Downunder — the cool kayak and paddleboard rental shop that was one of the first businesses to bring new life to revitalized Saugatuck Center, 8 years ago — is closing soon. An email sent yesterday to customers from owner Kim Hawkins said:
After 15 successful years in the paddlesport industry, Downunder will close its doors following Labor Day weekend.
It’s been a long, satisfying and joyful run, and I am heartbroken it’s coming to an end.
Downunder is located in the building on the left.
Downunder has touched so many lives. We’ve made the water accessible to people of all ages and demographics, empowered, energized and provided exciting experiences to all. My personal favorite has been the underserved and at-risk in our community, the disabled, homeless, those with substance abuse issues. Time and again clients have said to me, “Downunder saved my life.” That’s the power of water, and being treated like family.
Many of you have known me and this business since it started in 2005, formerly known as Below Deck, an adorable cabana-like business that Barbara Conroy inspired, located under the Rowayton Market.
Sam Gault of Hamilton Development (and Gault Energy) allowed me the opportunity to open a second location on the Saugatuck River in 2011. And then the town of Darien invited me to operate a satellite operation at Weed Beach from 2017.
Downunder had a great location, on the Saugatuck River.
The last few years have been a struggle, with the economic climate, tidal restrictions, and most recently, pollution on the Saugatuck River. So I have decided: it’s time.
I want to thank you all – my whanau (family), for your support and encouragement over the years. A business such as this is only as good as it’s people, so my thanks too, to everyone that has worked for me. As a former employee, Danny Giannatasio, said, “Downunder is the first job I’ve had, where I’ve actually wanted to get up and go to work,” and so it was.
There will be a storewide sale of course — “everything must go,” as they say. I hope you will stop by and bid farewell to this iconic institution.
Ngā mihi nui me te aroha nui, ka kite anō — lots of thanks, lots of love, see you again.
Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith loves many things about Westport. Kayaking is near the top of his list.
However, all is not ducky on the water. Read on…
Why is there a 3-year wait for a permit to store a kayak for the summer near a launch ramp in Westport?
That question came to mind when I stopped by the Parks & Rec office at Longshore to renew my annual handpass and beach sticker. They’re the tickets to many summer pleasures, and a big reason why Westport is such a great place to live.
I love getting out onto, and into, the water along our beaches, tidal creeks and river banks. For years I kept a small motor boat at Longshore.
Then I downshifted to a kayak, schlepping the big yellow sit-on atop my SUV to various ramps around town: Compo Beach, Longshore, the state launch on the Saugatuck under the I-95 bridge, and the Mill Pond, where I took the scenic route past the oyster shack, through the tunnel under the Sherwood Island Connector, and along the tidal creek to Burying Hill Beach.
The tidal creek at Burying Hill Beach. Scott Smith launched kayaks from here.
The past few seasons, following a car change and increasing age and laziness, I’ve been fortunate to keep my kayak for the summer at Longshore’s E.B. Strait Marina, courtesy of a neighbor’s slot, who liked taking his young daughter out on my old 2-seater.
It’s an easy put-in for a saunter up Gray’s Creek, a jaunt out to Cockenoe, or a venture around Longshore Sailing School to the Saugatuck River. For years I’ve harvested golf balls shanked from the practice range, free for the picking at slack tide.
Fun fact: There are nearly as many enthusiasts of paddle sports – kayaks, canoes, paddleboards – as golfers (around 25 million in the US, depending on which trade group does the counting). Tennis trails both pursuits by quite a bit.
There’s no lack of supply for Westport’s golfers or tennis players. That’s great, and I’m among them. But 3 years to wait for a spot to stash your kayak for the summer?
A kayaker at sunset, between Compo Beach and Owenoke. (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)
I’d like to know why the town has not figured out how to accommodate such an expressed demand for an increasingly popular, and very low impact, recreational pastime. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for telling my neighbor I’d try to get the permit in my name this year.
I can see how adding parking spots for the train station lots, or boat slips at the marina piers, could come up against hard logistical limits. But how difficult would it be to add a few more wooden trestles to the existing lots at Compo Beach or Longshore?
