The last 4 years have been rewarding for Cindy and Danielle Hartog.
The mother and daughter run NewBrook Kitchen & Artisan Market on Saugatuck Avenue, next to Dunville’s. Their “paleo café” — offering tasty full course meals, salads, soups, cookies, nut milk coffee and vegan ice cream — has been a passion project.
But COVID hit hard. They tried to reinvent their business. Unfortunately, they say, it wasn’t enough.
NewBrook hopes to close on June 7. Yet challenges remain.
They must sell most of their furniture and inventory. That includes a French antique tasting room table, Restoration Hardware high tops and West Elm smaller tables, along with truffle mayo, organic dark baking chocolate and much more. Pricing is over half off.
Among the items for sale: a Parc Monceau French antique parquet table.:
The bigger challenge is finding someone to take over the last year of the lease, and buy the kitchen equipment.
The entire setup is for sale: 2 ovens, refrigerators and freezers, plus everything else necessary to cook professionally.
The Hartogs are willing to negotiate. The remaining 1-year lease is extremely affordable — under $2,500 a month — with the option to renew for another 5 years. That’s rare for Westport.
Their landlord is “incredible,” they say. He’s helping any way he can.
The full store of gluten-free gourmet groceries is dramatically on sale. The Hartogs hope to hear too from restaurants or bakeries that need bulk ingredients, like chocolate.
To learn more, text or call Cindy Hartog (203-858-6993), or email NewBrookKitchen@gmail.com.
Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved new regulations regarding accessory apartments (units in a principal dwelling) and “accessory dwelling units” (those in attached structures).
As “06880” reported earlier this month, the new rules will open up our housing stock. They could add a small number of affordable housing units, and provide added income for residents going through life changes — the loss of a job, say, or divorce, or those whose children have moved away and who want to move into a smaller place on their own property, while renting out their larger home.
Also last night, Neil Cohn moved from alternate to full member of the P&Z, He replaces Greg Rutstein, who resigned Wednesday due to increased business responsibilities in a new job. Both are Democrats.
Rutstein praised chair Danielle Dobin, his fellow commissioners and Planning & Zoning Department head Mary Young. Noting that the board faces many important decisions, he said, “I want to make sure that I allow others who have the time to carefully consider these issues to serve the town that I love so dearly.”
Dobin said, “In 3 short years, Greg has had a meaningful impact on Westport. He worked tirelessly to make the P&Z more efficient — cutting through red tape, and saving residents and businesses time and fees. His insightful questions, positive energy and good humor will be deeply missed by all of us.
“We warmly welcome Neil Cohn, one of our longstanding alternate commissioners in Greg’s place. Through his work chairing the Economic Growth Subcommittee, which he founded, Neil is playing an integral part in ensuring P&Z regulations promote a vibrant Westport.”
Westport men and women can shop for CBD at 2 downtown stores literally around the corner from each other.
But what about man’s best friend?
We got that too.
Local resident Joseph Sequenzia just launched an all-natural hemp-derived CBD dog treat. YUP PUP is part of a growing interest in pet wellness. The CEO says that dogs experience anxiety relief from CBD — a chemical compound in cannabis — along with health benefits like joint pain, digestion and healthy coats.
His mission is to “treat our pets to the same health and happiness they treat us to,” Sequenzia says. YUP PUP comes in Tasty Bacon Treats, Peanut Butter Bites and Savory Salmon Snacks. For more information, click here.
Joseph Sequenzia and his family — including dogs Wally and Otto.
Yesterday was Earth Day. But New England Kelp Harvest Week runs all the way through Sunday.
Local restaurants and shops from Greenwich to Westerly, Rhode Island are participating in the first-ever event celebrating our region’s most sustainable crop: sugar kelp.
Kelp requires no fertilizers or fresh water to grow, and absorbs carbon trapped in the sea. Westporters can support local farms and restaurants, and fight climate change — all in one meal.
Food and beverages featuring kelp are available at The Whelk, Kawa Ni, OKO, Don Memo and The Cottage. To experiment in your own kitchen, buy local dried kelp at Fjord Fish Market.
