Category Archives: Local business

Earth Animal Paves The Way For Johnny

When Earth Animal moves into their new digs, they’ll do so without John R. Mancinelli.

The longtime employee — a comedian, healer and humanitarian, loved by colleagues and customers for his big heart and boundless energy — died nearly 3 years ago.

But he won’t be forgotten.

The natural-alternatives pet store is creating a memorial walkway at the entrance to the new location: the old Post Road Starbucks (and before that, Krazy Vin’s), next to Patio.com.

John R. Mancinelli

There will be bricks for Johnny. Customers can purchase others, to honor family members and friends (of both the human and furry variety).

All proceeds benefit Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.

The walkway will be dedicated as part of Earth Animal’s grand opening on October 6 — the first anniversary of Johnny’s death.

It takes several weeks to engrave the bricks, so orders close August 12. Click here for details, and ordering information.

Unsung Heroes #108

For more than 40 years, Baker Graphics has served Westporters with grace, smiles and skill.

What they do has changed — back in the day, copying was a chore best left to professionals, and business cards are going the way of the mimeograph machine — but they always adapt.

Catalogs, brochures, folders, flyers, forms, inserts, posters, signs — if it involves printing, graphic design or packing, they’re your go-to guys and gals.

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime satisfied customer — Ann Chernow thinks they deserve a special, Unsung Heroes shoutout.

“They help in every way possible,” she says. “They go out of their way to find just the right kind of paper or materials, with consistent good humor, knowledge of their craft, patience and assistance in many unusual ways.”

They’re particularly good, she says, with customers who have only a vague — or no — idea of what they want. Which, of course, is most of us.

The other day, Baker Graphics did something unheard of for a print and design company: They made a house call to Ann.

Special delivery, from Richard Baker.

Delivering pizza is one thing. Delivering a print job is on another plane entirely.

So to Marita and Richard Baker, and all their cast and crew, present and past — congratulations! You are our well-deserved Unsung Heroes of the week.

Ins And Outs Of Post Road Shopping Centers

On July 8, representatives from Connecticut’s Department of Transportation gave a public presentation on proposed work on the Post Road. Much of it involves the stretch between Fresh Market, and the Roseville/Hillspoint Road intersection.

The $5.3 million project (80% federally funded, 20% state funds) would include special left-turn-only lanes, as well as traffic signals, curbing, curb ramps, sidewalks and crosswalks.

Proposals for the Post Road near Fresh Market.

Alert “06880” reader Jennifer Johnson agrees with many of the ideas. However, she also has concerns. She wrote the DOT about several, including the need for a sidewalk on the south side from Mitchells to the fire station, and care of the cherry trees in front of the Volvo dealer.

However, what really caught my eye was this:

Eliminate multiple single-property curb cuts. There are an excessive number of curb cuts (17) on both sides of the road, from the traffic light at Fresh Market to the light at Roseville/Hillspoint Road.

The number of curb cuts is a source of danger to people regardless of how they travel (foot, car or bicycle). Now is the time to correct problems that have evolved as the Post Road developed.

There are many ways in and out of the shopping centers, and adjacent lots.

I never thought about that — but now that I have, it makes a lot of sense.

Why do we need so many entrances and exits at Fresh Market? Across the street, there are also a number of ways to get into and out of the Dunkin’ Donuts/UPS Store/Westport Hardware/Mumbai Times lot. (No one ever calls it by its official no-meaning name, Village Center.)

There are other spots in town too with multiple entrances and exits, like Stop & Shop, and Aux Delices/Carvel/Stiles.

There are only a couple of ways in and out of the CVS/Trader Joe’s clusterf***. But at the end of her email, Jennifer notes that this intersection appears to have been ignored by DOT.

Finally, she asks that one person be appointed to oversee and coordinate all of DOT’s Westport projects (there are others besides the Fresh Market initiative).

Great idea! I nominate Jennifer Johnson for the job.

(For full details of the project on the Westport town website, click here. Questions about the Post Road project can be sent to  the CT DOT project manager: Brian.Natwick@ct.com)

Proposed work at the Post Road/Roseville/Hillspoint intersection.

How Does Your Garden Go?

Westport’s 5 movie theaters are long gone. But for years, Westporters who dislike the corporate multiplexes in Norwalk and Fairfield — and/or who appreciate the diverse, non-blockbuster films those big boxes would never show — have headed to Garden Cinemas in Norwalk.

The theater is an important part of Norwalk’s cultural landscape. It’s brought life to the Wall Street neighborhood too, with Westporters and others discovering fun, funky nearby restaurants.

But Garden Cinemas may be living out its final scene. Norwalk officials may demolish the theater. The space would be used as a parking lot, to serve a nearby condominium development called Wall Street Place.

The full Norwalk Common Council votes on the plan tonight (Tuesday, July 23, 7:30 p.m., City Hall, 125 East Avenue, Room 231).

A number of Westporters attended last week’s Common Council Planning Committee meeting which okayed the demolition. Opponents of the parking lot plan hope for a large turnout tonight. They advise arriving by 7 p.m., to get into the room.

