Tag Archives: Betsy Pollak

Dozens Of Interns Make Marketplace Work

Since its launch last month, the Westport Marketplace has been a smash.

The online, one-stop shop for operating hours, safety precautions, links and more for nearly every store, restaurant, market, medical office, fitness center, realtor, auto dealer, and professional, home, personal and children’s service in town was a herculean effort.

Our Town Crier‘s Betsy Pollak led the way. She had the backing of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and town officials.

But none of it would have been possible without the skills and smarts of over 40 interns.

From graphic design to social media — and of course boots-on-the-ground gruntwork — the team of teenagers and and 20-somethings stepped up for their town.

It helped that all of the interns were already here. They left Staples High School and their colleges abruptly in March, pivoting to distance learning. But they had time on their hands, an abrupt end to their social lives to contend with — and talent, creativity and energy to share in abundance.

Rising Staples junior Tessa Moore got involved because she saw her community struggling. She appreciates being able to share information, while helping the local economy.

Sanna ten Cate, Marketplace co-director and a rising junior at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, had a chance to get “an inside look into the back end of businesses.” She calls the skill set of her fellow interns “astonishing.”‘

One of the most skillful was lead graphics intern Nate Kolek. The rising Staples senior called the digital collaboration “such a positive environment.”

A few of Westport Marketplace’s many interns.

Web operations lead and Emory University rising freshman Serena Ye volunteered as a way to combine her passions for business and communications, while supporting her community.

Jasmine Kitahara — a 2020 Cornell University graduate, and the lead web developer — was “able to do something I’ve never done before, and would never get the chance to do prior to starting my full-time career.” She used her college education to program and build the website.

Now that she is starting that career, the Westport Marketplace is looking for someone to take over her role (click here for details).

The Marketplace is also looking to expand its media team. For that, the web developer position and other posts, email info@thewestportmarketplace.com.

Before the Marketplace project, there was no master list of every Westport business. Even town officials had access to land records only, not the businesses within the parcels.

That’s one legacy of this effort. And — if the interns’ work has helped save even a few of them — that’s another.

(To view the Westport Marketplace, click here. To support it — and the interns — click here. Hat tip: Ally Schwartz)

COVID-19 Roundup: School District Help; Who’s Open, Necklaces, Goggles And More

Earlier today, interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey emailed a district-wide update to all parents.

He noted many examples of how — behind the scenes — the Westport Public Schools are helping the town deal with COVID-19. For example:

The district has transferred “a significant amount” of personal protective equipment to town agencies. School nurses and health assistants have helped organizing and distributing that equipment — hundreds of N95 masks, cloth masks, gloves and gowns — as well as thermometers and office supplies.

In addition to PPE, the townwide science department has supplied goggles for firefighters.

The school district has distributed sanitizing wipes, cleaners and hand sanitizers to fortify the town’s supplies. In addition, they have provided access to equipment for sanitizing emergency vehicles and office spaces.

Collaborating with the Westport Weston Health District and Department of Human Services, school nurses are also reaching out to older Westporters through weekly phone check-ins. Besides checking on their clients physical and mental health, the nurses help them obtain vital supplies like medication and food.

School security officers have monitored athletic fields, to help limit the number and size of gatherings.

Chartwells — the school district’s food service vendor — is providing grab-and-go meals for Westport police officers. The district is also working closely with Human Services to identify and support school families in need of food beyond the grab-and-go lunches and breakfasts that are currently provided.


A number of Westport retailers are doing all they can to stay afloat. They offer curbside pick-up and delivery on items in stock; some even have new spring  inventory.

But among their many problems: How can people know they’re open?

Betsy Pollak helps, big time. Her “Our Town Crier” online newsletter is usually chock full of shopping news. Retailers pay to be mentioned.

In true community spirit, Betsy’s latest edition is totally free. Called “Curbside Enthusiasm” (great name!), it offers info, details, hours, links and photos for a ton of merchants: ASF, JL Rocks, Silver Ribbon, Arogya Tea and more. (Click here to view.)

Jennifer Tooker, Melissa Kane and Matthew Mandell helped compile the information.