The festival’s Instagram account offers food and beverage ideas, and information about kelp. Click here for a list of all participating restaurants, breweries, cafes and shops. Click here for links to virtual events. (Hat tip: Craig D.B. Patton)
For decades, Walter and Naiad Einsel painted in their Victorian farmhouse, across from Greens Farms Elementary School. Two of Westport’s most noted artists, they documented their nearly 5-decade romance with clever “Art from the Heart” valentines.
Long ago, in 1947 — 6 years before they married – Walter painted Naiad’s portrait.
Westport resident Anne Boberski recently completed a video project for the Housatonic Museum of Art.
Available online, “See, Think, Wonder: Bridgeport” includes four 25-minute video episodes and a printable Teacher Toolkit. It’s designed to support curriculum in grades 5-8. Students examine maps, seals, artifacts and architecture, meet community leaders, and learn that history is local.
The art museum is on the Housatonic Community College campus. But anyone can click here to see “See, Think, Wonder: Bridgeport.”
A year after Elvira’s reopened as Joey’s By the Shore — Featuring Elvira Mae’s Coffee Bar,” there’s more news from Old Mill/Compo’s favorite food spot.
The building is for sale. But Joey Romeo and Betsy Kravitz are not going anywhere. They’re keeping the business just as is — with great eats, an ordering window and a beachy vibe, 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. A long-term lease protects the business.
That’s the good great news. Now if only we had some good news about that long-halted home construction project on the site of the former Positano restaurant, a few yards diagonally across the street …
Betsy Kravitz and Joey Romeo, ready for another season.
Both myTeam Triumph-CT and Remarkable Theater support the special needs community.
It’s no wonder they’re partnering for mTT’s “Spring Into Action” season-opening event. On Saturday, May 1 (gates open at 6:30 p.m.; movie at 7:30), myTeam Triumph sponsors a showing of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — the Marvel adventure film — at the downtown drive-in.
It’s not just that the Remarkable Theater employs people with disabilities for screenings at the Imperial Avenue lot. Or that myTeam Triump pairs children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities with volunteers, who join them in triathlons and road races.
The volunteers are called “angels.” The special needs participants are called … “captains.” So the May 1 film is very fitting.
All proceeds from the event will be shared by Remarkable Theater and myTeam Triumph-CT.
For more information and to buy tickets, click here. To learn more and volunteer with mTT (you don’t have to be an athlete!), click here. To donate, click here.
Starting tomorrow, there’s another COVID testing center in town.
Progressive Diagnostics opens at 8 a.m. in Saugatuck railroad station parking lot #8. That’s the one off Saugatuck Avenue, between I-95 and the Exit 17 entrance/ exit ramp. They promise same-day PCR and antibody test results.
Weekday hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
And finally … Jim Steinman died Monday in Danbury. He was 73, and had been in poor health.
His New York Times obituary explains that Steinman “wrote all the songs on Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf’s operatic, teenage-angst-filled 1977 debut album, which remains one of the most successful records of all time.”
Meat Loaf was one of Westport’s many famous musician residents. When he wasn’t recording operatic, teenage-angst-filled songs, he played softball at Compo Beach and Greens Farms Elementary School, and coached it too.
Just another normal neighbor. (Hat tip: Adam Stolpen)
Staples High School social studies teacher Suzanne Kammerman has been named Teacher of the Year by the American Lawyers Alliance. The honor comes on top of — and in part because of — her role in leading her school’s “We the People” team to their 2nd consecutive state championship. They hope to follow in their teacher’s footsteps, and win a national title. Last year’s team placed 5th.
Kammerman initiated the “We the People” class and competition at Staples, after competing herself in high school.
A 14-year educator, Kammerman was previously selected by the League of Women Voters to train at Harvard Business School.
During COVID — and despite distance learning — she continued to develop created, engaging ways for students to learn about democracy. They researched Supreme Court cases, discussed hypotheticals, learned how to analyze and synthesize facts and opinions, and honed presentation skills.
Congratulations, Ms. Kammerman, for your passion, dedication, and profound impact on the next generation of citizens.
Volunteers help Staples students prepare for the 2021 “We the People” competition. Suzanne Kammerman is in the top row, 2nd from left.
State Senator Tony Hwang hosts lunch next Wednesday (April 28, 12:30 p.m., Tarantino’s). He’ll be joined by 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, State Representative Stephanie Thomas and Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce director Matthew Mandell.
