Westporters have watched for months, as the former Barnes & Noble on the Post Road is transformed into an Amazon Fresh grocery store.
The mid-gut interior was the subject of last week’s Photo Challenge. Fred Cantor, Will Gibson, Elaine Marino, Lynn Untermeyer Miller, Bobbie Herman, Clark Thiemann, June Rose Whittaker, Brooks Sumberg and Barbara Phillips all quickly identified Betsy Pollak’s photo. (Click here to see.)
Lynn added this great factoid: The site of a future supermarket started out — before Barnes & Noble — as a Waldbaum’s.
Meanwhile, who remembers that this Post Road location was actually the second for Barnes & Noble? The bookstore’s first Westport outlet was less than a mile east, in the space currently occupied by Bev Max.
Before that, it was a Pier One. And — waaaaay earlier — it was a bowling alley.
Unlike Amazon Fresh, that space is unlikely to return to its original roots.
Here’s today’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see this intriguing sight, click “Comments” below.
They’re not the Trump Organization, the mammoth real estate company. They’re not Empire State Realty, which own the Empire State Building — and commercial real estate on Westport’s Main Street.
But Admiral Real Estate Services is no slouch. The commercial real estate company focuses on retail sites in the tri-state area. You’ve seen their signs on vacant storefronts around town.
If they have their way, you’ll see fewer in the future. Admiral is bullish on Westport.
The last couple of years have not been easy, notes president and CEO Jonathan Gordon.
Norwalk’s new SoNo Collection mall — “the newest and shiniest project out there,” Gordon admits — “sucked a lot of the energy out of downtown.”
COVID brutalized merchants and landlords. Downtown Westport — and similar markets like Darien, Greenwich, Rye and Scarsdale — saw shoppers flee to online.
But as the nation emerges from the pandemic, Gordon says, “retailers are returning our calls.”
Part of the reason, he believes, is “internet fatigue. Millennials want a more experiential shopping experience. Retailers see a need to be downtown.”
One empty storefront is among the most visible in all of downtwn.
“Downtown” draws more than Westporters, Gordon says. It’s a destination for many area residents. Within a 15-minute drive, Admiral’s website says, “the population jumps to over 150,000 with an average income exceeding $170,000, resulting in total buying power for in-store retail goods (excluding food and drink) of $4 billion+.”
One thing that Westport has over some other affluent suburbs is that while residents leave in the summer for vacations (and vacation homes), they’re replaced by equally affluent summer residents. That’s attractive to Admiral — and the properties they represent.
Despite an upturn in commercial real estate activity, there are still a number of empty storefronts. For Admiral, that includes 2 properties at the Post Road/ Main Street intersection, and 4 others on the river side of Main Street (one is the long-vacant 2-story restaurant most recently occupied by Boca and Acqua).
Boca restaurant closed in 2018. The Main Street property has been empty ever since.
Admiral also represents 2 properties on Post Road East, near Balducci’s.
For retailers looking for a new location, Gordon says, Westport’s competition is “really Greenwich.” It’s a “formidable” location, with a “nice, long retail strip, close to New York City.”
So, he says diplomatically, he tries to sell both locations.
In terms of Westport, Gordon says, “we view Main Street as one entity. Our goal is to find retailers that help other retailers be successful.” La Fenice gelateria — an Admiral tenant — is one such place.
“People who get a gelato will go next door to shop,” Gordon notes. “If they come at night, they’ll go window shopping.”
The new Barnes & Noble — not an Admiral property — is another example of “exactly what downtown needs.”
27 Main Street is another Admiral property.
So how tough a sell is Westport?
“Everything is tough these days,” Gordon says. “We may drag people there by the scruffs of their neck. But we show them the free parking lots. We give them marketing materials, with specific breakdowns of population, income and consumer purchases. We help them assess the viability of a site. Seeing downtown is more powerful for them than anything.”
In the past, he notes, potential retailers have been “surprised at the disconnect between the number of vacant stores, and the potential.”
Coming out of COVID, he hopes, those numbers — and that disconnect — will diminish. In their place will be a new mix of retailers, and eager shoppers from far and wide.
In many ways, yesterday was the first “normal” day in nearly 15 months.
Hundreds of people gathered at Jesup Green for a joyful Pride celebration. hundreds more swarmed Compo Beach, or took boats out on the Sound. At night, the Levitt Pavilion opened its gates for the Westport Schools’ annual Pops Concert.
