Category Archives: Saugatuck

And That Reminds Me: Readers Respond

Last week, I asked readers — those who now live far beyond here — to send photos that remind them of “home.”

Images of a place, a thing, a person — all were fine. Whatever stirs your heart and soul was good.

Submissions came from as far as the West Coast. Here are some of the scenes that — no matter what your zip code — say “06880.”

Stephen Doig says Alki Beach in West Seattle reminds him of Compo (including the rocks) from his 1960s lifeguarding days. I’m struck by how similar the curvature is to the view from Old Mill towards Hillspoint — including the height of the hills in the background. All that’s missing in Westport is a Space Needle.

This scene in Cannon Beach, Oregon reminds Brenda Magnes of Westport beach cottages.

Westport Way — in Laguna Niguel, California — reminded Fred Cantor of his hometown.

John Mirk says Ojai, California reminds him of the Westport he grew up in: “We’re surrounded by orange orchards instead of apple farms, but there is still a nice semi-rural feel.” Every spring he recalls Staples Players, as he builds sets with high school drama students. This photo is from the latest production, “Crazy For You.” He and his wife started volunteering when their son was a high school freshman. Twenty years later, he’s worked on everything from “Guys and Dolls” to “Into the Woods” (both of which Players has done too). John says, “It’s still a thrill every year to see a set take shape on stage, then watch the amazing performances that high school kids are capable of.”

Susan Stevens von Schenk moved to Westport in 1961, and lived there until the late ’80’s. She remembers Main Street, and “all the wonderful stores. It was busy, filled with people shopping and walking around. I have fond memories of the art festival held every year too.” She now lives in Columbia, South Carolina. Every Saturday morning, several blocks of her Main Street are closed to traffic for the Soda City Market. The food, artists and handicraft vendors always remind her of old Westport.

Peter Barlow says: “For decades I enjoyed the Bridge Street Bridge, re-named for Officer Cribari after I moved away. There is something similar where I live now.
The White Rock Bridge is about 2 miles north of Westerly (RI)/Pawcatuck (CT), and my house. This part was originally a railway bridge for a 22-mile trolley line built in 1906. Now it’s a splendid sidewalk with a view. But it’s not easy to get to. There are no sidewalks or even shoulders on White Rock Road.

Brenda Magnes crosses the Bridge of the Gods over Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge a few times a month. She used the William Cribari Bridge over the Saugatuck River daily in Westport — and recalls it every time she takes this bridge these days.

Jeff Booth is no longer a Westporter. But every time he sees this — which he swiped from his movie theater workplace in 1979 — he remembers his home town.

Susan Farewell and her husband Tom Seligson recently moved to Essex, Connecticut. She took this photo at the Pettipaug Rowing Club. It reminds her of the many beautiful sunsets they enjoyed at their Compo Beach house.

For Marc Selverstone, — now of Charlottesville, Virginia — there’s no better reminder of Westport than this truck .

Failure To Launch

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.

However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…

Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?

That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.

I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.

Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.

The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.

The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.

It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.

Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.

There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?

A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.

I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?

Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).

Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.

It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).

The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.

Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.

Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.

And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.

I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:

As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.

Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.

Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:

We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.

I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.

(Has Scott Smith’s story got you intrigued about kayaks? You can rent them at Longshore Sailing School, and Downunder on Riverside Avenue.)

VFW Posts An Impressive 100 Years

We pass it every day. For nearly 100 years, it’s sat proudly at one of Westport’s busiest intersections.

Yet VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 is also one of our town’s best-kept secrets.

It’s not for veterans only. It’s not a private club. It’s not smoke-filled (anymore).

It is a place where “guests” are welcome (just sign the book!). It is a place you can rent for your next reunion, birthday or anniversary party, shower or club meeting.

It does boast some of the best-priced food and drinks in town.

Oh yeah: There’s also a dock in back, with low-cost moorings, and slots for anyone to tie up before enjoying a great lunch or dinner.

(From left) Bob Tirreno, Tom Dubrosky, Phil Delgado and Joe Gallo, at the VFW’s 24-slip dock.

The VFW has been a Westport institution since 1920. Named for a World War I veteran, it occupied a couple of different sites in Saugatuck. It moved to its present Riverside Avenue location — at the junction of Saugatuck Avenue, across from Treadwell — in 1973.

The property was donated to the chapter, which is part of the national Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. Westport veterans like the Kowalsky and Veno brothers, and Buck Iannacone, helped construct the current, spacious and welcoming brick building.