The event — in coordination with the Chamber — will promote outdoor dining. The group will discuss ways to continue to support local businesses during COVID.
Restaurants on Railroad Place, Church Lane and other areas of town have set up tables, tents, domes and other structures for outdoor dining. The state and town have eased regulations, and owners look forward to a robust spring and summer scene.
Speaking of COVID regulations: Governor Lamont is easing earlier restrictions.
Effective May 1:
Bars that do not serve food can open for service on an outdoor-only basis. They still cannot serve only alcohol indoors.
The 8-person per table limit will be lifted for outdoors only. The limit remains in effect for indoor service.
The curfew for restaurants, entertainment venues, recreation venues and theaters will be moved back an hour, to midnight.
Effective May 19:
Contingent upon sufficiently low rates of infections and increasing vaccination rates, all remaining business restrictions will be lifted. The Department of Public Health will issue recommendations for indoor and other large outdoor events, such as concerts, and clarify where masking will continue after May 1.
(Hat tip: Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce)
The Levitt Pavilion — and many other organizations — wait for an announcement about what kind of gatherings will be allowed this summer.
“I am blessed to be able to walk to Compo Beach. This area has a very special vibe. The downside is that the vibe encourages people to drive down South Compo Road like lunatics. disregarding speed limits, crosswalks, even common sense and courtesy.
“Compo Road from Greens Farms Road to the beach might as well be the Autobahn: screeching tires, ignoring full stops, flying through crosswalks. These are not just visitors — they are locals too, rushing, blowing off stop signs and exceeding speed limits by over 25 mph.
“We have a wonderful Police Department, but they can’t be everywhere. This is going to get worse as the weather gets warmer. The weekends are a drag race by noon, through 11 p.m.
“Many dog walkers, children and elderly walking on Compo Road. Will it take someone getting killed or seriously injured to finally address the situation?”
“06880” readers know Fred Cantor as a passionate Westporter. If you’ve read many of his comments here, you know he’s an avid Knicks fan too.
He’s also proud of his roots. Until he was 10, he lived in Fresh Meadows, Queens. That’s where he learned to love the NBA team. And it forms the background of his most recent book, Fred From Fresh Meadows: A Knicks Memoir.
It’s getting great looks. Yesterday, NY1 aired a story about Fred, including 3 generations of Cantor Knick fans: his 93-year-old mother Pearl, and his brother Marc’s older son, Sam. Click here to see.
The day before, the New York Post‘s Mike Vaccaro called Fred’s book “delightful. The stories ring like a trusted friend’s from the neighboring barstool.”
The Knicks may not be at the top of the standings. But Fred From Fresh Meadows is definitely a winner.
And how about this: All proceeds benefit the John Starks Foundation. The Knick legend started the charity, which gives scholarships to teenagers in need.
Speaking of sports: There’s a Westport connection even to the controversy over a proposed “Super League” of top international soccer clubs.
Joaquim Monnerat played freshman soccer at Staples High in 2019. His family has moved to London. But there he was — photographed all over social media — protesting with over 1,000 others outside of Stamford Bridge (the Chelsea team’s home stadium).
The protest worked. The plan collapsed a few hours later when 6 of the 12 clubs — including Chelsea — dropped out.
Joaquim is in the center below, with a (dangling) face mask. And though you can’t tell, he’s wearing a Staples Soccer shirt in the image that went ’round the world. (Hat tip: Bruno Guiduli)
Walter Mondale led quite a life. His death yesterday, at 93, resonated deeply with Andy Meyers.
In 1979, the Staples High School senior took part in a Washington internship program created and administered by social studies teacher Dave Harrison. Meyers worked with Vice President Walter Mondale.
He continued his association long after Mondale left the Carter administration. This morning Meyers — now living in Wilton — said, “He should be an inspiration to all of us to dedicate our lives to making the world a better place for humans to live together.”
Andy Meyers (left) and another staffer in Berlin, New Hampshire in the summer of 1983, in the very early days of preparing for the New Hampshire primary. Walter Mondale went on to win the Democratic nomination for president in 1984, but lost badly to incumbent Ronald Reagan.
A Westport native, Staples High graduate and mother of students currently in the Westport schools writes this open letter to town officials:
“I am very very concerned about the uptick in coronavirus cases.
