On Sunday, I left at 6:30 a.m. for a statewide soccer coaches’ meeting in Wethersfield.
First I snagged a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Then I hit CVS, for the New York Times. (I read it online 6 days a week. For some reason, I still buy the dead-trees Sunday edition.)
It was early, so the woman behind the Dunkin’ register and the guy at CVS barely registered with me.
But as I drove north, I realized: They must have gotten up very early. They traveled here from wherever they lived (probably not Westport). They did all kinds of prep work. They served me efficiently and a smile, even though I scarcely made eye contact.
And they do that every single day.
Coffee with a smile!
I don’t know the name of the Dunkin’ woman, or the man at CVS. But I do know that they — and many others like them, at Starbuckses, gas stations, and plenty of other places around town — make our mornings much more tolerable.
So the next time you buy a coffee, bagel, newspaper, or anything else — especially if the sun is not yet up — thank the man or woman who hands it to you.
I know I will.
(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the span of 12 hours last week, 2 alert readers emailed several shots of local signs.
In typical Westport fashion, they’re poles apart.
A woman named Victoria is not a big fan of the signs that have sprouted at Bridge Square.
I know there was some concern when Dunkin’ Donuts moved in and had their flags. That was nothing compared with the eyesore that is on the corner now.
We are big fans of the new restaurants that have moved in and wish them lots of success, but hope they can modify their Pepsi advertising signage and their massive white board which seems more appropriate for a Holiday Inn conference. Do any local laws govern signage such as this?
A couple of miles away — geographically and philosophically — there’s Lloyd Allen. The owner of Double L Farm Stand is a big fan of creative, eye-catching and hand-made signs.
However, he says, the recent P&Z “clean sweep” of Post Road signs has forced him to remove some of his own. Right now they rest in front of his store — not, more visibly, nailed to nearby trees.
“The town takes its signs seriously,” he notes. But, he says — tongue only slightly in cheek — “If my sign said ‘Vote Grass Fed!’ that would be okay.
“Or ‘Still Lost: Free Range Chickens.”
Meanwhile, “the biggest signs of all are the ones that say ‘Space Available’ up and down the Post Road.”
“Count them,” Lloyd says, referring to the legal “For Rent” signs. “Go figure the logic behind it all.
“Of course, businesses can pay $80 for a minuscule chalk board sign that’s unreadable form a car going the posted speed limit.”
Lloyd believes each establishment should be allowed one sign. “Better that,” he says, “than going out of business.”
After which your landlord can put up a big, ginormous sign. Saying “Space Available.”
In the winter of 1997, Yvonne Dougherty rose early every morning to drive her son Peyton to Staples swim team practice.
On the way back she’d stop by Juba’s — the coffee shop in Peter’s Bridge Market, near her home — for a jolt of caffeine to start the day.
Then she got a job there. It paid $7.50 an hour — but she quickly fell in love with the coffee business.
On September 11, 2000 she took over Juba’s lease. For an investment of just a few thousand dollars, she had a steady business. She took in $900 a day, with virtually no overhead.
Three and a half years later, the new owners of Peter’s Bridge “threw me out,” she says.
In less than a month, she opened a new place in a former boating just across Riverside Avenue.
Yvonne called it Doc’s, in honor of her last name — pronounced “Dockerty.”
Yvonne Dougherty, outside Doc's.
Her landlord — Sam Gault — was “phenomenal,” she says. He kept her rent low, and helped any way he could. He told her she could probably stay for 2 or 3 years.
Yvonne spent plenty of money — $250,000, she estimates — complying with town regulations. She had to change the parking lot, and put in a sidewalk.
But customers — including, importantly, many commuters — loved Doc’s. For much of the decade, she averaged $1,500 a day.
Then the economy tanked. Starting in the fall of 2008, business tailed off precipitously. The opening of a similar place — Cocoa Michelle — closer to the train station may also have hurt.
A year ago, construction began on the Saugatuck redevelopment project. Winter — always slow — was particularly harsh. Between road closures on Riverside Avenue, bad weather that kept people home, and uncertainty about whether Doc’s would stay open, business dropped 30 to 40 percent.
(Interestingly, Yvonne says, the new Dunkin’ Donuts at the site of the old Juba’s had no effect.)
Doc’s owner second-guesses herself for many of her problems.
“Even though I have an MBA from the University of Virgina — back in the Stone Age — I didn’t have a clue to market Doc’s. Or even brand it,” she says.
“I missed the opportunity to be on the web. And I could have rented out this place for parties more than I did.”
Yvonne adds, “When someone walks in your shop, they have to know what you’re selling. I’ve got lots of tchotchkes here, but I think they distract people. Some of my charm came back to bite me in the butt.”
Starbucks, she says, “may be sterile and boring. But you know what they’re selling.”
Doc’s “would have been far more successful if I’d known I was going to be here for 8 years,” Yvonne says. “I would have put in a kitchen. I would have designed everything much better.”
With close to 2,000 square feet — 10 times her space at Juba’s — she says, “It was probably too much.”
Yvonne adds, “I was a one-woman show. I learned you have to work on your business, not in it.”
