When Life magazine went looking for a mom-and-pop business to epitomize community involvement for its July 5, 1963 issue, it found one in Westport.
That’s not unusual: At the time, Westport was bursting with Time/Life editors and writers, and advertising executives at all the top shops.
Achorn’s Pharmacy was actually one of many local sponsors for Little League teams. (Though as alert “06880” reader — and former Little League player — Fred Cantor, who found this gem, points out, it was actually a “pop-and-grandpop”: the Main Street drugstore was owned by Murray and Henry Bravin.)
The Life text explains that the sponsor didn’t get to see his team play, because as an important part of of the community he opens early and closes late. Achorn’s, it seems, symbolized pharmacists and pharmacies everywhere.
Nearly 6 decades later, Achorn’s is still a Westport institution (though now at Playhouse Square). And local businesses continue to support Little League, softball, and countless other sports and youth activities in town.
Alert (and archive-minded) “06880” reader Fred Cantor found a Christmas ad from the December 6, 1950 Wilton Bulletin.
I have no idea what he was looking for, but what he found is fascinating. Exactly 63 years ago today, Wilton residents were urged to
shop in Westport for an old-fashioned Christmas in a new-fashioned town. Choose from an abundance of perfect gifts for every member of the family in the delightful atmosphere of small town service and big city selection.
Next to a drawing of a stereotypical ’50s nuclear family — Dad in tie, Mom in a serving role, girl and boy looking appropriately wonderful — the text described the “streamlined shopping center that is Westport.”
Because Westport is the biggest small town in the world with some pretty smart people living in it, Christmas treasure hunters expect New York selection and get it, but no New York hurly-burly, just genial “hello neighbor” friendliness.
But wait! There’s more!
Westport, we learn, “has grown — from a sleepy whistle stop to a shopping center teeming with sophisticated gift ideas for the exacting giver.”
Our storekeepers have the know-how to keep the prices as attractive as the gifts. Walk up and down Main Street, bask in the Christmas spirit spilling from shop windows, turn into Sherwood [Sconset] Square, then up and down State Street [Post Road], along Taylor Place, over the State Street bridge, into the hills of Weston, and up the Post Road.
That Weston reference lost me. But read on…
Wherever you go, you don’t have to look for a friendly face, they’re looking for you. Fair Exchange in Westport. Trade in tired weary days of city shopping for a joyous Christmas season country style shopping in Westport.
The 1950 ad was sponsored by the “Westport & Weston Merchants Association.”
Participating businesses — including the Dress Box, Westport Hardware, Isabel Eland, Achorn’s Pharmacy, Townley Restaurant, Tracey’s Men’s Wear, Welch’s Hardware, The Music Room, Sport Mart, Paint Bucket, Greenberg’s Department Store, Fairfield Furniture and Towne Television — were “Open Nitely Till Nine.”
Head across the river to Age of Reason. It and other Post Road West shops — all worth visiting — were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. The educational toy store, for example, lost $40,000 in merchandise.
Don’t forget Sally’s Place.You might buy all your music on iTunes (or, ahem, not “buy” it at all), but someone on your list still loves CDs or vinyl. And if Sally White’s shop on Main Street (just past Avery Place) is good enough for Keith Richards, it’s good enough for you.
I know there are many more stores worthy of our business on Small Business Saturday. Click “Comments” to add your own.
Dan Lasley is an avid reader of — and commenter on — “06880.”
He’s also a longtime Westport fan. And an ex-pat.
A few years ago, he moved away. But the lure of “home” is strong. Yesterday he sent along this story:
Every year we return to Westport in the spring for some business.
Last weekend I got up early to go ref at the Westport Soccer Association‘s WIN tournament. I used to manage the referees for this event. It was good to see all the usual (ref) suspects, including Stuart McCarthy and Robby Casey.
Afterward we headed over to Art’s, and grabbed an Italian combo – the first in how long? I can’t believe I used to eat the whole thing myself in one sitting!
We then headed down to Saugatuck Shores (checking out the rebuilt Riverside area), where we found our old house half demolished (or half restored, depending on your perspective).
Chatted with a few neighbors (apparently Hurricane Irene damaged many houses), and ate our sammiches on the beach. Cockenoe Island and Peck’s Ledge light are right where we left them — it’s all good.
After a brief nap, we headed over to Dunville’s for a burger. The waitress remembered us after 3 years! OK, so we’re kind of easy to remember, but still it was flattering.
Monday morning we took care of our business, then went back to Art’s for roast beef with sharp provelone. Laura popped into to Achorn’s because they have the best selection of hair clips — who knew?
As we drove back toward Philly, we passed 2 tractor-trailers that had hit bridges on the Merritt/Hutch. Where else does that happen?
Westport is a great place to visit. We miss our many friends — even though we didn’t tell anyone we were coming to town this year.
Last week, “06880” reported on the pending move of Achorn’s Pharmacy, from its longtime home on Main Street to Playhouse Square.
Readers, naturally, commented on every angle, from the changing face of downtown to the tax rates in Vermont.
But one set of voices was not heard: anyone associated with Achorn’s.
Now, enjoy these insights from Alan Bravin, son of the store’s longtime owner, Murray Bravin.
When I heard that Achorn’s Pharmacy was moving from Main Street, I wasn’t sure how I felt. At first it didn’t really sink in since I haven’t lived in town since 1977, and also since my dad sold the store in the early 1990s. But in the few days since I found out, I’ve reflected back on the years that Achorn’s was owned by the Bravin family.
Murray Bravin (center), with his parents, Anne and Henry.
I was 3 years old when we moved from Brooklyn to Westport, and into our home at 3 Silverbrook Road. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now I realize how lucky our family was.
