Tag Archives: Economy

Stimulus Studies

Will the government’s $787 billion stimulus package actually work?  Who knows?

Actually, 5 Staples students do.

They’re the school’s Moody’s Mega Math Challenge team.  Last month they spent 14 perfectly good Saturday hours devising the answer to a question that has bedeviled Nobel Prize-winning economists, politicians of all stripes, and ordinary human beings like you and me.

Moody's Mega Math Challengers (from left) Naveen Murali, Justin Sherman, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman and Kyle Beatty. (Photo courtesy of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

Moody's Mega Math Challengers (from left) Naveen Murali, Justin Sherman, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman and Kyle Beatty. (Photo courtesy of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)

Starting at 6:45 a.m., the Stapleites — Kyle Beatty, Jonathan Choi, Jason Gandelman, Naveen Murali and Justin Sherman — used mathematical models, reams of research and their own wits and creativity to examine the stimulus from every conceivable angle. 

By nightfall, they had their answer.

Only 2.6 million jobs will be created or saved, they said — short of the 3 million goal. 

A 2nd stimulus plan may be needed, they noted.  The best multiplier effect involves infrastructure projects; that would cost another $100 billion.  If the 2nd plan ceneters on tax cuts, it could reach $180 billion.

Naveen and Kyle explained all this yesterday to WSHU‘s Mark Herz, patiently and clearly.  Listening, I felt confident and assured.  Not about the current economy, mind you — but about the leaders of tomorrow we’re producing today.

And if the Board of Education hires these guys as financial consultants, I’ll really sleep soundly.

Real Estate Reality

Realtors are hard-wired for upbeatness.  And Karen Scott is among the cheeriest of the cheery realtors I know.

But when I asked recently for her assessment of the current market, she did not bubble nonsensically.

Karen Scott realtor“We’re in unprecedented times, especially for Westporters,” she said.  “This is a marketplace people never expected, or thought would happen.”

Yet, she noted, “there is life — especially in the last couple of weeks.”

Karen  — who’s with KMS Partners of Coldwell Banker — added:  “There are opportunities to be had.  If you’re a buyer with a job, good credit and money for a down payment, you can buy.”

The media has created fear, she said.  But there are mortgages available — though with more scrutiny than before, and perhaps a longer wait.

People still relocate, Karen said.  As they have for years, when they compare various towns Westport often seems desirable largely because of our schools.

“We worried that a very large budget cut would ruin our school system,” she continued.  “Cuts had to be made, but I thought it ended up okay.”

blog - Karen Scott2

This 6-bedroom, 6-bath, 5-fireplace property is NOT in the hot market segment of sub-$1 million homes.

The choice of inventory is greater than ever, Karen said.  One result:  Buyers have more time to pick and choose.  “Gone are the days when you had to make a decision by tomorrow, or it would be gone.  If you can get a great rate, a good deal and can stay a few years, this is a great time to buy.”

The hottest markets in Westport, she said, involve homes under $1 million, and first-time buyers.

Sellers, meanwhile, must price their properties below the competition for 2 reasons:  to attract buyers, and satisfy appraisers.  Some lenders now require 2 appraisals.

Karen said that realtors are “adjusting to a different way of doing business.  We have to exhibit enormous patience.  Buyers are all set to buy, then they read a scary headline and get all worried.”

However, compared to January, the “media hype and fear has subsided a lot.  Sellers have made adjustments, lenders are lending, and people are holding onto their jobs.”

Some observers think the bottom of the market has been reached.   Karen cautions:  “You never know the bottom until you see it in the rear-view mirror.”

Karen Scott loves her job.  “Business is still being conducted.  And real estate is still a fascinating topic — people are always talking about it.  Everyone has an opinion, or a story.”

Looking for a spot on Saugatuck Shores for under $1 million? Check out this $975,000 baby.

Looking for a spot on Saugatuck Shores for under $1 million? Check out this $975,000 baby.

Navigating The Storm

The spring forecast is stormy.  There will be continued turbulence, with dark clouds hovering overhead.

That’s the economic forecast — not the meteorological one.  Yet as Westport battens down the financial hatches, town leaders are doing their part to avoid a Hurricane Katrina-style social disaster.

This Saturday, several organizations band together to present “Navigating the Economic Storm.”  From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Westport Library’s McManus Room, panelists will discuss financial, family communication, and stress reduction and resiliency strategies.

Information on housing and banking issues; career resources (including training programs), and volunteer and recreation opportunities (for seniors, families and youths) will be available.

Barbara Butler

Barbara Butler

Barbara Butler, Westport’s human services director, says the forum is open to “all residents concerned about the economy, seniors and the newly impacted unemployed.”

Will Saturday’s event chase away the clouds?  No.

But will it bring a bit of sunshine into otherwise storm-tossed lives?  Let’s hope so.

(To register for the “Navigating the Economic Storm” event, call 203-291-4840.) 

(Sponsors include the Westport Library; Towns of Westport, Weston and Wilton; CT Works-Career Resources; St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Services; Postive Directions; Westport Weston Health District; Westport Weston Clergy Association, and United Way of Coastal Fairfield County.)

The First Of The Season

Westport CT McMansion

After a long winter of dormancy, McMansions are sprouting again around Westport.

The example above — prime new growth — was spotted on High Point Road.

No surer sign of spring — and a reawakening economy — can be found than the bursting forth of fresh large homes.

Quick:  tell Wall Street!

Rally In The Rain

A little rain did not deter a diverse crowd of Staples students from massing in front of Town Hall this afternoon.

The Stapleites — from all 4 grades, and groups ranging from Players to athletes to math team members — hoped to draw attention to what they call devastating effects of budget cuts on all aspects of Westport education.

Speakers included Jahari Dodd, an ABC House scholar who found a home at Staples 3,000 miles from his house in California; JJ Mathewson, a freshman organizer of the rally who left private school to attend Staples; Eric Wessan, a member of the school’s Young Republicans group, and a 7th grader looking ahead.

The group chanted “1.4 no more!” (in reference to the sum already cut from the education budget), sang “525,600 Minutes” (the “Rent” tune that asks “How do you measure a year?”) — and hoped their advocacy on behalf of their own schooling was heard by the people controlling the purse strings.

A diverse crowd gathers in front of Town Hall.

A diverse crowd gathers in front of Town Hall.

Junior Jahari  Dodd rallies the crowd

Junior Jahari Dodd rallies the crowd

Freshman JJ Mathewson talks with Rob Sullivan of the Minuteman.

Freshman JJ Mathewson talks with Rob Sullivan of the Minuteman.

A News12 reporter readies her stand-up report.

A News12 reporter readies her stand-up report.

Board of Ed member Jim Marpe, Staples principal John Dodig and Westport schools superintendent Elliott Landon observe the student rally.

Board of Ed member Jim Marpe, Staples principal John Dodig and Westport schools superintendent Elliott Landon observe the student rally.

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