Out in front — seldom noticed — is one of the original cannons made in 1799, placed at Compo Beach in 1901 to commemorate the 1777 battle against the British.

It was vandalized in 1957. The Rotary Club restored it, and presented it to the VFW. The cannons at the beach today are replicas.

A Compo cannon, in front of the VFW.

In the 1980s, there were 150 or so active Post 399 members. Most were in their 60s or older, veterans of World War II and Korea.

That’s the traditional pattern of the post. Younger vets are busy raising families, and with careers. Once they retire, they have the time — and desire — to join.

Westport’s VFW counts over 180 members now, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. But most are inactive. Leaders include Phil Delgado (Bosnia), and Tom Dubrosky and Bob Tirreno (both Vietnam). Viet vet Frank Veno is vice commander.

Joe Gallo runs the excellent food service. Lunch is 6 days a week in the summer, 7 in fall and winter. Dinner is served Friday nights; Saturday is usually private parties.

One of 3 main dining areas, this room is bright, warm — and boasts a killer view of the Saugatuck River.

Though many Westporters don’t know it, Post 399 is available to rent. The lower level fits 150 people; the 2 rooms upstairs seats 60 and 45. Sports fans love the 9 flat-screen TVs throughout the 2 levels.

An open deck in back — with a stunning view of the river — was enclosed a while back.

Beyond the parking lot, the post has a dock with 24 slips. Most are rented (2 are donated to volunteer organizations). A few are available for anyone passing by, who wants to go in and enjoy lunch.

The Westport Fire and Police Departments hold regular events at the VFW. So do the Y’s Men, Kiwanis and other civic groups. VFW officials would love to host more.

But the VFW is not just about meeting, eating and drinking. Every Memorial Day they help provide the flags the Scouts place on veterans’ graves, and comprise the honor guard at the ceremony after the parade.

On Memorial Day last month, VFW Post 399’s honor guard stood proudly. From left: Tom Dubrosky, Johnny Deilus, Bobby Tirreno, Allan Chavez, Phil Delgado, Rob Custer, Frank Veno, Brad Menkin and Bernie Rombout.

They collect flags so they can be disposed of properly; furnish buglers for vets’ funerals, and are a resource for veterans with questions of any kind (whether VFW members or not).

There’s an active auxiliary too. Once limited to service members’ wives, it’s now open to their children and parents too.

Fairfield County is not fertile ground for veterans’ organizations. The Norwalk VFW post closed a while back, and Fairfield’s is inactive.

But — nearly 100 years old — Westport’s Joseph Clinton Post 399 is going strong.

They want to be even stronger.

As the post’s century anniversary approaches, they’ve got big plans. They hope to raise $100,000 from the community. Funds will retire the mortgage, and help dredge the river.

“We hope to be around for the next 100 years,” says Tom Dubrosky. “We want to be here, so people who serve now and in the future will have a place to go.

“We’re here for veterans — and the entire town.”

(For more information on Westport’s VFW Post 399, click here or call 203-227-6796.)

Westport Women SurviveOARS

The Saugatuck Rowing Club is justifiably proud of its championship teams.

Boats of all ages and with both genders have won countless medals, and earned national renown. Just the other day, the varsity girls 8+ captured an unprecedented 5th national title.

The Saugatuck SurviveOARS may never be US champions. But they are most definitely, absolutely positively, winners.

You can’t call women battling breast cancer — who get up early in the morning, train on the erg machine and the water, then go about their daily lives (including grueling treatment) — anything but champions.

The story began in January 2018. Mary Heery, a specialist at Norwalk Hospital’s Smilow Family Breast Health Center, is a huge advocate of fitness and exercise to help women deal physically and emotionally with the disease.

Knowing of Saugatuck Rowing’s many programs and community dedication. she called then-director of rowing Sharon Kriz.

“We pride ourselves on being able to teach anyone to row,” says Diana Kuen, who among many other professional and volunteer jobs is an SRC coach.

Club owner Howard Winklevoss was all in. Kriz asked Kuen to run the program.

Word spread quickly. But when 15 or so women walked through the door the next month, no one — not club officials or the novice rowers themselves — knew what to expect.

“Their bodies had been through a lot,” Kuen notes. “So we started on the erg (rowing) machine indoors. We wanted to build their confidence before they went on the water.”

They worked out on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. More women joined. They added Saturday sessions.

The breast cancer survivors formed very tight bonds.

One day in the boathouse, master rower Kit Huber noticed them. She offered to help. At the next practice, world-class rower Susan Schmidt joined in. Dawn Watson joined them. Soon, a strong corps of experienced club members was involved.