The 2nd phase of Saugatuck’s redevelopment starts soon. A retail/residential/office mix will replace the buildings in and around Ketchum Street — including Yvonne’s.
Doc’s last day is November 12.
“I wish I had a plan for what’s next,” Yvonne says. She’s found a potential location in Southport — but she needs a partner.
Perhaps, she says, she can open Doc’s as a smaller space inside existing stores — the way she started, with Juba’s inside Peter’s Bridge.
But Peter’s Bridge is gone, and Yvonne can’t think of any other place in town that make sense. “That’s my challenge — to find something that works,” she says.
She will miss her customers. Many have been very loyal.
“I see people in town, and I think, ‘that’s a medium latte,” she says. “That’s a pretty bizarre skill.”
Meanwhile, the clock ticks for Doc’s.
“I’ve got to figure out something soon,” Yvonne says.
“06880” reader Wendy Pieper was in Saugatuck the other day. She did not like what she saw.
We stopped at the light at Peter’s Corner in Saugatuck. (I call it that because Peter’s Market sat at this location for what seemed like forever.)
I’m not sure I would have seen the atrocity if we weren’t stopped for that brief moment, but I glanced up and saw the familiar logo that graces every mile (or less) up and down the Post Road: Dunkin’ Donuts.
I couldn’t believe it. My heart stopped — it literally missed a beat. I was overcome by that feeling you get when you learn someone has died. There were no words; just open-mouth gasping.
I can’t believe Dunkin’ Donuts is in Saugatuck.
My husband and I rented a cottage on Riverside Avenue when we were first married. A quick walk to the train, Viva’s, Peter’s Bridge, Mansion Clam House, the Duck, Desi’s corner, the post office, Depot Liquor, DeRosa’s, etc. What more could you need?
Not a Dunkin’ Donuts, that’s for sure!
There was a charming quality to the Saugatuck area — and there still is, hidden there waiting to blossom again. There is a heart and soul, a feeling of community. It’s something different than downtown, sorta fishy, sorta quirky, definitely a real feel of the river. The last bits of old Westport are there.
We’ve given up so much of this town. Do we have to sacrifice the last parts? Do we really need another faceless, nameless shop? When you’re in a Dunkin’ Donuts you could be in a mall, a truck stop, an airport — a place of nothing, devoid of locale. Heartless.
I can’t tell you how many sandwiches, coffees and egg sandwiches I’ve grabbed from Peter’s. I took them to the beach, or escaped on a boat.
The old Mansion Clam House has a new neighbor.
This little enclave was a place to restock and revive. You’d see everyone there from town on their way to enjoy the beach or Longshore, or off to New York.
The parking lot was always crowded. All the proprietors knew your face. The deli people welcomed you. There was a community. You knew you were in Westport.
I spent a zillion hours at Juba’s (the old coffee spot in Peter’s) when my second daughter was born, trading stories and receiving encouragement from other moms. I assure you you will not find this at Dunkin’ Donuts.
I can’t believe the town approved this. McDonald’s and Arby’s received more scrutiny than this! Did someone get paid off? There was no prior notice, just another operation done under the cover of night — very cloak and dagger.
How is Doc’s going to survive? Don’t we want to see the success of the local businessman?
We deserve more in this town. For such an educated and eclectic group, we are sadly pacified with what is easy and common. Where is our spirit, our individuality? How could we have let this happen to another place? How can we give up Saugatuck to more of the same?
How could the owners of this property ignore the history and charm or Saugatuck? How could they be so short-sighted?
I am so saddened by this, as I’m sure many others are.
That was Wednesday. Wendy had a night to think about Dunkin’ Donuts’ coming to Saugatuck.
Yesterday morning, she was still upset. She wrote again:
I’m just so sad. Once a Dunkin’ Donuts or the like go in to a place, they never leave. You see abandoned stores everywhere, but somehow they manage to stay there with their stale coffee smell, chewy old bagels and napkins scattered on the sidewalk.
Will funky Doc's survive now that DD's has moved in?
It might be time to think of moving. I can’t believe I grew up here, spent every summer on this shore, chose to build my life here with my family, and slowly I watch the decay of town. I just don’t understand. I wish there was something to do. Is it greed?
I find myself in Fairfield more these days, because somehow they have managed to find a balance between the chains and the locals. I’m afraid Westport will soon look and feel like Westchester County. Maybe that’s what everyone wants, and I’m not the norm — my husband points that out to me often.
Am I living in a fantasy world? Too Pollyanna? I point out so many spots to my daughters, and preceding most comments is “There used to be this great place…”
Fill in the blank: Ship’s, Soup’s On, the movie theater. Even the strategic placement of Friendly’s in Playhouse Square was good — you could always find someone there after a movie.
Sorry to lament so early in the morning. Any solution? Is it too far gone?
This Dunkin’ Donuts seems to have put me over the edge. I know I will get over it, move on and and find something wonderful again in town that I love and that keeps me here.
But in the meantime I shall say a prayer that others may feel the same — that we may all try to hold on to our beautiful town, and all that makes it unique and special.
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