Better yet, I suggest the town consider adding storage spaces and launch sites around town, for residents to use and help fund. I can think of several spots, including Compo Beach marina near the boat ramp and facilities, and Burying Hill Beach, which also has facilities and ample parking along New Creek (and which is chronically overlooked as a town asset).
Compo Beach has kayak racks near South Beach. Scott Smith would like more. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)
A great new place to launch from would be the lower parking lot at Longshore, which occupies precious frontage on the Saugatuck River and is now mostly used to accommodate wedding-goers at the Inn. Pilings from an old pier remain along the shore; it wouldn’t take much to repurpose a part of the lot as a put-in for paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks, with some seasonal storage.
It may require coordination with the state, but as the striving crews of the Saugatuck Rowing Club and the enterprising folks at Downunder can attest, the river is prime territory for today’s waterborne pursuits (at least when the tide’s right).
The town should bolster access to the Saugatuck for recreational fun. I’m pleased to see that the small park on Riverside Avenue near the VFW has been spruced up, though parking remains an issue. That pocket park could, with the Town’s support, be another fun new spot from which to explore a pretty stretch of the river.
Scott Smith suggests the small park on Riverside Avenue as another kayak launch site.
Excuse the rant. But once you’ve enjoyed the views and sport of Westport from the water’s edge, you want more.
And I don’t see why taxpaying town residents should have to wait 3 years to have reasonable access to it.
I asked Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department for a comment. They replied:
As the kayak facility is a popular and relatively inexpensive activity, demand exceeds supply. Therefore, there’s a wait list. It ranges between 1 and 3 years, depending on activity and turnover rate. Last year, 57 kayak positions turned over.
Short of building more racks (which we did about 8 years ago), the trend will continue with a 1 to 3-year wait. We currently have 58 on the wait list for the 192 kayak positions at Compo and 30 at Longshore.
Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh added:
We are putting together a site plan for Longshore, and will look to add kayak spaces there. We can also see if there is a more efficient way to design and stack kayaks at Compo.
I believe that we understand the problem. Unfortunately there is not a solution for this summer. In a way it is a good problem: more demand than supply. We will get on it.
Westporters are used to seeing our town pop up in stories about things to do and see in the tri-state area.
But WCVB-TV — a Boston station whose viewers usually head to places like Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Lake Winnipesaukee — featured us in its recent “A Tank Away” series on cool spots to see.
Like a teenager, we’re always concerned with what other people think of us. Here’s how we look on Boston TV.
Westport, it seems, is a place with “celebrity status, elegant neighborhoods and an expensive [or ‘expansive’] public beach, the arts, and an immaculately groomed town center lined with restaurants and shops.”
Our “immaculately groomed town center.”
Our history is “very bohemian,” says interviewee (and Westport Historical Society director) Ramin Ganeshram.
Compo Beach and marina are a 29-acre “park.” Historical properties are “a-plenty.” The Historical Society itself is “a gathering place for the public.”
The Westport Country Playhouse gets a shout-out. So does Earthplace (with a tangent about chinchillas) and DownUnder (especially its “Paddle With Your Dog” program).
“Nature has a starring role” in Westport, Bostonians learn.
In his twin roles as RTM member and executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Matthew Mandell keeps his eye on the town.
He wants everyone to know what’s happening with redevelopment plans for Saugatuck — the RTM district he represents. Yesterday, he told constituents that the study committee will meet — without the consultants — this Tuesday (December 19, 8 a.m., Town Hall Room 201).
The public may attend, and will be given the option to speak. However, Mandell says, “It might take a bit to get to you. I think the committee will have a lot to talk about.”
He included a link to the Executive Summary (click here to read).
A map in the Executive Summary shows possible developments in Saugatuck.
Three days later — on December 22 — consultants will submit the draft report/plan to the town.
Mandell says, “Personally, I think this might be too quick, figuring there might be a whole slew of changes and requests from the committee. But hey, it’s a goal from the chairs.”
