Category Archives: Saugatuck

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)

 

Hiawatha Lane: 150 Years Of History

This Thursday (April 11, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning & Zoning Commission holds another hearing on the long-running, often-amended, quite-controversial proposal to build a 5-building, 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane. The application is made as an 8-30g, meaning some of the units will be “affordable,” as defined by state regulations.

But the road — wedged between I-95 Exit 17 and the railroad tracks — has long been where owners and renters find some of Westport’s least expensive prices.

Homes on Hiawatha Lane.

Hiawatha Lane has a very intriguing history. Here’s a look at how the neighborhood developed — and a little-known fact about its deeds.

In the late 1800s, train tracks for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Rail Road tracks sliced through what today would be considered prime property.

Laying those tracks was a back-breaking effort. The physical power was provided by thousands of men, who immigrated to America from all parts of Italy.

When their work was done, some of those laborers settled close to the tracks in Saugatuck. They built a tight-knit community — as well as churches, stores, a vital small business economy, and their own homes. Some still remain.

Families with names like Vento, Stroffolino, Cribari, Nistico, Anastasia, Luciano, Sarno, Caruso, Fabbraio, Pascarella, Penna, Giunta, Valiante — and many more — settled in Saugatuck, and helped it grow.

They built all of Westport, as barbers, stone masons, restaurateurs, store owners, carpenters, police officers, firefighters, town employees, lawyers, teachers, and in many other professions.

In the 1920s — when Italian immigrants made Saugatuck a thriving community — Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

Three and four generations later, many of their namesakes still live in Saugatuck, or elsewhere in town.

In the mid-1950s, another transportation revolution plowed through town: I-95 (known then as the Connecticut Turnpike).

Many of the same families who had forged the railway built the new highway system. It was a source of national pride — but also a massive disruption to the lives of those living in its path.

Churches, stores, meeting places, roads and many homes were demolished.  Westport’s Italian community was bisected. Roads like Indian Hill and Hiawatha Lane were cut in half by the highway. Longtime neighbors were suddenly displaced.

I-95 under construction. The photo — looking east — shows the toll booth near Exit 17, with Hiawatha Lane on the right. The Saugatuck River bridge is in the distance.

But some Westport philanthropists saw what was happening. The area between the rail tracks and I-95 — today known as Hiawatha Lane and Extension, Davenport Avenue and Indian Hill Road — was subdivided into parcels. They were then deeded to many of the displaced Saugatuck families, for as little as $1.

Julia Bradley deeded most of those properties, which still stand today. The Bradley family put a specific restriction on each deed. It stated that each house should remain in perpetuity, as one single-family house on each plot.

Ever since, the neighborhood has remained a unique place, providing affordable, low-cost home ownership.

Of the 187 units proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC, only 30 percent are deemed “affordable” by state Department of Housing standards. They will be small 1- and 2-bedroom rentals — replacing the homes that are there today.

Sixty years after the turnpike came through, many longtime families and close neighbors who have lived next to it may again be displaced.

Coming Soon To Saugatuck: More Pizza

Exactly one year ago yesterday, Julian’s closed its Saugatuck location.

Two months from now, the Riverside Avenue spot will reopen — again as a pizza-and-more place.

The new owner is familiar: Parker Mansion, the restaurant next door.

Manager Kevin Conte told “06880” yesterday that the 2 operations will be separate.

At the 2016 Slice of Saugatuck, the line to sample Julian’s pizza ran past Parker Mansion.

The new place — still unnamed – will serve beer and wine, and frozen yogurt and/or Italian ice cream.

While primarily takeout, tables will be set up in front, and possibly on the side.

Conte also plans tables in back, by the dock area. Diners from the pizza restaurant — and Parker Mansion — can eat back there, enjoying the beautiful river view.

He hopes to open June 1.

(Hat tip: Pete Romano)

Pic Of The Day #714

One sign on Riverside Avenue points to “Additional Parking,” behind Garelick & Herbs, Match Burger Lobster and Fleisher’s Craft Butchery. The other says “Do Not Enter.” Go figure. (Photo/Dan Woog; Hat tip/Eric Burns).

Ned Lamont Has To Go

Alert “06880” reader/Donut Crazy fan John Karrel was minding his own business, drinking an iced coffee and sitting on a sofa in the sugar-laden shop on the eastbound side of the train station around 3 this afternoon.

All of a sudden, in walked Governor Lamont, with 2 of his security detail.

Was he there for a strawberry frosted sprinkle donut? A cinnamon sugar cake? Perhaps one with shamrocks (special for St. Patrick’s Day week)?

Maybe the state’s chief executive was checking on the progress of our Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Committee?

Nope.

The governor had to use the restroom.

As he was leaving — without ordering — John chatted him up. They exchanged pleasantries.

No one else recognized him.

Par for the course, when it comes to Fairfield County and Hartford politicians?

Or crazy?

Have you seen this man? John Karrel did.