eye specialists, to see if she’s a candidate for cataract surgeries.

They’ll also search for a new, loving home for Misty Mae.

She’s sweet, quiet, and 10 to 12 years old. She has not been reactive to other dogs, though additional testing will be done. She loves to be brushed and cuddled. She’s a lap dog in every sense of the word.

For additional information about Misty Mae, call 203-557-0361, or email wasa1@optonline.net.

To donate for her vet care, click here (and note that you are contributing for Misty Mae).

Winslow Park is definitely the place where everyone knows your dog’s name.

And Westport is where Animal Control, WASA and Schulhof all come together to help a dog named Misty Mae.