Tag Archives: Barnes & Noble

Unsung Heroes #38

It’s hard to love big box stores.

But it’s easy to love Barnes & Noble — at least, the Westport one.

Sure, since it opened here more than 20 years ago it’s knocked off independent bookstores, plus toy stores and music stores and gift shops. But the selection is so good, and the managers are so community-minded, that we don’t really blame Barnes & Noble itself for all that.

The store reaches out to local authors, and treats them exceptionally. Barnes & Noble also is there for every school fundraiser and educators’ event — and not just for Westport schools, but the truly needy in Bridgeport too.

The real reason we love Barnes & Noble though, is the people. It’s rare these days — especially at big box stores — but the staff genuinely cares about helping customers. Plus, they know their stuff. That’s a winning combination.

In 2016, youngsters enjoyed Barnes & Noble’s Harry Potter trivia event.

The other day, I had a rare issue with a return. I contacted Tricia Tierney, the community relations coordinator I’ve known for years.

Almost immediately, she made things right. She figured out the problem, and solved it. Then she went waaaaay beyond, making sure I was okay with the solution, and apologizing on behalf of her staff.

It’s fashionable these days to think the only folks who care about customers are local mom-and-pops. It’s important, every so often, to acknowledge the Big Guys when they show small-town service.

For well over 20 years, Barnes & Noble has been a big part of Westport, in all the little ways that count.

Oh, yeah: Thanks for bringing back those comfy chairs too!

For over 20 years, a familiar sight in Westport.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net)

Barnes & Noble Throws Itself A 20-Year Bash

When Tricia Tierney was hired as Barnes & Noble’s Westport community relations coordinator 20 years ago, the bookstore had just replaced Waldbaum’s in the Post Plaza shopping center.

It moved there from smaller digs a few hundred yards east — where Pier 1 was (until recently) located.

Much has changed in 2 decades. The toys and gifts section grew exponentially. Children’s books got their own separate section. The music department saw the decline of CDs, and the resurrection of vinyl. Something called a “Nook” took over the front of the store.

To celebrate 20 years in the same location, Barnes & Noble has remodeled. Music area walls have come down. Comfy chairs — which vanished a while ago — returned. The Nook tables are gone.

Overall, it looks and feels much more open.

Barnes & Noble, after remodeling.

Tierney has seen other changes. In the beginning, she spent much of her time arranging author readings.

J.K. Rowling was here in 1999 to promote her 2nd Harry Potter book. “It was like having a Beatle,” Tierney recalls. The line wound around Purple Feet. Rowling sold over 1,000 copies — and looked every child in the eye.

J.K. Rowling in Westport, nearly 20 years ago.

Martha Stewart spoke several times. Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and Frank McCourt appeared too. (Full disclosure: So did I.)

These days, there are far fewer author readings. Tierney now has a different job — community business development manager — and is more involved in book fairs, and school and business events. (GE moved to Boston, but still orders books for meetings through the Westport store.)

Tierney has developed strong relationships with area educators, in both the Westport and Bridgeport school systems.

Saugatuck Elementary School staff members, at a Barnes & Noble book fair.

The “community” in Tierney’s two titles is important, she says.

“From the start, we wanted Westport to know that we were part of the town — not just a big corporate store,” she says. “We still do.”

She is proud that when people hear where she works, they exclaim, “I love Barnes & Noble!”

Tommy Greenwald

This Saturday (May 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), the store marks its 20th anniversary in Post Plaza. They’ve planned special story times and crafts for kids (including a make-your-own instrument activity). Young musicians will play. Wakeman Town Farm will bring animals. Food trucks — and a frappuccino bar — add to the fun.

And even though author appearances are now rare, local writers Tommy Greenwald, Michaela MacColl, Hans Wilhelm, Ramin Ganeshram, Christine Pakkala, Elizabeth Menke and Elise Broach will greet readers and sign books (12 to 2 p.m.).

Sure, Barnes & Noble — along with the internet, other technology (including the Nook) and many other factors — helped drive small, locally owned bookstores out of business.

But the Westport store has been an important part of our community for more than 2 decades. They’ve showcased local talent, supported tons of town causes, and helped many organizations raise money (holiday wrapping, anyone?).

On Saturday, Barnes & Noble celebrates that remarkable achievement.

Youngsters enjoyed Barnes & Noble’s Harry Potter trivia event last year.

New Starbucks, Old Problem

Any hopes that Starbucks’ move across the Post Road would solve its parking problems were dashed, in less time than it takes for a barista to whip up your drink and call your name.

The new location increases the coffee shop’s parking spots from 24 to a whopping 26.

So instead of parking across the street at Patio.com, the overflow now spills over to the  power transformer station next door.


And while a drive-thru window sounds great, it might be one of those be-careful-what-you-wish for ideas.

It was no problem for Arby’s (and before that, Burger King), because no one ever went there.

Now it’s packed. It’s just a matter of time before heavily caffeinated drivers start backing up into folks waiting in the drive-thru line.