A 2nd edition is in the works, for Mother’s Day. It’s perfect for restaurants as well as retailers. To be included, email info@ourtowncrier.com.


The Senior Center has started a YouTube channel for residents to stay active. It includes 39 Zoom courses focusing on mental and emotional health, fitness, creativity and wellness. To register for a class, call 203-341-5099. Click here to sign up for email updates. For more information, email seniorcenter@westportct.gov.

In addition, the Southwest Connecticut Agency on Aging has developed a helpful guide with plenty of information for seniors and their families. Click here to view.


Staples High School junior Eliza Oren makes gorgeous necklaces. She’s selling them for $10 each. Proceeds go to the Gillespie Center, to help pay for food and other items needed during the current crisis.

She’s already sold nearly $1,000. When she reaches that goal, her parents will match it.

You can Venmo her: @elizaoren. Or you can leave cash in your mailbox; she’ll pick it up. For details, email elizaoren@yahoo.com.


Need a reminder to wear a mask? Kevin Carroll spotted this, at Weston Gardens:


The other day, Julia Marino put out a plea for ski goggles. They help protect healthcare professionals working with COVID-19 patients.

As usual, “06880” readers came through. Yesterday her mom, Elaine, brought 34 pairs to a nursing home in Milford.

Julia is a member of the US snowboard team. And a gold medal winner in Westporters’ hearts.

PS: The bin will be out again through tomorrow evening. To donate new or used goggles (adult or children’s size): sanitize them with wipes or spray, place them in a sealed plastic ban, then leave them on the front steps at 129 Sturges Highway (near Cross Highway). Questions? Email esmarino@msn.com.


Werner Liepolt reports that he recently tried to download a new book, but his Westport Library card had expired.

No problem! The library staff renewed it remotely, and within minutes he was reading. The email is Circulation@westportlibrary.org.

(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)


And finally — though Rachel Platten did not record “Fight Song” about COVID-19 — it sure is apt these days:

Our Town Crier Gets An Upgrade

Back in the day, the Town Crier was Westport’s must-read, twice-weekly newspaper. It covered all the usual local stuff — politics, sports, entertainment — as well as lots that would never be in a paper today. (“New Folks in Town” described new arrivals’ jobs, hobbies and religions. Police Reports included stop sign violations. And Divorce Reports cited names and reasons: abandonment, intolerable cruelty, whatever.)

The Town Crier is still around. And — though it has nothing to do with its predecessor, except the name — it is equally compelling reading.

Our Town Crier is Betsy Pollak’s website. It’s filled with business listings, upcoming events, classified ads and more — just like an old-fashioned newspaper. Of course, it’s a lot better looking. And much more interactive. (The calendar is searchable by day, week, month, and categories like “kids” or “music.”)

Our Town Crier - 2

Now, Our Town Crier has been upgraded. That’s good news for local business owners. Any store, restaurant, veterinarian, personal trainer, yoga instructor — you name it — can have his or her (or its) own page.

Non-profits are welcome too. The Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Historical Society and Homes With Hope are on there already.

And it’s absolutely free.

(The fine print: It’s free if you create it yourself — which is astonishingly simple. If you want Betsy to do it for you, there’s a small fee.)

On your business page, you can post info about hours of operation, sales, featured merchandise, new hires, photos, videos — whatever.

Our Town Crier is open to all Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Easton businesses. It’s limited to mom-and-pops though — locally owned, in other words. No big-box stores allowed!

Our Town Crier

Betsy’s upgrade has been accomplished with help from several Staples High  School interns. A couple of talented Westport women have helped too.

A lot of businesses don’t have their own website, Betsy notes. Our Town Crier becomes their web presence. Party Harty is a great example.

Click here for Our Town Crier. It’s a worthy successor to the newspaper of the same time.

Though without the divorce news.

Sweet Harts In Westport

A new sweet shop is coming to Westport. It’s got a very interesting back story — which may or may not be true.