The previous night’s show was moved by weather to the Staples High auditorium. But last night was as close to old times as anyone could hope for.
The crowd was limited to smaller numbers than usual. But everything else was the same: spectacular music, of near-professional quality. An appreciative, picnic-toting audience.
And, yes, pride and joy, in celebrating our kids, and our town, together again.
Last night at the Levitt Pavilion. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Candi Innaco conducts the band for the final time. She is retiring after 36 years as a music instructor. (Photo/Jerri Graham Photography)
Tim Lukens was enjoying yesterday’s weather, listening to music and quietly weeding his flower garden, when he came “literally 6 inches — nose to nose” — with the black bear wandering through Westport’s woods. This encounter was near Wilton Road, just north of Merritt Parkway Exit 41.
Barnes & Noble’s Westport store is internationally famous.
Well, at least it got a shoutout in the Financial Times.
A long profile on James Daunt — the Briton who rescued the small Waterstones book store chain from Amazon, and is attempting to do the same now for B&N — mentioned our local shop.
Daunt used the pandemic to rearrange layouts. Stores — including the newly opened one downtown — look less like “libraries”; round tables make them more browser-friendly. Click here for the full story. (Hat tips: Henry Engler, Jon Fraade)
While a Netflix movie is being filmed in Westport, the Country Playhouse parking lot has been rented to the production crew. It serves as a staging area, through June 16.
Most Winslow Park dog lovers realize it’s a private lot, and heed the signs and staff. Some, though, ignore them, and park anyway.
WCP general manager Beth Huisking says, “We love Westport, and want to be a valued member of the community. To be reciprocated with disrespect from some community members is disheartening.
“When we close the lot it is because we need the space (the hour or so before a performance), or because something is going on that requires us to use all spaces.
“In the case of the production crew, with large trucks and vans pulling through the lot, we want to make sure everyone (people, animals, even cars) are safe. So please, until June 16, park at the Winslow lot on Compo Road North. Thank you.”
One of the many trucks in the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot. (Photo/Dan Woog)
It was a bit too cloudy and foggy yesterday to really see the convergence of Saturn and Jupiter. It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed so close to each other, and nearly 800 years since their alignment — seeming to form one “Christmas star” — occurred at night.
But that didn’t stop a number of Westporters from heading to Compo Beach to look.
Jo Shields reports, “I heard someone say there was a lot of applause and cheering on South Beach. But then someone said it might have just been a plane.”
Here’s what she saw, on the jetty:
Barnes & Noble signed its new lease yesterday, for the former Restoration Hardware site. “06880” reported that the deal was imminent last week. The opening is slated for February. David Adam Realty was the realtor.
Restoration Hardware moved out in June. Soon, Barnes & Noble will move in.(Photo/Chip Stephens)
Last summer, as the pandemic (first) raged, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association partnered with ASF, on a fundraiser to support local businesses. The community helped raise over $2,700.
Last month, the WDMA asked retailers to nominate employees who have gone “above and beyond.”
There were many stories about heroes who put in extra hours, offered creative ideas to keep businesses afloat, provided extraordinary customer service, or remained strong in uncertain times.
Now the WDMA has awarded 26 of those very deserving employees $100 Downtown Dollar eGift Cards. Congratulations and thanks go to:
Karyl Scott (Massage Envy)
Kimberly Lavigne (Sorelle Gallery)
Francisco Moreno (Winfield Street Deli)
Henry Potter (Athleta)
Ellyn Weitzman (Franny’s Farmacy)
Stephanie Soares (Don Memo)
Alba Antun (Don Memo)
Zach Hinman (Don Memo)
Owen Wiseman (Kawa Ni)
Kelly Clement (Kawa Ni)
Marco Almanza (Kawa Ni)
Lux Bond & Green Team
Paulino Garcia (The Whelk)
Lupita Cristostomo (The Whelk)
Matt Balga (The Whelk)
Julie Cook (Savannah Bee)
Will Newman (New England Hemp Farm)
John Vaast (Walrus Alley)
Patricia Andrade (Splash of Pink)
Isabelle Johansen (Cotelac)
Jinkuk Hong (Manna Toast)
Victor Mejia (Manna Toast)
Jessica Zito (Manna Toast)
Karen Martella (Catherine H)
The ink is barely dry on the new federal COVID relief package.