“That made the program even more special,” says Kuen. “All of those people were giving back, sharing their wisdom.”

Saugatuck Rowing club is “always a happy plays,” Kuen adds. “This program made it even happier.”

By mid-May, the women were ready for the water. They felt empowered and strong.

Diana Kuen watches her rowers with pride. (Photo/John Mongeau for CT NBC)

The 6:30 a.m. start did not bother them. They were no longer breast cancer patients. They were rowers!

Every team needs a name, of course. Someone came up with the perfect one: Saugatuck SurviveOARS. That says it all.

“Cancer took something away from them,” Kuen says with admiration. “We gave something back.”

She notes, “Breast cancer can show up anywhere. Any woman is one mammogram away. If it hits me, I pray I have a community like this to support me.”

The SurviveOARS are a very tight-knit group. (Photo/Greg Cork)

The SurviveOARS program empowered Asante Robinson to push her “physical and cerebral limits in a way no other sport has. The 3-year triple negative survivor is extremely grateful for both the opportunity to row, and the bonds she’s built.

Another woman joined as a survivor, then was re-diagnosed with breast cancer while rowing. Fortunately, Kuen says, she had the SRC community for support — and exercise to help her through.

The program continued this year, with a new goal: to compete in a regatta.

In early June, they did. Row for the Cure sponsors fundraisers around the country for the Susan G. Komen fund. This one was in Poughkeepsie.

Many of the racers are friends and relatives of women who had breast cancer. Some just want to help.

The SurviveOARS were the only boat filled — stem to stern — with survivors.

The SurviveOARS are all smiles in Poughkeepsie. (Photo/Michael Bauer)

The large crowd was appreciative. As word spread, a cheer went up: “SurviveOARS!”

Other rowing clubs love the idea. Kuen and her colleagues are glad to help start similar programs elsewhere.

As for the Saugatuck SurviveOARS: There’s more to come. They’re being incorporated as a 501(c)(3).

And Kuen wants to buy the women their own boat.

A pink one.

(Kuen gives kudos to the master rower volunteers: Patrice Foudy, Kit Huber, Chris Howard, Camilla Klein, Barbara Nash, Caryn Purcell, Carol Randel, Allison Reilly, Karen Salsarula, Dan Schley, Susan Schmidt, Page Seyfried, Tonya Steiner, Liz Turner, Dawn Watson and Kari Williams.)

Bonus photo: The Saugatuck Rowing Club national champion varsity girls 8+ team.

As Railroad Place Changes, Quentin Row Moves

Four years ago, Suited.co opened on Railroad Place.

Owner Ryan Meserole was passionate about selling high-quality, hand-crafted suits.

He figured his location — directly opposite the train station — was perfect for his target audience. Men could stop in on their way to or from the city. Surrounded by restaurants, coffee places and cool shops like Indulge by Mersene, he loved the vibrant neighborhood.

Ryan believed in giving back. He donated to local charities and national relief efforts. He gave discounts — even freebies — to less-fortunate local teenagers, and inner-city youngsters.

Recently, he rebranded Suited.co as Quentin Row. His commitment to the community was as strong as ever.

But in just a few years, the community has changed.

Fewer people commute to and from New York, Ryan says — a function of both the changing nature of work, and the decline of Metro-North. And with longer train rides (and regular delays), anyone who can take a town car to the city is now driven in.

Even a small change like Goldman Sachs’ recently relaxed, more informal dress code has affected his business.

Ryan Meserole, in his store.

In addition — and crucially — Ryan says that Railroad Place has changed.

The closing of Commuter Coffee cut sharply into foot traffic. And — partly because of family issues — the long-promised renaissance of the area near the train station has stalled.

For all those reasons, Ryan will close his store at the end of May.

But he’s not closing his business. He’s redirecting it toward a new, more flexible version of itself. Call it Quentin Row 2.0.

A 22-foot mobile showroom will travel to area train stations, festivals and the like.

Ryan will also refocus his efforts online. He promises that in cyberspace, he’ll still offer the “concierge service” customers appreciate.

Quentin Row online.

He will still have a physical presence. When Sconset Square renovations are complete, Ryan will share space with Gino, his long-time tailor.

Ryan will also offer private appointments in his Riverside Avenue home.

He could have gone to the new Norwalk mall, Ryan notes. But he insists that a town like Westport deserves a “niche heritage brand” like his.

He feels sad leaving Railroad Place. He put a lot of money into his renovations, and he knows the loss of a store leaves a void.

