For nearly 10 years, a suite of offices sat empty on the top floor of 21 Charles Street — the building opposite Tarry Lodge. That’s odd. It’s just a few steps from the train station, there are great restaurants all around, and the view is spectacular.
But the space is now rented. There’s a story there. In fact, there are countless stories.
The new tenant is Fairfield County Story Lab. It’s the brainchild of Carol Dannhauser, a journalist and writing teacher who loves both the written word, and the people who write it.
After 30 years with (among others) the New Haven Register and New York Daily News — and a freelance career in books, magazines and documentaries — Dannhauser realized that although writing is a solitary act, writers need solidarity.
She had a nice home office. Yet she’d head to Panera or Starbucks to work. She liked the background buzz. But even with a cup of coffee, she could not sit there forever.
“I was looking for ‘my people,'” Dannhauser says. “There are great writing studios in Westport” — in fact, she’s co-founder of the Fairfield County Writers Studio, elsewhere in the Charles Street building — “but they’re all about teaching, not actually writing. I wanted a place where people could write, connect and prosper.”
She knows this town is filled with real writers: novelists, playwrights, journalists, children’s book authors, poets — you name it. She figured, “If you build it, they will come.”
She did. And they did.
Dannhauser, her husband, and her business partner Diane Salerno spent 5 months renovating the 2,5oo-square foot space. They worked from Dannhauser’s vision: Give writers every type of accommodation they could imagine.
And even some they couldn’t.
There are all kinds of configurations: rooms with desks. Sofas. A quiet room (NO TALKING ALLOWED!). A deadline room (for an extra $100 a week you can lock the door, and race to finish that book or TV project.)
The cafe/kitchen — a corner room with great lighting and a killer view — is stocked with cheese, cookies, coffee, tea and a microwave.
A community room is perfect for a book club meeting, or book launch party.
There’s also an interview room, a phone room and storyboard room, where groups of creatives can plot ideas. Of course, free WiFi is everywhere.
An attorney offers pro bono advice once a month on issues like copyrights and royalties.
A grand opening recently drew 100 people, including best-selling authors and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce president Matthew Mandell was there too. He’s excited that Story Lab will draw folks to Saugatuck. And — because you can’t sit and write forever — they’ll get up, go outside, and patronize nearby shops and restaurants.
As well as Mystic Market. The new store in the old Blu Parrot/Arrow had opened just a few days earlier. The market welcomed their new neighbor with a huge plate of cookies.
It’s open from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. Hey, even writers need to sleep.
(Story Lab memberships range from a day rate to every day for a year, with several options in between. For more information, click here.)