But this afternoon (Tuesday, December 22, 2:30 p.m.), Congressman Jim Himes and officials of the Small Business Administration join a live Zoom discussion to explain it. Click here for the link; the passcode is 509950.
Congressman Jim Himes
Jewish Senior Services is located in Bridgeport, but its Westport roots are strong and deep.
Ken Wirfel and Alan Phillips are the 2 most recent board chairs. Dozens of Westporters are board members and/or supporters, including the Nevas, Kassen and Magidas families.
Scores of Westport relatives are in long-term care there, have gone through short-term rehabilitation, or utilize JSS’ home care or community services.
Yesterday, the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine were administered there, to nearly 300 people. CEO Andrew Banoff called it “a day we will never forget.”
Although JSS’s mission is grounded in Jewish traditions, well over half of the residents and clients are not Jewish. They are “the largest faith-based not-for- profit senior care community in Connecticut.”
Amy Schneider captured the winter solstice sunset — the first one of the season — last night.
Here’s the “bright” side to winter: For the next 6 months, every day there’s a little more light.
The Saugatuck River Dancers keep dancing — and keep raising funds for suicide prevention.
Suzanne Harvey’s latest choreography is Meghan Trainor’s “Holidays.” She created it to share the joy of dance and the holidays with others. Tomorrow (December 23) is the 28th anniversary of her brother Michael‘s death. He was just 15 when he took his life.
Hilary Solder, Jill Alcott, Deb Montner, Michael Chait and Eva Rawiszer joined Suzanne in dance. The video is below. Click here for a link to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
And finally … on this day in 1984, subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz shot 4 would-be muggers on a Manhattan subway. Five years later, he was part of a Billy Joel song.
Growing up, Gordon Joseloff loved the Remarkable Book Shop. Klein’s books, too.
For years after the Main Street stores closed, he dreamed of bringing a bookstore back downtown.
Joseloff died last month. But now that’s almost a reality — in a building his family has owned for years.
Joseloff’s cousin Bruce Beinfield – an architect who also grew up here, and remembers the bookstores fondly — is handling negotiations for the Post Road East building.
For decades, it housed the Fine Arts Theater. From 1999 through last spring, it was Restoration Hardware.
Soon — perhaps right after the holidays — Barnes & Noble will move from its current location, to the downtown site. Earlier today, Beinfield confirmed that a deal is imminent.
Barnes & Noble is poised to move here …
The Barnes & Noble chain was acquired last year by Elliott Management Corporation. Their goal is to give local managers more leeway in operating each store.
At 10,000 square feet, the new Barnes & Noble will be smaller than its current store. It moved into the shopping center near Angelina’s after outgrowing its original Post Road location further east (most recently, Pier 1).
Beinfield says that once the deal is finalized, Barnes & Noble hopes to move as soon as possible. Applications for signage are already on file with town officials.
Plans for a new Starbucks café inside have not yet been filed. However, the back of the building will have food. As reported on “06880” last month, Basso Restaurant & Wine Bar will soon replace Matsu Sushi (the former Fine Arts 3 theater) on Jesup Road.
So what will become of the current Barnes & Noble location? There’s no official word, but rumors include Amazon Go — the high-tech, automated, geofenced app-driven store selling prepared foods, meal kits, groceries and alcohol.
If that happens, it would be a full circle of sorts. Before Barnes & Noble, that building was a Waldbaum’s supermarket.
In yesterday’s story on a new movie shot in Westport, I casually mentioned that Barnes & Noble is moving.
I did not mention where.
Its new home will be the former Restoration Hardware (and before that, Fine Arts I and II theater). Looks like the bookstore-and-more will be downsizing — after enlarging from its first Westport location (the old Pier One, just east of its current Post Road site — soon to be the new Saugatuck Grain & Grape).
So what will replace the current Barnes & Noble?
Word on the street is it’s a grocery store — possibly Amazon Go.
That would be fascinating — and not just because Westport is ripe for advanced shopping technology.
The other reason: The previous tenant, before Barnes & Noble, was Waldbaum’s.
Changes coming soon
There’s not much wonderful about 2020. But “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a wonderful 1946 film. And this Sunday (November 22, 6 p.m.) it will be a wonderful radio show, courtesy of Staples Players.
Though the high school is closed, dozens of students — actors, the tech crew, sound effects people — have been working remotely.