He says the new tenant is an office, not retail.

“I don’t think that’s what the street was designed for,” he says. “But people shop differently now.”

Railroad Place, 2 years ago. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Still, he knows his new operation will give him a better work/life balance. Since the coffee shop closed, he’s sat in his store and watched foot traffic dwindle.

He thinks little things could make a big difference. If the MTA put its ticket machines in the station house, instead of on the platforms, “people would see the stores,” Ryan says. “Now, they don’t know we’re here.”

Yet for Quentin Road, time has run out.

“But I still love Westport,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Except in his new, 22-foot mobile showroom. Coming soon to an event — or train station — near you.

Pic Of The Day #753

Cribari Bridge close-up (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Pic Of The Day #751

Ducks admire The Duck (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Photo Challenge #225

Once upon a time, there was a thriving post office in Saugatuck.

A couple, actually. The first was at Desi’s Corner. Then it moved across Riverside Avenue, to the building now anchored by Bistro Du Soleil restaurant.

For a while the PO operated out of a pathetic little trailer, in the back of a Saugatuck Avenue parking lot.

It’s in fancier digs now — though not by much — at the corner of Franklin and Ketchum Streets.

The sign outside was last week’s Photo Challenge (click here to see). Martin Gitlin, Michael Calise, Molly Alger, Mark Jacobs and Moira Eick all knew the answer.

But what about the sign’s initials: “DBU”?

Do they stand for “Don’t Bother Using”? “Do Be Understanding”? “Definitely Bad Usefulness”?

Nope. According to Michael Calise, this is a “Post Office Box location only.” He thinks DBU stands for Destination Box Unit.

That makes sense, though it is not particularly grammatical. After all, a couple of miles away — at the cramped, main post office in Playhouse Square — there is a sign saying “No Dogs Allowed. Service Dogs Welcome.”

And so it goes. This week’s Photo Challenge is much more scenic. Click “Comments” below  if you know where in Westport you would see this:

(Photo/Tracy Porosoff)

Mystic Market Meets The Community

I love writing stories that welcome new businesses to Westport.

They’re often about the owners: their backgrounds, what got them here, the challenges they’ve faced — that sort of thing.

I don’t usually profile store managers.

But I also don’t usually find a manager with a back story like Dave Griswold’s.

The man who runs Mystic Market — Saugatuck’s new kitchen/eatery that’s earning raves in the old Blu Parrot/Jasmine/Arrow space — grew up in a military family. He went to 10 schools, before graduating from a fine arts academy.

Then he trained in ballet, and did a conservator with the American Ballet Theatre. He danced with Alice Cooper, and at Madison Square Garden for the New York Liberty.

David Griswold: ballet dancer …

After that, came … the US Army.

Griswold was a diesel mechanic in Afghanistan and Kuwait. He was also in charge of morale-building, getting soldiers out of their barracks to mix and mingle. During the service he finished his degree in business management.

… and service member.

All of those experiences — arts, problem solving, team building — serve him well as he helps develop Westport’s next favorite spot.

Griswold moved to Saugatuck last March, as Mystic Market prepared its new space. He commuted to their Old Saybrook store for months. Finally — with the local store open — he can enjoy his new home town.

One of the things he likes best is the “thriving arts culture.” He wants Mystic Market to be part of it too.

They’re donating to the Artists Collective of Westport‘s May 4 studio tour. He bought 5 tickets for his team to the April 27 “Gatsby Return” party at Longshore’s Pearl restaurant.

David Griswold (center) and his Mystic Market team.

Mystic Market’s leadership team will also be out in force on Earth Day, cleaning up the neighborhood.

“We all want to be part of the community,” Griswold says. “We want to be hands-on, giving back just as much as we want people to discover us, and be here for us.”

He also wants Mystic Market to be “the first great job for teenagers.” There’s nothing better, he says, than for students to learn the values of work, in an open, inviting space like his.

Griswold doesn’t know it, but his store’s ancestor — the Arrow restaurant — did exactly that, for generations of long-ago kids.

The iconic spot in the heart of Saugatuck pulses with new, 21st-century life. Westporters — old and young, natives and newcomers alike — should be thrilled.

 

Today’s Really, Really Poor Parking Job

There are several signs on Saugatuck Avenue, all noting the 10′-11″ height of the underpass ahead.

This driver* decided to see for himself.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

He was not injured. He’s fine.

His job security might not be.

*And he’s hardly the first one.

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

(Photo/Jennifer Johnson)