“I have spoken to at least 7 families in the last week that had COVID over the last 2-3 weeks. I have no doubt that with the amount of people who traveled last week and shared photos of all the places they were visiting (and not everyone was fully vaccinated), that we will have a big spike over the next 2 weeks.
“I am concerned about kids playing sports over the next 2 weeks as well.
“The families that caught it have very similar symptoms: fever, weakness, chills, cough for over 2 weeks. It needs to be emphasized by everyone in Westport that we will have another super-spreader again if we continue not adhering to the guidelines, and everyone starts going back to normal. We are not on the other side of this virus yet.
“I encourage you and the town leadership to send emails daily about this rise in cases, and emphasize that people need to get tested and quarantine.”
The Westport Library’s Verso Studios will host 2 film camps for teens this summer. Documentary Filmmaking will be led by documentary filmmaker Mick Davie (National Geographic, Discovery Channel, History, Channel, CNN, NBC), while TV News Reporting is run by former ABC News journalist Jay Schadler.
The 5-week Filmmaking program runs June 21 through July 22. It includes 3 two-hour virtual workshops each week, 1-on-1 virtual sessions with Mick, and additional instruction on editing and technical issues with experts in film and television.
It is limited to 24 students, working in teams of 3 or 4. Their finished products — short documentary films — will be available on the Library’s YouTube channel.
finished product will be a short documentary film that will be uploaded to the Library’s YouTube channel.
The 4-week TV News Reporting camp (also limited to 24 students) runs July 12 to August 5. With virtual and live classes, it culminates in a newscast with video stories found, developed, shot and edited by participants.
Attention all restaurant owners! Winfield Street Coffee owner Breno Donatti sends along news that the Small Business Administration is administering $28.6 billion in pandemic funds to small restaurants, caterers, food trucks and others hit hard by the pandemic.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is a streamlined process. Click here for details.
Small restaurants like Winfield Street Coffee are eligible for federal COVID relief funds.
A special webinar this Thursday (April 22, 5:30 p.m.) brings viewers — from anywhere in the world — to Westport. The topic F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s summer here.
Robert Steven Williams — director of “Gatsby in Connecticut,” one of the New Yorker’s best films of 2020 — will talk about the author’s background; an overview of Westport in the 1920s (Prohibition was not always prohibitive), and the town’s influence on The Great Gatsby. He’ll share video clips too, and never-before-seen photos of Westport and New York from the ’20s.
Williams hosts a Q-and-A afterward too. Click here for tickets. (They include access to the full replay for one week.) (Hat tip: Dennis Jackson)
Bob Weingarten is the house historian for the Westport Museum of History & Culture. He writes:
I get many questions about the status of historic properties. Recently I’ve received several concerning the iconic historic building at the intersection of Wilton Road and Allen Raymond Lane.
The former Red Barn restaurant was operated by the Nistico family from 1983 until its sale to the Westport Weston Family YMCA in 2015. It has remained unoccupied ever since.
A painting of the historic Red Barn property …
As part of the purchase, the Y created a limited liability company: 290 Wilton Road LLC. YMCA CEO Pat Riemersma called it “likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus.”
According to the Historic District Commission Historic Resources Inventory list, the building was built around 1850 as the Augustus Draves Barn. In the 20th century it became the Red Barn restaurant.
The Red Barn in 2014.
The Nistico family purchased the property in 1983, and continued to run the beloved restaurant until 2014. It was very comfortable, with a large hearth that had been remodeled by well-known Westport architect Frazier Forman Peters in the 1930s.
The Frazier Forman Peters hearth.
The Red Barn was an “06880 Friday Flashback” in January 2019. Sally Palmer commented:
The Red Barn was witness to the passage of many major events in the lives of Westporters. It was used for baby showers, baby naming, office parties, weddings, birthdays, graduations, too many funerals, class reunions and naturally for dinner. It is more than just an empty building, and I miss it.
Since the purchase more than 5 years ago, the building has remained unoccupied. This bodes badly, since unoccupied buildings can deteriorate more rapidly than those in use. This is true for interior construction (floors, walls, flues, etc.), exterior facades and mechanical equipment (air handlers, heating units, A/C, etc.). I’d hate to see what the kitchen now looks like.
In November 2015 the Y said: “This is a unique opportunity for our YMCA — a long-term investment that allows us to preserve neighborhood values and, ultimately, utilize the property for the benefit of our members and the community we have served since 1923.”
