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DISCLAIMERThis blog is personal opinion, and is not representative of the views of the Westport School District or Board of Education.
Tag Archives: Bedford Square
For years, John Dodig and his husband Rodger have done their holiday shopping on Amazon. That often means gift cards for their many children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings and friends.
This year — with memories of years gone by — they headed to a mall. But after 2 hours in Trumbull, they’d found exactly 2 gifts.
Depressed, they left.
Driving home, they decided to try downtown Westport. They parked in the Baldwin Lot behind Brooks Brothers, and headed to Church Lane.
On a whim, they walked into Savannah Bee Company. The manager greeted them warmly.
John and Rodger learned about bees, honey, sustaining the environment, and the store’s strong support for the community. They also found several perfect gifts.
They put them in their car, then browsed more stores in Bedford Square and on Main Street.
“We found something for everyone on our list — and had a great time shopping,” says John, who retired in 2015 after 11 years as Staples High School’s well-respected principal.
“Everyone in every store went out of their way to be helpful. They were beyond friendly.”
John and Rodger finished their shopping, feeling like “supportive and thankful Westporters.”
John’s advice: “Forget the malls. Shop locally! Our shop owners need our support. And they provide everything we need during this gift-giving season.”
David Waldman is a major presence in downtown Westport. Most recently he developed Bedford Square. His current project is a retail/residential complex on the site of the former Save the Children headquarters, on Wilton Road.
A few minutes ago, he sent an open letter to some of the town’s media, politicians and civic leaders. He wrote:
I put you all on the same email because Westport needs your help.
For the life of me I cannot figure out why no one appreciates all the incredible things downtown Westport has going for it: its beautiful architecture and history, incredible businesses and retail stores, world class restaurants. cultural venues and events, the Levitt, library, river, Farmers’ Market, and more.
None of the above seems to have translated into a real (and appropriate) sense of pride and excitement from the residents of Westport.
All I seem to hear everywhere and all I seem to read in every publication, blog and news story, is a negative sentiment about downtown, retail and Westport.
It’s too hard to get downtown.
Traffic is an issue and we need to address the intersections which are creating the traffic.
There are no mom-and-pop shops.
I am always amazed when I hear this since downtown is filled with many incredible mom-and-pops and small independent stores.
The landlords ruined the street by raising the rents.
I guess no one in Westport knows what supply and demand is.
It does, but it is always quickly re-opened, and measures are being taken by landlords to address and help mitigate these issues. That said, the town has a tremendous amount of infrastructure needs which cannot be pushed down the road again and again.
It is hard to park.
This too has been improved with the new Elm Street lot and the combination of the Achorn’s lot with Baldwin.
It lost its charm.
I could not disagree more.
Amazon killed it.
Amazon changed the way people shop but it in no way killed downtown. Downtown, like all great shopping and dining areas, has begun to change with the times. In the end you cannot eat, live and play in the internet. You can’t go to a library or arts festival in the internet.
The mall will be the last nail in the coffin.
Not everyone wants to shop in a mall. And if the mall is successful, it could be a benefit for downtown.
I miss the movie theaters.
The Westport Cinema Initiative and other groups continue to try and make this happen.
Measures are being taken to solve this going forward through unified maintenance, new pedestrian amenities, unified garbage areas and porter service.
All of this negative commentary has led, in my opinion, to a sense of self-pity from our residents that our downtown is somehow second-rate and not worthy of praise or admiration. I hear this all too often from all too many people. If it keeps happening, the town will continue to lose it luster.
So, what can we collectively do promote Westport in a more positive way?
In the end we need to start making the stories about the great things that are happening and the great things that will happen downtown. We need our residents to stop feeling bad about their downtown and start seeing just how vibrant and incredible it is.
How it provides a sense of community, how it provides a commercial revenue base which allows us to continue to maintain our lifestyles while keeping taxes lower. Stories about positive developments, incredible events, new stores, new businesses and the individuals who run them.
We need to change the narrative so the residents of Westport again realize just how incredible their downtown is, and how important it is for the health of our great Town.
You all have control over the narrative.
Thank you for listening. I hope this will begin to start a more productive conversation. Westport never needed a PR person more in its history than it needs now. Westport has to take a more active role in promoting downtown.
You may have heard the name Sigrid Schultz.
A pioneering female war correspondent, broadcaster and author who risked her life to expose Nazi secrets to the world, she hid her Jewish heritage from the likes of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, whom she loathed but entertained in her Berlin home for the sole purpose of extracting information.
After Schultz and her mother fled Germany, they bought a house and barn at 35 Elm Street. When Sigrid died in 1980, the town demolished her home to expand the Baldwin parking lot.
This famous woman has remained largely unknown in her adopted hometown. But that may change soon, if a Downtown Plan Implementation Committee recommendation to name the new Elm Street parking lot — the one next to Bedford Square, created by the demolition of Villa del Sol directly opposite the Baldwin lot — is approved by the Board of Selectmen, acting as the town’s Traffic Authority.
Then again, it may not be named the Sigrid Schultz Parking Lot.