The good news is: There’s another Starbucks a few yards away, in Barnes & Noble.

The bad news: That parking lot sucks too.

Barnes & Noble & Bassick

Most days, a Barnes & Noble book fair would not be “06880”-worthy.

Tomorrow is not most days.

barnes-and-noble-logoWestport’s calendar is filled with events like these: Schools and arts/education non-profits ask their supporters to shop on a particular day at our lone remaining bookstore. They give vouchers to the cashier — or simply mention that they’re helping that day’s special organization. The organization earns up to 25% of the amount spent in their name.

Most times, it’s a way for groups to pad their already-ample treasuries.

Tomorrow’s “Book Fair” is a way to help Bassick High School beef up their very important Book Club. It’s one of their key fundraisers this year.

Bassick parent Joanne Kennedy (left) and parent center worker Kizzie Gibson promote tomorrow's Barnes & Noble Book Fair.

Bassick parent Joanne Kennedy (left) and parent center worker Kizzie Gibson promote tomorrow’s Barnes & Noble Book Fair.

The Bridgeport school is going all out. Bassick students will come to Barnes & Noble in the morning. They’ll hear Westporter Michaela MacColl talk to them about being a writer. Copies of her books — historical fiction for young adults, focusing on famous females — will be on sale. (The most recent: The Revelation of Louisa May.)

Barnes & Noble staff are impressed by how hard the Bassick students, parents and staff are working to make this a successful fundraiser. I’m happy to do my part, publicizing this one (after saying “no” to so many similar press requests).

Though less than 10 miles away, Bassick and Westport schools might as well exist in parallel universes.

It’s easy to support our town’s fundraisers — and just as easy to skip them.

This is one we should make every effort to attend.

(Not in Westport — or unable to get to Barnes & Noble tomorrow? Click on www.bn.com/bookfairs any time from June 1 to June 6, and use ID 11614286 at checkout.)



Downtown Starbucks Closes!

Alert “06880” reader Ed Hulina reports that the Parker Harding Plaza Starbucks will close at 5 p.m. today.

Not to worry, mocha frappucino freaks. It’s temporary. They’ll reopen in 10 days, on October 1.

Ed says the reason is a long-overdue remodeling. Perhaps this time they’ll do the right thing and put the seating on the window side facing the river, rather than the dark corner looking out on Post Road traffic.


Ed also worries that the move will force coffee addicts to the “diner” Starbucks, 1.6 miles east. That would flood an already overcrowded parking lot, where drivers are congenitally unable to follow signs or otherwise act like normal human beings.

So “06880” reminds you: There are 2 other Starbuckses in Westport. One is inside Barnes & Noble. The other is in Super Stop & Shop.

There’s also one on the Post Road in Fairfield, and another next to Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk.

Of course, there’s always Dunkin’ Donuts…

40 Years Later, Green’s Farms Renews Shopping Center Battle

In 1971 the owner of a 6-acre vacant lot on the Post Road, between South Morningside and Church Street, proposed a new shopping center.

It would include a supermarket, drugstore, retail shops and 366-seat movie theater. Plans included a driveway on the southern part of the property — directly on South Morningside. Directly opposite Green’s Farms Elementary School.

The Green’s Farms PTA swung into action. They quickly got 700 signatures — from all over town — on a petition that claimed the driveway would be hazardous to children. (The PTA was not against the shopping center itself.)

Their protests led to a new traffic plan. For 4 decades, traffic from (then) Waldbaum’s and the Post Cinema, and (now) Barnes & Noble and Pompanoosuc Mills, has exited only onto the Post Road and Church Street.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center.

But everything old is new again. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall) the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider a zoning variance. It’s a request — you knew this was coming — for a new commercial driveway to be built in the rear of the Post Plaza Shopping Center, onto South Morningside. Directly across from the Green’s Farms School bus exit.

Owners estimate that 20% of shopping center traffic — cars, commercial vehicles, and delivery and garbage trucks — would use the new driveway.

RTM members John Suggs, Dewey Loselle and Matt Mandell are not pleased. They’re concerned about safety — particularly at school pickup and drop-off times, when vehicles parked on both sides of Morningside make sight lines difficult.

A truck navigates through cars parked on both sides of South Morningside Drive...

A truck navigates through cars parked on both sides of South Morningside Drive…

Morningside is also clogged for events like plays, Back to School Nights and softball games.

Opponents point out too that Westport prohibits the construction of a driveway within 400 feet of a school driveway. That ordinance was waived in January by the Board of Selectmen. No RTM member or  Green’s Farms Association member attended the meeting. The selectmen have been asked to rehear the matter for several reasons, one of which was that the public notice was “deficient.”

The State Traffic Administration — which in 1971 forbid construction of the driveway, thanks in part to the PTA petition — has been asked whether it is legal for the town to now permit the driveway, without seeking state approval.

...and a bus squeezes through, while a student crosses the street.