Lining up for a sale of Red Barn items and artifacts, in June of 2014.
Later, Riemersma reiterated:
We purchased the property because it was likely to be the last piece of almost contiguous (cell tower in between) property to our Mahackeno campus that would likely come to market.
When we entered into the planning process for Phase II of our facility expansion, we considered using the property as a stand-alone site for our gymnastics program.
When we ultimately decided to place that program in the new wing we were left with no immediate plans for its use and that still holds true today.
At some point in the future, as private property owners, in order to ensure that the Red Barn use compliments the Y’s, the Y could look to enter into a long-term lease or sale of the property or continue to hold it, whatever option seems best for the Y’s future.
This is a relief. But after so many years I wonder how realistic it is. I believe that the Y’s membership and other Westport residents should be apprehensive. Money talks, and future plans change depending on economic conditions.
The building has now been unoccupied for nearly 7 years, without a plan in place. I am interested in hearing what the new CEO plans for it.
In Death, The Gift of Life — the powerful anthology of 10 Westporters who embraced death on their own terms — has won two 1st place awards in the Connecticut Press Club’s annual communications contest.
The honors were for editing (Dan Levinson and Alison McBain) and design (McBain and Miggs Burroughs). The book now moves on to national competition.
A community-wide book launch will be held at the Westport Library this fall.
Abilis is hiring. The non-profit, which serves more than 800 people with special needs and their families — holds a job fair on Saturday, May 1 (9 a.m. to 5 .m., 50 Glenville Street, Greenwich).
Full- and part-time positions include management and assistant management roles, day program and residential roles. Click here to see open positions. Prospective employees should bring resumes. For more information, call 203-531-1880.
May 1 is also the date of Abilis’ 70th anniversary gala (6:30 p.m., virtual). There’s family entertainment, with comedians, actors, musicians and dancers.
To learn more, register for the show link, see “Giving Garden” needs, check out the online auction or by art by Abilis clients, click here.
An “06880” reader sits for a 4-hour infusion once a month at Norwalk Hospital. It is often cool in the room, so patients are given a hospital blanket.
The other day, she received a real blanket, made by a group at Staples High school called Lovee’s Charity. They’re usually given to pediatric patients, but sometimes they’re handed out in the infusion room.
“It was so nice, soft and comforting,” the reader says. She emailed faculty advisor Natalie Odierna, letting her know how much joy the blanket brought.
Now thousands of other “06880” readers know about the joy Lovee’s Charity brings too.
A Lovee’s Charity blanket.
Major League Soccer has kicked off its 26th season. And for the 5th straight year, Elliot Gerard was commissioned to create the opening day graphic.
The Westport resident Gerard is a founder and creative director with Heartlent Group, a social strategy and creative content agency.
This year’s concept is “Where’s Waldo?” Gerard worked with eMLS to hide Easter eggs in the artwork (below). The campaign is interactive, giving fans the chance to make their own versions on Instagram stories. A customizable background is available. Click for Twitter and Instagram links.
“We residents on Pequot Trail are very upset by this week’s clear cutting of a lovely wooded area that provided privacy for multiple properties around the entrance to our street. Every time I turn onto the street now, my heart sinks.
“We’re sad enough that the charming house is being torn down — we get that this is inevitable — but did all of the mature trees and coveted privacy for multiple homes need to be callously destroyed?
“I called the town and was told that initiatives to restrict tree cutting have failed multiple times. I wonder what needs to happen to get our town, which prides itself on being so ‘green,’ to put a stop to this kind of environmental desecration?
“To preempt any comments about ‘city people’ moving in, this property was bought by a Westport family. That makes it so much more disappointing.
Clear cutting, around the house that will be demolished.
When COVID canceled last year’s annual plant sale, the Westport Garden Club planted a sign: “See You in 2021.”
True to their promise, this year’s in-person (sale is set for Friday, May 14 (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). The new location is Jesup Green.
Gardeners can purchase plants the day of the sale, or online starting May 1. Click here for information.
Online orders will be available for curbside pick-up. And club members will be on hand during the sale to offer expert advice.