An online petition has been started, to help save the Garden Cinemas.

The Wall Street Neighborhood Association opposes demolition. They fear damage to “the core of our historic neighborhood,” and to the morale of “its growing community of artists, filmmakers, musicians and creative businesses.”

They’d like to see the Garden Cinemas operated as a non-profit community theater, or be included in the condo’s construction plan.

In addition to showing the type of movies the Garden Cinemas is known for, the community film center would offer after-school programs, with STEAM education in film production and technology; screening facilities; meeting rooms, and offices.

It would also show student films, and host local film festivals (Westport has searched for appropriate venues for this in the past).

Norwalk’s film industry is growing. Sono Studio and Factory Underground are nearby production facilities; the Wall Street Theater and George Washington Carver Foundation offer programming and community events.

For years, Westport has talked about bringing a theater back downtown. The city next door already has one.

For how much longer, though?

Stay tuned. The drama continues.

(Hat tips: Pam Karpen, Dennis Jackson, Elaine Wyden, Bill Kutik)

Dari Herman Has A Head For Business

It’s a First World problem, sure.

You’re running, biking, playing tennis or soccer. Your headband keeps slipping off your head.

Or — if it stays on — it gives you a headache.

That’s the dilemma Dari Herman faced.

Dari Herman and friend.

A lawyer in New York, Washington and Boston, she worked in TV, and handled NBA player endorsements for a sports agency.

She also volunteered for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Central Park, helping fundraising participants run half and full marathons.

But that pesky headband kept slipping off! There had to be a better way…

During lunch hour and on weekends, Dari headed to the Garment District. Through trial and error — and despite having no background in design or sewing — she finally created a no-slip, not-too-tight headband.

The secret: velvet lining, and an elastic outer piece.

Some of Sparkly Soul’s products.

Dari is a lawyer, so her next step was clear: filing for a patent. She got it.

She was not an entrepreneur. But she soon became one.

In 8 years, Sparkly Soul has grown big. The company produces all the Boston Marathon headbands for adidas, and the New York Marathon for New Balance.

 

Earlier this summer, they added a retail outlet.

In Westport.

A few years ago, Dari — who grew up in New York City — started looking for a place to expand. She and her husband (a Westchester chiropractor) wanted a place with a real community feel; somewhere they could get involved in daily life, and grow roots.

The Boston Marathon headband.

They looked all over: Boston, with its Marathon connection. Florida, where Dari provides headbands for runDisney races.

They weren’t sure where they’d end up. But, they told each other, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

“It” was Westport.

They looked at storefronts on Main Street. They ate at the Spotted Horse, and headed to Compo.

Everywhere in town, they felt the same vibe. “It’s beautiful,” Dari says. “But the people really make it. They’re as nice as the town. And there’s so much energy.”

She did notice empty storefronts. She does know that the future of retail is dicey.

But Dari is convinced that a company with roots in the community can thrive. “You have to have faith in your business, your product and yourself,” she says.

Dari and her husband moved to Westport 2 years ago. Sparkly Soul opened in early July — opposite (ironically) the now-closed Nike store.

Sparkly Soul’s new storefront.

Community response has borne out Dari’s faith. Word of mouth is strong. Customers love her headbands for men, women and kids. Sparkly Soul also sells sports and fashion accessories, and Westport-themed gear.

The Main Street space also includes her company office. Dari would like to bring her factory — now in New York — to this area too.

She wants Connecticut vendors too. Whatever helps our economy, she’s ready to try.

Westport-themed accessories, on display at Sparkly Soul.

Dari is a downtown booster. She’s attends merchants’ meetings, took part in the Sidewalk Sale, and looks forward to the Fine Arts Festival. She’s eager to host any kind of function in her store.

Dari is a runner (and triathlete) herself. She’s run 10 New York Marathons, and 2 in Boston.

In addition to feeling part of downtown, Dari has felt welcomed by Westport’s running community. She does the Roadrunner races every weekend, and made many friends through them.

If you see her on the road, just wave.

She’ll be the woman with the cool, fashionable — and no-slip — headband.

Newest Menu Item: Valet Parking

Bartaco, OKO and the newly opened Meatball Shop are 3 very different restaurants.

But they share 2 things: popularity and parking.

The Mexican, Japanese and Italian-American spots are packed, for lunch and dinner. The National Hall and nearby parking lots are often full — especially during the day, when spots are reserved for employees of nearby offices.

There’s a parking deck across the street. But for various reasons — some people don’t like driving up the narrow ramp; crossing Wilton Road can be dicey; others may not even know it’s there — that option is underutilized.

The other day, representatives of the 3 restaurants sat together. Instantly, they agreed on a solution: valet parking.

The old Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road is now OKO restaurant. The Meatball Shop is behind is on the right; Bartaco is behind on the left. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Working together — and with the blessing of the new owner of the entire complex — they hired We Park, a Wilton-based firm.

