Tag Archives: Business

All That Jazz

Sam Wilkes knows he’s strange.

The Staples senior doesn’t like iTunes.  “I want something tangible to hold,” he says. “And I like reading inlays.  You learn a lot about music that way.”

So Sam buys CDs.  Last summer he discovered Sally’s Place, the 2nd-floor store at the funky end of Main Street.  He can’t believe such an amazing place exists in his hometown.

Sam Wilkes loves Sally's Place

Sam Wilkes loves Sally's Place

“I’ve been to CD shops in New York City, and in Boston near Berklee School of Music,” the bass player says.  “They’re run by pretentious musicians who won’t even talk to you. Sally is the polar opposite.”

Sally is Sally White, and though Sam has known her only a year, he nailed it.

“She talks to me for hours about jazz,” Sam says.  “She knows everything and everyone.  She’s good friends with the owners of the Blue Note and the Half Note, and all the jazz legends — and she talks about them with me!

“When I buy something, she wants to know why I like it,” Sam continues.  “She always finds new things for me to listen to.  If I tell her about someone, she wants to listen too.  And if she doesn’t like it, she tells me why.

“Sally runs her shop by herself, but she has time for everybody.  She’s an inspiration to me.”

Sally's Place, Westport CTSam knows that the CD business — particularly a mom-shop in a suburban town — is in grave danger.  That’s why he was excited just before Christmas, when it was packed.

“I hope she’s doing okay now,” Sam says.  “A lot of people in Westport don’t even know about Sally’s Place.  But it’s a landmark.”

Recently, Sam was accepted at USC’s prestigious Thornton School of Music. The first thing he did was tell Sally.

She got him a CD.

Omni Fitness Is Out

The web site of Omni Fitness blares:  “Store Closing Liquidation!  Everything Must Go! Hurry in for the best selection!  Save 50-90% on all remaining treadmills, ellipticals, exercise bikes, home gyms, free weights and more!”

But even the most in-shape Westporter could not hurry down to the Compo Shopping Center store fast enough.  It’s already closed.

Fitness Holdings International — a California-based firm that owns 111 stores including Omni Fitness, Busy Body Home Fitness and LA Gym Equipment — has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

A realist might say that home gym equipment is a true luxury that should be an early casualty of an economic crunch.

A cynic might say that most home treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes seldom wear out from over-use.

But a Westporter who is tired of seeing a new “For Rent” sign every day might say:  “It hurts to see any business go bust.  Who’s next?  And what can anyone do?”

Omni Fitness, Westport CT

Green Wash

Westport Wash & WaxExactly 1 year ago, Westport Wash & Wax won a WeGreenWestport award.  The car wash was honored for using biodegradable chemicals, recycling 70% of its water, installing solar panels, even taking glass and plastic bottles from cars to the transfer station.

But last April times were flush.  Did the toilet-swirling economy cause the car wash to reconsider its environmental commitment?

Absolutely not, says co-owner Craig Tiefenthaler.  He and his brother Scott — who founded the business nearly 10 years ago — have not wavered at all.

“It does cost money,” Craig notes. “We pay for state-of-the-art equipment and the best chemicals.  The photovoltaic panels on the roof are not free.  Aquarion doesn’t give their water away.

“But it’s the right thing to do.”

Business is off this year, Craig admits. “No one is escaping what’s happening.  But we’re a viable business.  I’m not bragging, but we’re holding our own.”

In fact, the economy is less worrisome than the weather.  “A rainy weekend — that’s a real killer,” Craig says.

He adds proudly: “We haven’t laid off a single worker.  It’s important to keep good men.”  The average turnover in nearby car washes is 5 months.  He’s had the same employees for years.

One area where energy must be expended:  Every car gets freshly washed towels.  “You can’t wash nice cars with dirt,” Craig says.  As if on cue, a shiny BMW rolls by.

What’s ahead for Westport’s green car wash?

“We’ll keep upgrading, keep adding state-of-the-art, environmentally sound stuff,” Craig promises.

He suddenly remembers something else.  “We just redid our bathroom.  It’s probably the nicest public restroom in town.”

Scott Tiefenthaler will speak at tomorrow’s “Green (Brown) Bag Luncheon,” featuring First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.  The event will be held at noon in Town Hall (Rooms 307/309).

A Beacon Is Dimmed

Beacon Electronics — a granddaddy of Westport’s locally owned, hometown businesses — has turned off its lights.

Perhaps time passed an electronics repair store by.  But “06880” won’t let Beacon pass into memory without a proper sendoff.

Nearly 20 years ago I interviewed Tom Migliaccio — co-owner with his brother Louis — for “Woog’s World.”  Even in 1990, I was awed that a store like Beacon Electronics was still around.

It opened at its Post Road location in 1949, and never moved (the name came from a big beacon behind it, near Rayfield Road).  I described it as “staffed by middle-aged experts, not 20-something whippersnappers who don’t know a woofer from a tweezer.  If my stereo was history, they’d tell me so, and if I needed a part that cost 98 cents, they wouldn’t charge me 98 bucks for it.”

When the Migliaccios opened, their rent was $75 a month.  In 1990 it was $100 — a day.  I have no idea what Beacon paid when it closed, but I’m sure it was a lot more than $3,000 a month.