On January 11 (Town Hall, 8 a.m.), the committee and consultants will discuss the plan.
A public evening session is set for January 22 (7 p.m.).
The final draft will be submitted to the town on February 2. Three days later — 9 days before the deadline — it will be submitted to the state.
Mandell says there is one thing he has not seen: when the committee itself votes on the plan.
The previous redevelopment of Saugatuck brought a retail/residential complex that includes The Whelk, Saugatuck Sweets, Downunder and 20 apartments. It is separate from the new redevelopment plan.
That’s an apt name. In 2010 she quit her life running a successful publishing business, managing and producing travel sections for the New York Times and Boston Globe — with summers spent in the Hamptons, and winters snowboarding in Vermont — to take a long road trip across America.
She gave up her apartment. For nearly a year, she lived in a camper.
It was the first time she’d ever slowed down, and figured out what really mattered to her.
Diana Kuen, on the road.
The epochal journey helped her rejuvenate the right side of her brain. “It sat pretty dormant for years while I ran in the hamster wheel,” Kuen says.
In the summer of 2016 — still exploring new passions — she learned how to sew. She also took a Brooklyn screen printing workshop (“because, why the hell not?”).
Kuen became so excited, she formed a textile company making whimsical dish towels. Soon her creations were in 120 Camping World stores nationwide.
Faith and risk have carried her far. All the way, in fact, to Westport.
While living with her brother in Fairfield, she found the Saugatuck Rowing Club. She fell in love with the neighborhood and its people.
Now she lives nearby. She rides her bike to the club, where she coaches rowing. She teaches standup paddleboard and runs clambakes for Downunder.
She’s also got her own textile business — 2, actually. There’s DishRaggs, and a charitable brand extension called CharityRaggs. She gives part of her earnings to worthy organizations, including Autism Speaks, animal rights and rescue groups, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and Sandy Hook Promise.
“Each towel is a labor of love, a work of art, and a little piece of me,” Kuen says. “Think of DishRaggs the same way you might hang a framed picture on your wall.”
They’re fun and whimsical, with sayings, photos and logos.
And — because Kuen has just been here a few months, but loves “06880” (both the town and the blog) — there are a few special “06880” DishRaggs too. (With matching gift bag!) Each sale benefits this blog.
Diane Kuen’s “06880” towel.
From now through November 15, Kuen offers 20% off all full-price DishRaggs (CharityRaggs excluded).
Get your holiday shopping done early! Find the perfect hostess gift! Support “06880”!
Just click here for Kuen’s entire collection; click here for the “06880” items. At checkout, use the promo code “06880” (without the quotation marks).
The next time you see the way cool — and very generous — Diana Kuen, be sure to thank her.
Hundreds of Westporters — and many more out-of-towners — poured into the narrow streets of Saugatuck today.
They ambled along Riverside Avenue, Railroad Place and Saugatuck Avenue, enjoying our 3rd annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.
Food and drink was the main attraction. Over 25 restaurants and merchanats — including Viva’s, Mansion, Rainbow Thai, Craft Butchery, Saugatuck Sweets, The Duck, Chinese Takeout, Cuatros Hermanos — even 99 Bottles and Dunkin’ Donuts — offered treats.
But there was music too, ranging from School of Rock and folk to steel drums, along with stuff from hair salons, galleries and a tae kwan do place.
The weather was perfect. The vibe was cool.
And — because most people stayed off the roads — even the traffic was fine.
It was a fantastic slice of life, on a wonderful Sunday afternoon. With proceeds benefiting the Gillespie Center food pantry too, what’s not to like?
Tutti’s was one of many Saugatuck restaurants dishing out some of its most popular items. Lines formed instantly, and stayed long.
The plaza between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk rocked all afternoon long.
What’s a street festival without a bounce house? This one was in the Rizzuto’s lot.
Mr. Sausage showed up too, to help promote Saugatuck Craft Butchery’s carnivorous samples.
Downunder was busy all day, offering kayak and paddleboard rides. Nearby, boat owners tied up at the dock.
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