Just as quickly, the service began. Valet parking is available 7 days a week, for lunch and dinner.

You don’t have to tell the valet what restaurant you’re going to. In fact, you don’t have to eat at all. The service is there if you just want to stroll along the boardwalk, admiring the river and lights.

A beautiful boardwalk connects OKO, The Meatball Shop and Bartaco. (Photo by Anne Hardy)

“We’re all in this together,” says Brian Lewis, owner of OKO. “We want everyone who comes here to feel our hospitality. We all have the same goals: to take care of our guests. Whatever brings people here is good for all of us.”

He says that — like the other owners — he appreciates (and dines at) the nearby restaurants.

The owners appreciate too the receptiveness of the new National Hall owners. They’ve already repainted the lines in the parking lot, and added directional signs.

Coming soon: More signs for the valet service.

Though probably not in Spanish, Japanese or Italian.

Christmas In July

This weekend will be the hottest of the year. Of course: There’s always a heat wave during the Fine Arts Festival and Westport Library Book Sale.

But next week, stroll over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. You’ll find some cool reminders that Christmas is only 159 days away.

The Bonnie Marcus Collection design studio (5 Riverside Avenue, next to Arezzo) creates custom greeting cards for major nationwide retailers.

This is crunch time. With the AC cranked high, Bonnie and her crew are deep in design mode.

The cards feature Bonnie’s iconic “fashion girls” holding Bloomingdale’s bags, Barney’s hat boxes and gifts from Bendel’s.

You don’t have to schlep into the city to buy them. You don’t even have to go online, and wait for delivery.

Bonnie is giving away her stylish  holiday cards for free. If you’re a local fashion lover, you’ll love this offer.

Just look for the red and green (of course) balloons on Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah too!

Another Storm. Another Huge Tree Down.

This morning’s storm was nowhere near as intense as yesterday’s.

Or the one 2 weeks ago Monday. Or the one the day before that.

Nevertheless, it did some significant damage. A tree fell at Mystic Market. Two employees’ cars were heavily damaged.

(Photo/David Griswold)

No one was injured. But be careful.

It’s a jungle out there.

(Photo/Darcy Sledge)

(Photo/Darcy Sledge)

Street Spotlight: Woods Grove Road

Some Westporters live on the water. Others live in the woods, or close to town.

But only residents of Woods Grove Road enjoy the Saugatuck River on two sides — with Coffee An’ just beyond.

Plus, of course, an easy stroll downtown.

Woods Grove is off Canal Street, on the right just past the parking lot for the old 323 restaurant, heading west toward Kings Highway.

Woods Grove Road is close to downtown. I’s bordered by 2 branches of the Saugatuck River.

AJ Izzo — owner of the old Crossroads Ace Hardware, another great close-by attraction (now replaced by an excellent liquor store) — says that when he grew up on nearby Richmondville Avenue, the area was woods, and a dirt road. Most houses were built in the 1940s and ’50s.

Ken Bernhard — who moved there from around the corner — calls Woods Grove “a charming respite.”

It’s a dead-end, so there’s little traffic. But it’s a long, winding road, so there are plenty of families. Kids play in the street. Neighbors chat.

Woods Grove Road is well named.

A “watering hole” features a dock and rope swing. “There’s nothing more pleasant than the sound of kids laughing and splashing,” he says.

The main branch of the river is great for canoeing and kayaking. Every morning, Ken says, a neighbor on the Wilton Road side paddles — with his German shepherd — to the dam and back. Everyone waves.

The neighborliness extends to Aquarion. The water utility owns land across the river. A while back, the pumping station made a distracting, growling sound. Ken offered to buy equipment to deaden the noise.

Nope, Aquarion said. They did it themselves.

A Woods Grove back yard.

Ken calls Woods Grove “delightful. The houses are not big, and the lots are not too large. Everything is the perfect size — just as much as we need.”

Besides Coffee An’ and the Merritt Country Store, residents can walk or bike to the library and Levitt. The Y — and Merritt Parkways exits 41 and 42 — are around the corner.

Yet one of the most interesting features of Woods Grove Road is one that neighbors barely mention.

A non-profit enterprise — the Westport School of Music — is located in a house halfway down the road. Established in 1938, it’s got a great reputation.

The Westport School of Music looks like any other home.

Students come and go quietly. There’s a little more traffic because of it than normal, but Woods Grove residents hardly notice. They’re happy to be near such a well-regarded, artistic enterprise.

Life on Woods Grove Road is good. Between the beautiful river and delicious donuts, who can complain?

High (And Low) Watermarks

A few days ago, “06880” ran a photo of the traffic island at Turkey Hill North and the Post Road.

The sign said it was “Maintained by The Watermark at 3030 Park.” But it had been quite a while since any maintenance was done.

Someone in Bridgeport must be reading this blog. Here was the same scene yesterday evening:

Congratulations, and thanks, Watermark!

There’s only one problem: You may have forgotten you also maintain the traffic island at the other end of Turkey Hill North, at Long Lots.