In more Garden Club news: “Friday Flowers,” the campaign initiated in the dark days of last spring to lift spirits and beautify the town, returns this summer. The first installation (May 7) is at Saugatuck Congregational Church. Floral arrangements made by club members will be displayed each Friday through Labor Day.
Amy Mandelbaum is vice president of the OUT Foundation, which encourages the LGBTQ community to participate in fitness, health and wellness activities.
She also owns CrossFit Westport. There’s no better place to encourage the inclusion she champions.
So on Saturday, April 17 (9:30 a.m. to noon), her gym — just over the Norwalk line, at 19 Willard Road — sponsors an “OUT Athletics” event. The warmup and workout is fun, doable — and everyone is welcome.
There’s food, coffee, and gift bags from sponsors like Garnier and Goodr sunglasses. Each heat lasts 45 minutes to an hour; then comes (socially distant) socializing.
For more or information or to sign up, click here.
With little rainfall and low humidity recently, Westport’s brush fire danger is high.
The Fire Department responded to 2 brush fires yesterday — simultaneously.
The one on Sherwood Island Connector was quickly extinguished. The other — between Parsell Lane and I-95 — brought 30 firefighters and officers from Westport and Fairfield, with 7 engines and 1 ladder. It burned 3 1/2 acres, but there was no property damage or injuries.
Westport Firefighters were dispatched to two simultaneous brush fires, one on the Sherwood Island Connector at Nyala Farms Road and the other on Parsell Lane.
This is amazing! Who would have guessed that “the friendliest curbside experience in America” is located right here in Westport? At our Fresh Market!
A cynic might demand proof.
I just want to know: Is this “the friendliest curbside experience” for supermarkets throughout America only? Or does it include everything: restaurants, bookstores, hardware stores, liquor stores, whatever?
As 2020 began, downtown Westport looked bleak. Boarded-up storefronts, empty parking spots, questions about its very future — Main Street and environs were grim.
When COVID struck, downtown looked even bleaker. More stores closed. Fewer people strolled. The cancellation of big events like the Fine Arts Festival seemed like one final cruel blow.
Yet to the surprise of many, life sprouted amid all the real and metaphorical death.
GG & Joe opened in an out-of-the-way Parker Harding corner. Their acai bowls and pastries were instant hits.
Plywood and butcher block paper came down. New stores opened.
Two restaurants — Capuli and Basso — opened to rave reviews. Two bookstores — one new, one used — opened too, within days of each other. Two gelato shops announced their arrival. A highly regarded bakery will soon move in on Church Lane.
Capuli is one of several new restaurants opening downtown.
Counterintuitively, downtown has come back.
And no one is happier than Maxx Crowley.
He’s an unlikely champion for Main Street. He’s young (a 2010 graduate of Fairfield Prep). He worked in New York City, in advertising and real estate. He’s single. You wouldn’t figure him for a suburban guy.
But he comes from a storied family. His father Steve is the “S” in SCA Crowley, a residential and commercial real estate services firm. Since starting work in September with them, Maxx has jumped head first into the downtown renaissance. He’s already a co-vice president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.
Maxx Crowley (right) with (from left) his brother Bob Crowley and father Steve Crowley.
Despite his youth, Maxx remembers “exciting stores,” Onion Alley with its rooftop music, and mom-and-pop shops like Liquor Locker.
He recalls took when chain stores — even big names like Nike and Banana Republic — swooped in. “They took some of the character” of Main Street away, he admits.
COVID was “a weird perfect storm” for Westport, Maxx says.
“There was a lot of loss. People died. Businesses closed. Restaurants struggled.”
But the virus drove people out of New York. Westport welcomed a surge of newcomers. And people who already lived here — but spent 12 hours a day, 5 days a week working elsewhere — suddenly had time to focus on their town.
They walked. They biked. They picked up coffee and lunch, clothes and furniture in places they had never known about.
Landlords struggled. Rents — quite a bit north of $100 a square foot — took a significant hit. But some of those same landlords also realized this was a time for a re-set. They lowered rates, and looked for new tenants. And those were not always the same-old, same-old national brands that could be anywhere.
Some landlords lowered their rents, or accepted late payments. Some offered a few free months, or help with certain expenses.
It was not easy. COVID or not, landlords still have their own fixed costs: taxes, insurance, maintenance and more.
Downtown depends on foot traffic. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Commercial real estate is “a relationship business,” Maxx says. Relationships often extend far. When one landlord sees another succeeding, they want to be part of the action.