DPIC member Dewey Loselle suggested celebrating former Public Works head Steve Edwards. The longtime but low-key director nixed that idea.
Another suggestion was to honor the residents of 22 1/2 Main Street — the African American boardinghouse that went up in flames (probably arson) nearly 70 years ago. The location was adjacent to the new parking lot.
It might be tough coming up with an appropriate name — “22 1/2 Main Street lot” would be too confusing for the Elm Street address.
But that hasn’t hasn’t stopped one Westporter from taking a second look.
Chip Stephens grew up here. As a Planning & Zoning Commission member, he attends DPIC meetings. He wants to make sure the name of the new lot reflects town sentiment — not simply the will of one committee.
Perhaps, he says, the lot should be named after the Wassell brothers. Harry, Bud and Pete were all killed within 15 months of each other, during World War II.
Or, Stephens says, maybe there are other Westporters we should consider.
So let’s have a townwide discussion, right here on “06880.” Click “Comments” to offer suggestions, and debate the ideas.
Sure, it’s only a parking lot. But, as Stephens notes, “it will be there forever.”
FUN FACTS: So who is this Baldwin that the other Elm Street lot is named for? Herb Baldwin — a former first selectman.
And on the other side of Main Street, Parker Harding Plaza is named for co-sponsors Emerson Parker and Evan Harding. Fortunately — considering the state of that parking lot — everyone has forgotten those two.
New Paltz is a funky Hudson Valley town. It’s home to the famed Mohonk Mountain House, and boasts (according to ILoveNY.com) “a lively music scene, farm-to-table eateries, and charming boutiques and cafes.”
Sort of like we kind of imagine Westport to be (without the Victorian castle).
So when Ryan Cronin looked beyond New Paltz for his new gallery, he chose Bedford Square.
“As socially conscious, artistic entrepreneurs with a passion for community relationships and adventure, we put a great deal of thought” into their 2nd location, says CronArtUSA co-owner (and Ryan’s wife) Melanie Cronin.
When they heard about this town, she says, “we sat down, cracked our knuckles, and immersed ourselves in the Westport world. Our extensive research all came back with one positive affirmation: Westport was the perfect place to spread our mission (‘Art for good’) and vision (‘Be part of the art’).”
Westport’s rich history as an artists’ colony, and strong appreciation for the arts, were important. The Public Art Collection — including so many works in each school — sealed the deal.
“Ryan is a firm believer in making art accessible,” Melanie says. “Any community that makes major works of art part of children’s everyday life is one we want to be part of.”
The Bedford Square gallery offers Ryan Cronin’s original works and prints, along with special merchandise ranging from apparel to home goods.
So far, Melanie says, Westport has been “welcoming and inquisitive.”
The New Paltz gallery and gift shop has become a community hub and gathering place, for artists and social activists alike. The couple hope the Westport site becomes the same.
(CronArtUSA is open in Bedford Square from 1 to 6 p.m. every day except Monday, and by appointment. Click here for more information.)
Downtown Westport has tons of shortcuts.
You just have to know where to look.
Let’s say you bought a beautiful bedroom set at Design Within Reach (the old post office). But you also need a French press from the new Williams- Sonoma in Bedford Square.
You could cross the Post Road (carefully!), then circle all the way around Patagonia to Church Lane. You could do the same with Sconset Square.
It’s quicker to walk through the small underground parking area next to Westport Pizzeria, or cut straight through Urban Outfitters.
But the really fun way is to take the narrow alleyway between Urban Outfitters and Cotélac. It hides there in plain sight, a direct shot for those who know about it.
Yet maybe no one does. A mural painted — somehow — on the tight wall of Urban Outfitters was last week’s photo challenge. I took it earlier this month. (Click here for the photo. It’s pretty cool, if I do say so myself.)
But are the muralists and I the only people who know about the alley?
Perhaps. Only one person — one! — guessed last Sunday’s photo challenge.
And it took Staples High School senior Nicole Arellano 6 days — all the way until yesterday — to come up with the right answer.
Well done, Nicole. It was worth waiting for!
This week’s photo challenge should be easier.
If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.
Bedford Square has changed the way Westporters use downtown.
Its courtyard, stairways and several entrances and exits provide shortcuts between Church Lane, Main Street and Elm Street. It’s taken a while, but many folks now zip into, through and out of the handsome retail/restaurant/ residential complex that replaced the YMCA.
As work continues on the adjacent property — the old Bobby Q’s restaurant — a once-hidden alley has been exposed to the public. Now everyone can see the graffiti there.
Eileen Lavigne Flug, Arnie Rusoff, Jeff Giannone, James Weisz, Lawrence J. Zlatkin, Bob Weingarten, Ben Pool, Michelle Saunders, Chris Buckley, Breno Donatti, Andrew Colabella, Ralph Balducci, Michael Calise, John Moran, Suzanne Ford, Sal Liccione and Alison Patton all quickly identified last week’s photo challenge — a photo of “Stop War” graffiti — as that alley. (Click here to see Betsy P. Kahn’s image.)
Can our alert readers be so quick with this week’s challenge?
We’ll see. If you know where in Westport you’d spot this, click “Comments” below.