Betsy Pollak — of the great Our Town Crier fame — sent a link to a post earlier today on Deadline Hollywood. Apparently, Melissa Joan Hart will help develop a new “family docuseries.”

deadline-hollywood-logo-o

The show will focus on the star of ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey” show

and her  ex-showbiz siblings as they open and operate Melissa’s dream dessert store – Sweet Harts – in her hometown of Westport, CT. After a failed attempt with other partners in Sherman Oaks, CA, Melissa is ready to try again – but this time, the right way. With her opinionated family by her side helping her, everyone is excited to see this dream to fruition – but of course, it wouldn’t be a dream without a little drama along the way.

“I did  not know that she grew up here,” Betsy said.

Neither did I. For a very good reason: I don’t think she did.

A quick check of Wikipedia reveals:

Hart was born in Smithtown, New York, on Long Island, the first child of Paula, a producer and talent manager, and William Hart, a carpenter, shellfish purveyor, clam hatchery worker, and entrepreneur. Her maternal grandfather Stanley John Voje was a Navy Veteran and Catholic. Melissa grew up in nearby Sayville. Her parents had four other children after Melissa: Trisha, Elizabeth, Brian, and Emily, who are all in acting. Her parents were divorced in the early 1990s, and she moved with her mother and siblings to New York City.

Wikipedia lists her occuptions as “actress, director, producer, singer, fashion designer, business woman.” It does say that her current residence is “Westport, Connecticut.”

Melissa Joan Hart

Melissa Joan Hart

Every journalist needs 2 sources. So I headed to IMDB:

Melissa grew up in Sayville, New York. Her acting career started at the age of four, when she did a commercial for a bathtub toy called Splashy. Her mother, Paula Hart, has been her agent from the beginning. Melissa is the oldest of eight children, some from her mother’s second marriage. Six sisters, Trisha Hart, Elizabeth Hart, Emily Hart, Alexandra Hart-Gilliams, Samantha Hart, and Mackenzie Hart who is the only sibling who never appeared on Melissa’s TV series “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (1996). Her brother is Brian Hart.

According to Deadline Hollywood, “Sweet Harts” will also include Emily, Brian and Trish. No word as to whether Westport is their hometown too.

Our Town Crier

Heard you can get 25% off all supplements at Fountain of Youth?

A free in-home consultation from Making Faces by Debbie?  Two free children’s classes at Dynamic Martial Arts?  A $20 blowout at Roots Salon?

Probably not.  Then again, OurTownCrier.com — the website offering these exclusive deals — has been live for only a day or 2.

The site — linking local small businesses with Westporters seeking promotions and bargains — is the brainchild of Betsy Pollak.  A former small businesswoman herself — she owned Sundries Gifts and Homewares in Sconset Square for 5 years, and Westport Gift below Sally’s Place for 7 — she’s closely attuned to the challenges faced by stores not named Gap or Banana Republic.

“Small business owners are overwhelmed,” she says.  “They’re trying to make it in a tough economy, and because they’ve had to lay off staff, they’re having to do it all themselves.”

Spending all their time on basic functions, they can’t think about things like promotions and websites.  So Betsy does it for them.

She advises them how to grow their businesses; takes photos; then gives them an internet presence at minimal cost.  Some — like Great Cakes and Sally’s Place — have never been in cyberspace before.

What they get — and users see — is a clean, easy-to-navigate site, with sections including “Browse by Business Type,” “Featured Promotions,” “Business Spotlight” (Wild Pear and Max’s Art Supplies are in the current rotation), and “Upcoming Events” (like “Basics of Barbeque Cooking” at Bobby Q’s).

“I feel useful,” Betsy says.  “As a small business owner I felt run down.  Now I’m rejuvenated.”

Valentine’s Day offers a great opportunity for local promotions.  Traffic on OurTownCrier.com will build by word of mouth, but for now even a few additional customers are important to local businesses, Betsy says.

“The cost of business anywhere in town — let alone Main Street — is out of control,” she notes.  “You spend $1,000 a month in electric bills alone.

“But we need each other.  Westporters want a town without chain stores everywhere.  And small business want appreciative customers.”

In very old days, town criers gave citizens the news.  In the mid-20th century, the Town Crier was Westport’s local newspaper.  Today we get news of promotions and bargains — and businesses reach customers — with OurTownCrier.com.

Westport is still a small town after all.