Downtown has many things going for it, Maxx says. One key element is walkability.
“I can park my car. I get my coffee at GG & Joe. I cross the street to Savvy + Grace. My kid” — he doesn’t have one, but you get the point — “goes next door to Brandy Melville.”
That’s not the case in other parts of town. Anyone wanting to cross from Stop & Shop to the cute Peggy’s Cottage Irish store across the street takes his life in his hands.
But the right business in the right spot can succeed anywhere. Maxx points to Terrain: “a beautiful, redeveloped place. No one minds driving there.”
Terrain attracts customers with intriguing displays.
He’s bullish on both Compo Shopping Center too. “Torrey (Brooks, the landlord) is phenomenal,” Maxx says. “He builds relationships with all his tenants.”
There are vacancies there right now. Maxx is hopeful that a “memorable store” comes into the spaces previously occupied by Olympia Sports and Compo Barber Shop.
He also thinks the shopping plaza at the foot of the Sherwood Island Connector — with Restore Cryotherapy, among others — has great visibility.
Further east on the Post Road, Maxx has mixed feelings about Amazon Go, the automated grocery store that’s the rumored replacement for Barnes & Noble.
“People will always want to talk to the butcher and the deli guy. But it’s exciting to see a brand like Amazon come to Westport. There aren’t many Amazon Gos on the East Coast.”
And at the Southport border, Maxx notes that the Home Goods shopping center always has solid occupancy.
The one piece missing from downtown Westport, he says is “experiential” places. He cites the lack of restaurants on Main Street (though a new one will at some point replace Tavern on Main). “In a perfect world,” Maxx adds, “the ice rink would move from Longshore. And music always brings people together. We might not have bars with bands anymore, but they played on Church Lane last summer. That was great. And what about a stage downtown?”
Westport’s Fine Arts Festival is an “experiential” event. It has moved back to Main Street, from Parker Harding Plaza.
He’d also like to see downtown connected, somehow, to Saugatuck. “So many great stores across the river don’t get the attention they deserve,” he says.
“Europe has pedestrian bridges. It’s a beautiful walk along the river. This isn’t Amsterdam. But a bridge or two couldn’t hurt. Can you imagine having dinner at Bartaco, then walking across a bridge — without traffic whizzing by — to have a gelato on Main Street. Then you window shop, and run into friends. That’s a real downtown.”
Meanwhile, Saugatuck itself is filled with “wonderful, local restaurants and markets and shops. Viva and the Duck are anchors. It’s very walkable. There will always be activity there.”
The “ultimate connection” to downtown, he believes, is Longshore and Compo. A restaurant at the beach — and a shuttle between there and downtown — would be “amazing.”
Though not yet 30, Maxx says he has “always” been excited about downtown. Now he sees newcomers getting excited too.
Saugatuck Church’s 1st-ever Easter drive-in worship service was — well, if not a miracle, then still pretty cool.
The back parking lot was filled with 45 cars (that’s around 13o people). The FM radio broadcast worked flawlessly, thanks to Mark Mathias. The service was punctuated with plenty of cheerful horn honks.
Dozens more watched the livestream on Facebook and YouTube. But that photo isn’t as interesting as the one below:
Westport Book Shop Artist of the Month is Katherine Ross. Her watercolors will be on display throughout April at the Drew Friedman Art Place, in Westport’s popular used book store on Jesup Road.
Ross is a well-known artist and art teacher. She conceived the children’s mosaic wall at the Longshore pool, with work from over 1,000 middle schoolers. She has served on the Arts Advisory Committee and Westport Cultural Arts Committee, and co-chaired the Westport public schools’ Art Smarts program.
The exhibit is open during the Book Shop’s business hours: Tuesdays through Fridays (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.), Saturdays (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (noon to 5 p.m.
Tonight (Monday, April 5, 7:30 p.m., Zoom), the Democratic Women of Westport and Staples Young Democrats host a virtual session called “The Anti-Racist Policy Agenda: Connecticut Voter Protection.”
State Representative Stephanie Thomas — who represents part of Westport, and serves as vice chair of the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee — will discuss the 2020 election in the state, possible expansion of access for voting, and building support for voter protection laws.
To get the link for the talk, or more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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