Two decades ago, the Migliaccios described the difficulty of making money.  Solder cost $15 a pound.  “You can’t charge a customer for soldering a connection,” Tom said.  “But we have to solder, and someone’s gotta pay for it. Well, that someone is me.”

In the 20 years since we talked, things got worse.  People stopped bringing in radios for repair — because people stopped listening to radios.  Or if they didn’t, when one broke they simply bought a new one.

With televisions, the opposite occurred.  They became so complex — and humongous — that specialists now make house calls.  You can’t toss a 60-inch entertainment center in the back of your car, even if your car is the size of a house.

Way back then, Tom predicted doom for small Westport stores.  He said: “A friend told me, ‘If you stay in business long enough you’ll end up broke.’  The cost of staying in business, you just can’t keep up.  I think one day you’re going to find Westport is a town without services.  There are a lot of empty stores now, and there’ll be more in the future.  Pretty soon there’ll be no more mom-and-pop stores anymore.”

But — true to his generation and his craft — Tom was not complaining.  Looking back in 1990 on 41 years, he said he planned to stay as long as he could.

“By and large, everyone we run into is nice,” he said.  “We have a good clientele, and we’re thankful for it.  But you can’t control rent, you can’t control inventory costs, you can’t control health insurance.  That’s what the little guy is up against.  If I didn’t enjoy what I do, I would’ve been out of here long ago.”

It took 19 more years — for a total of 60 — but Beacon Electronics finally met its match.  Nothing lasts forever — not even a hometown repair shop where the owners are actual experts, and customers truly come first.

Today there is one more hole on the Post Road streetscape.  If there is a god, it won’t be filled by a bank.

Beacon Electronics

Crumbs Comes To Town

Caroline Purvins loves Westport.  She says it’s “picturesque, quaint” — and when she looks out the window she sees “geese, not pigeons.”

As a New Yorker, Caroline can be forgiven for thinking that Canada geese are cuter, cuddlier or less obnoxious than pigeons.  But she’s right about the rest of that view.  Her enormous windows look out on Jesup Green, the library, the river — it’s one of the best views in town.

And right now many Westporters strolling by enjoy looking the direction too:  in.  Caroline’s windows showcase Westport’s newest store:  Crumbs.  The upscale cupcakery has just opened its 15th New York-area store, at the prime corner on Taylor Place behind Tiffany.  It’s only the 2nd Crumbs in Connecticut; the other is in Stamford.

“Don’t tell the other stores, but this might be the best location,” Caroline says.  (No worries — your secret is safe  ;))

Caroline Purvins shows off her favorite cupcakes

Caroline Purvins shows off her favorite cupcakes

Caroline — who despite a cupcake-based diet is as lithe as a gymnast — bubbles with enthusiasm for her new store.  “The customers are so happy to have us here!” she says.  “Everyone is so welcoming.  They’re all talking about birthday parties, bridal showers — it’s great!”

Crumbs, it should be noted, has been open for all of 2 days.  And though lots of people are away on school vacation, a steady stream of sugarholics already fills the spacious store.  They’re drawn not just by the colorful assortment of cupcakes (in varieties like cappucino, Heath bar, lemon meringue and grasshopper, most for $3.75), but also brownies (walnut, Oreo, marble; $3.25), cakes (Reese’s and apple caramel, $34; red velvet, $40), along with muffins, Danish, croissants, pastries, cookies, coffee and soda.

One sign says, “Made by Hand.  Baked by Love.”  Another certifies that the goods are strictly kosher (“except for Passover”).

How smart is it to open an upscale business in a time of global downscaling?

Caroline did not want to speak for the owners.  Personally, she said, “it’s a worry for anyone.  But as far as Crumbs goes, I’m very comfortable.  In times like these, everyone needs a treat.

“I feel so lucky to work here,” Caroline continued. “I started in college, and it’s a great company.  We all know each other so well.  And who wouldn’t be happy selling cupcakes, and making people happy?”

Point well taken.  So now, the most important question:  What is Caroline’s favorite cupcake?

“Hostess!” she answered immediately.  “I love it!”

She paused.  “But maybe soon it will be the Baba Booey.  It’s new!  It’s chocolate chip and peanut butter.  I don’t even like peanut butter!  But the chips…!”

Staples athletes David Mortner and Yarden Orly finish training with some well-deserved cupcakes

Staples athletes Yarden Orly and David Mortner finish training with some well-deserved cupcakes

Uptick Time?

For every sign the economy is still sagging — the New York Times reports that an uptick in vasectomies means families are hesitant to grow (or else men want snippage before their insurance runs out) — another says hard times may be easing.

Take bread and cake sales.

A Westport bakery owner says that until 3 weeks ago, business was off 15 percent from last year.  That’s not as bad as many stores, he knows, but it’s still a substantial downturn.

Lately though, he’s noticed an increase.  And Passover and Easter orders were even higher than last year.

He’s not sure the upturn will last.  Interestingly too, if this week’s business is off, it might be a positive sign.

This is school vacation.  Strong sales may mean more people are staying home — bad.  If sales fall, perhaps they’re away — that’s good.

So in a perverse way, let’s hope business tanks this week.  And then rebounds spectacularly on Monday.