…and a bus squeezes through, while a student crosses the street.

Back in 1971, Green’s Farms PTA president Penny Heatley said, “We want to be certain that there will be no access to South Morningside Drive across from the school, even if the present owners were to sell out to somebody else in a year or two.”

Or even if the current owners, 40 years later, decided to try the same thing.

A Remarkable Real Estate Sale

When Walter Pitkin turned a 1700’s-era sea captain’s house on Main Street into a map and book store, it thrived.

But he sold it to a man who, Sidney Kramer said, “slapped your hand if you picked up a book.” Within a couple of years, business turned sour.

So in the early 1960s, when Sidney’s wife Esther looked to open a bookstore, the stars were aligned. The Kramers bought the property — on the corner of Parker Harding Plaza — and opened the Remarkable Book Shop.

“Remarkable” — the name not only described the store, but contained the name “Kramer” spelled backward — was an instant success.

The low ceilings and sloping wood floors gave it a funky charm. Esther and her band of loyal, learned employees — women like Esta Burroughs, Rita Engelbardt and Wendy Newton — stocked the shelves with an eclectic collection of bestsellers, classics, hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind releases, art and photography books, poetry, political manifestos, and nearly everything else.

They added funky gifts and posters. They painted the exterior a memorable shade of pink.

Large, comfy chairs invited lounging. When customers tore pages out of cookbooks, Esther put up a pad and pencil and invited people to copy recipes.

Eventually, Remarkable took over the space next door — Record Hunter. The Kramers — Sid was an attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — added space underneath, renting first to a barber, then a succession of gift shops.

The setup of the book store — with its warren of small rooms — made it warm and welcoming. But Sid calls the layout “a pain in the ass. We could never see our customers.”

Because the Kramers owned the building, they succeeded in the always-difficult book world. “If we had to pay rent, we probably wouldn’t have made it,” Sid — now 98, and with a razor-sharp memory — says.

This sign -- immortalizing the longtime owner -- was created by Westport artist Miggs Burroughs. His mother Esta was Esther's longtime second-in-command.

This sign — immortalizing the longtime owner, and incorporating the store’s whimsical mascot — was created by Westport artist Miggs Burroughs. His mother Esta was Esther’s longtime second-in-command.

But the arrival of Barnes & Noble marked the beginning of the end. The discount megastore siphoned off enough customers to force the Kramers to close. Paul Newman called, begging them to reconsider, but — after 34 years — the decision stood.

Nearly 20 years ago Talbots took over — a watershed moment in the Main Street march from mom-and-pop shops to chains.

Two years ago, Esther Kramer died. She was 93 years old.

Last year, Talbots consolidated its wares into the old Record Hunter wing.

Earlier this month, the Kramer family sold the 3,500-square foot building. It fetched $4.2 million.

That’s a lot of money.

But for Westporters of a certain age — who grew up in a certain era — the memories of Remarkable Book Shop are worth much, more more.

Taking Abbie Hoffman Literally

Westport’s finest had a busy day.

First, after a 2-hour pursuit they nabbed a man and woman accused of trying to fraudulently withdraw (aka “steal”) money.

The scene of the crime.

Soon they were on another case. Barnes & Noble reported 2 suspects stealing “large quantities of books,” and fleeing on foot.

The cops nailed the perps. They found the vehicle: a Jaguar with Georgia plates. Inside were $868 worth of books.

First, I congratulate the cops for their quick — and very effective — work.

Second, I’m impressed that thieves in Westport drive Jaguars.

Third, as an author I’m delighted that people come here to steal books.

I guess we’re still an artists’ colony after all.

Business Casual

Like many Westporters, I “do” a lot of meetings.

Like many Westporters without an actual “office,” I “do” them at the usual places: Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, the library.

Two weeks ago though, someone asked to meet at the Compo Beach brick pavilion, next to Joey’s by the Shore.

Last Sunday morning, someone else scheduled a meeting for the beach. This time it was the other pavilion, by the volleyball courts.

Both meetings were wonderful. Breezes blew, birds chirped — and stuff got done.

I can definitely get into this new meeting spot.

And you can’t beat the dress code.

A wonderful place for many things — including meetings. (Painting by Matthew Levine)

When Is A Starbucks Not A Starbucks?

Among Barnes & Noble’s many great features — comfy chairs, puzzles and games, CDs, Nooks, even a few books — one of the best is the Starbucks café.

It’s warm, welcoming, and highly caffeinated.

The other evening, I bought a coffee. (Regular. Small. Sorry, I don’t speak “Starbucks.”)

But when I went to pay with my Starbucks card, the woman baristette recoiled like I had handed her some used Dunkin Donuts toilet paper.

“This is not a Starbucks!” she said, coldly.


“It’s a Barnes & Noble!” she explained, in a tone I would use with a dog that had just soiled my Persian rug, if I owned either one.

My bad! I can’t for the life of me imagine why I ever thought I was in a Starbucks.