My dad Murray, along with his dad Henry, had bought Achorn’s Pharmacy in 1956. As I grew up, I’m not sure I fully appreciated how great a place Main Street was. Next door was Gristede’s; across the street was the Remarkable Book Shop, Westport Pizzeria and Osca’rs, and down the street was Klein’s and the YMCA, where I spent many days playing billiards, badminton and basketball.
At the end of Main Street at the Post Road was Ships, which to this day made the best seafood bisque I’ve ever had. It seemed everyone knew everyone. Main Street was indeed a community of its own.
I remember getting Hanukah/Christmas gifts from the store — simple things like Scotch tape, staples, gold chocolate coins, etc. I was happy to have them all. Imagine giving kids gifts like that today, instead of an iPhone or iPad or Xbox or Wii. The world sure has changed. And so has Main Street.
I did many things at Achorn’s when I was old enough. Anything from stock boy to delivery boy, cleaning up, running over to Oscar’s to pick up lunch for everyone, or working behind the counter processing credit cards the old fashioned way (running them through a machine to make an imprint of the credit card).
Murray Bravin, behind the Achorn's counter.
Big sellers at the store were cigarettes, cigars, Timex watches and camera film. I imagine they aren’t such big sellers today.
I remember meeting Paul Newman, who came into the store one day when I was there. But I mostly remember my hero, my dad Murray Bravin.
In the nearly 4 years since my dad’s passing, I’ve run into several people who knew and admired him. The time that affected me the most was when I played golf a few years ago in Southern California. I went by myself, and was paired up with an older man I had never met.
We chatted, one thing led to another, and he told me he lived in Westport in the ’80s and ’90’s. I asked him if he ever went to Achorn’s. He said he went there all the time. When I told him that was my dad’s store he paused, looked at me and said, “Are you serious? Murray is your father?”
He said they had lunch on several occasions, and how much they liked each other. The rest of the golf round was fantastic conversation.
Murray Bravin (right) receives a plaque, for filling Pfizer's 2 millionth prescription. (Note: It was the company's 2 millionth -- not the store's!)
No one admired my dad more than me. He was kind and a very generous man. The stories I’ve heard make me feel even more proud to be his son. I don’t think it was random that I ended up on the Apaches Little League team that was proudly sponsored by Achorn’s Pharmacy.
I saw Pamela Sue Martin at our 10-year Staples reunion in 1981. Pamela worked at Achorn’s when she was at Staples. I asked if she was interested in getting her old job back behind the counter. She just smiled. She already had a day job that was paying her sufficiently. Something to do with playing Fallon, a regular character on “Dynasty” at the time. I doubt minimum wage (or slightly above) could compete with that.
I think back on the day that Achorn’s entered the computer world for inventory and re-ordering. Dad resisted the effort, but was finally convinced to convert. After a rough transition period, it made his life so much easier. I remember the long hours my dad put in at Achorn’s, standing on his feet all day waiting on customers, filling prescriptions and listening to their stories, checking inventory, cleaning up. Making emergency free deliveries in the middle of the night to get people prescriptions they needed right away. He loved all of it.
I’m glad that Achorn’s is moving from Main Street. For me personally, it will never be the same as it once was. It is the end of an era.
The 1955 novel about materialism, conformity and social-climbing began:
By the time they had lived seven years in the little house on Greentree Avenue in Westport, Connecticut, they both detested it. There were many reasons, none of them logical, but all of them compelling.
Tom Seligson grew up in Westport during those 1950s. After boarding school (with a classmate named George W. Bush), he’s enjoyed a long career as an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and writer.
So it’s no surprise he chose Westport for the setting of his 4th and latest novel, King of Hearts. (Seligson calls the town “Soundview” — a reference to his current Compo Beach home.
What may be surprising is the plot: 2 unsolved mysteries of the Iraq War.
The 1st concerns whatever happened to one of Saddam Hussein’s most feared associates: the “king of hearts” on the U.S. military’s Most Wanted cards. He has never been found.
The 2nd mystery is what happened to the $1.5 billion stolen from the Iraq Central Bank at the beginning of the war. “The government said all the money — which was in euros — was recovered,” Seligson says. “Of course, they also said the WMD would be easy to find.”
Like the successful formula of “Law & Order,” Seligson wanted those 2 large mysteries to be revealed in the course of a separate, smaller investigation. A murder in a suburban town seemed a good starting point for his international plot.
A good character to throw into the mix would be a seasoned detective who was an Iraq veteran. That way, he’d have a personal connection to any unresolved mysteries from the war.
As for Westport: “It’s always more fun to write about something you know,” Seligson says. “It gives you a chance to have your characters express your own thoughts and feelings about your home town, whether it’s McMansion fever, or how where you go on vacation becomes a competitive sport.”
Many of the sites in “Soundview” are easily recognized. The story opens with a murder in a place much like Earthplace; the neighborhood closely resembles Old Hill, where Seligson grew up. (In 1962 a woman was murdered and her teenage daughter raped and abducted in that very neighborhood.)
Other scenes are set at Compo Beach, the police station, along the Saugatuck River, and at a real estate office like the one that was next to Westport Hardware. The agent is a colorful character inspired by a larger-than-life soap actress-turned-realtor Seligson knew long ago.
As a good writer, Seligson did plenty of research — even into a town he knows intimately. To learn more about the life of a Westport policeman, he interviewed his old friend Tony Giunta. The retired cop “is not to blame for any and all liberties I took,” Seligson notes.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit spawned a movie, starring Gregory Peck, Lee J. Cobb and Keenan Wynn. It was filmed here; the last scene shows Peck getting into a car near Achorn’s Pharmacy.
No word on who would star if a film version of King of Hearts were filmed in “Soundview.” But Achorn’s is still here.
(King of Hearts was published last week. For more information, click here.)
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