Which is exactly how audiences around the globe will experience the old-time, very cool show on Sunday. They’ll gather around their radios — and devices — to enjoy a wonderful experience.
In true “show must go on” fashion, directors David Roth and Kerry Long are devising ways for actors to multi-task, and come up with sound effects on their own. At the same time, they’re solving complicated technical problems.
“As always, they’re rising to the occasion,” Long reports.
To join the (free!) livestream fun, click on www.wwwptfm.org. Westport-area residents can tune in to WWPT, 90.3 FM.
Colin Konstanty rehearses his George Bailey role, in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” before Staples High School went to full remote learning. (Photo/Kerry Long)
Sustainable Westport Advisory Team — a town body — will become simply Sustainable Westport. The new non-profit organization becomes a partner with Earthplace.
The group — which educates Westport residents and businesses to become a Net Zero community by 2050 — will continue to work with town officials.
Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich and operations director Sara Harris will be “sustainability coordinators” (aka “liaisons”).
If you think Net Zero by 2050 is far off — it’s not. It’s just as near to us as 1990.
COVID knocked out last spring’s high school sports season. Fall athletes played modified schedules. Now the virus has taken a toll on winter sports.
This morning, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference postponed the start date for tryouts and conditioning to January 19. Hundreds of Staples students had been slated to start basketball, gymnastics, ice hockey, indoor track, skiing, squash, swimming, wrestling and cheerleading around Thanksgiving.
Earlier this month, the state issued new rules for youth sports — those run by outside (non-high school) organizations.
High-risk sports — wrestling, tackle football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer, dance, boxing, rugby and martial arts — were halted through the end of the calendar year.
Participants in medium-risk sports like basketball, gymnastics and ice — hockey — are required to wear face coverings.
In addition, youth teams can no longer travel out of state. Regional tournaments and competitions in high- or medium-risk sports cannot be hosted in Connecticut. Venues were urged to limit spectators, and devise contact tracing protocols for players and fans.
After discussions with Weston officials, Aspetuck Land Trust is reopening Trout Brook Valley’s largest parking lot — the one on Bradley Road. It will be available starting tomorrow (Monday, April 27), on weekdays only. NOTE: Dogs are not allowed!
Click here for information on all 42 ATL preserves’, and their hiking trails.
Staples High School 1988 graduate Scott Froschauer is now a Los Angeles artist. He’s gotten lots of attention for works that use street signs to convey more useful instructions (like “Breathe” and “All We Have is Now”).
Longtime Westporters Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler — who spent part of the year in Palm Springs — are huge fans. They bought some of his work even before they knew the local connection.
Now, Ann reports, Scott is making face masks. They’re like his street signs, with messages like “Dream,” “Smile” and “Do Your Best.”
Good news: Barnes & Noble is back open. Curbside pickup is available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
That news comes from Nina Sankovitch, who has particular reason to be pleased. Her newest book — American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution — is well stocked there.
Anyone buying her book there will receive a nice gift: one of Nina’s American Rebels tote bags (below).
And, she promises, once the virus is gone, she’ll be happy to sign your book.
Two weeks ago, “06880” posted a video of 1970 Staples High School graduate Stephen Wall — now a tenor with the Seattle Opera — entertaining his socially distancing neighbors with a rousing rendition of “Nessun Dorma.”
This week he’s back, bolder and more rousing than ever. Here he is, with his “Friday Figaro.”
This is not stop-the-presses news: raising teenagers is hard. These days, it’s even tougher.
Tomorrow (Monday, April 27, 12 to 1 p.m.), Westport Together sponsors a webinar: “Parenting High School Juniors and Seniors During the Coronavirus Pandemic.”
The program features local mental health professionals Deb Slocum of the Staples High School Counseling Department, Karen Krupnik of Positive Directions, and director of Westport Public Schools psychological services Dr. Valerie Babich. They’ll discuss ways to develop social, academic and emotional skills needed for life after high school. To register, click here or watch on Facebook Live.
Next month, Westport Together hosts more virtual discussion groups for parents of elementary, middle and high school students. Click here for their website.
Beechwood Arts’ “Coming Out Of COVID” event planned for this Wednesday (April 29) is postponed. The reason: a death in the organizers’ family. from complications of the coronavirus.
It will be rescheduled. For more information, click here.
And finally … Dionne Warwick reminds us of a simple, yet very important, truth:
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