Tag Archives: Klein’s Department Store

It Was Ever Thus

Alert “06880” reader Ann Sheffer sent this along, from the “Exit 18” Facebook page. Lise Krieger wrote it for the Westport News. It could have been written in 2014. But the dateline was more than 20 years ago: March of 1994.

With the imminent closing of The Remarkable Book Shop, downtown Westport, as many of us knew it, is taking its final, dying breath. What used to be a unique town, filled with mom and pop stores, unusual gift and clothing shops, and family restaurants, has succumbed to the latest American disease: “malling.”

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (Photo/Westporters.com)

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop. It was on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.  (Photo/Westporters.com)

Newcomers and younger folks love the new Westport – and why wouldn’t they? It has every chic clothing store chain that dress-alikes love to patronize. It has coffee bistros. It is expensive. Its parking lots are packed with Volvos, Jeeps, and Range Rovers. Westport is the place to shop and be seen. The mall transformation will be complete when a roof is erected over the entire area.

For comfort, I want to blame this affliction on somebody. Is it the fault of the chain store operators for wanting to increase their bottom line? Is it the fault of the consumers who desperately need to conform fashionably? Is it the fault of town government which allows the transformation? Or is it the fault of store owners who sell out?

I guess no one is to blame, really. Main Street towns all over America are dying because they can’t compete with the shopping malls sprouting like chicken pox throughout their areas. Westport is simply staying in the race.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

I grew up in Weston and spent much of my childhood on Main Street. I hardly go there anymore unless I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding bitter, I hate the crowds, I hate the stores, I hate the entire atmosphere. Yes, nostalgia can be a powerful emotional force. I don’t want to accept Westport the way it is today; I want to remember it the way it used to be.

When my brothers and I were young, my mother shopped for our clothing basics at Greenberg’s Department Store. My brothers got their formal clothes up the Post Road at Paul Zabin’s, and I was outfitted for my party duds at Trudy Gary’s….

Often my father took me to town on Saturdays to keep him company while doing errands. I loved to visit my neighbor, Mr. Messex, who worked at Hartman’s Hardware Store. The worn wooden floor was always neatly swept, and the tools, hardware and garden equipment were always in place. The store smelled faintly of fertilizers and insect repellents. If Hartman’s was out of something we needed, my dad would visit its competitor, Welch’s, up the street.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

My father bought his office supplies at Klein’s and was a regular patron of the record section before Sally moved to her own place. We often perused the bookshelves that sat atop crooked, wooden floors at Remarkable, and Dorain’s Drug Store, recently gone from Main Street, was the only place we knew for our pharmacy needs. My father knew the names of all of the people who worked in these stores, giving the Saturday trips to town a social air, as well.

Before fueling up at the gas station where The Limited now stands, dad would take me to Bill’s Smoke Shop for a treat. We sat at the counter and ate ice cream sundaes, and then I looked at the comic book racks while my father read the paper.

One of our regular dinner stops was Westlake, a dimly lit Chinese restaurant. If we were lucky, we were seated next to a window overlooking Needle Park. That was the name given to the hangout for hippies, and it was therefore assumed, drug-users. It was Westport’s answer to the ’60s counter-culture, and always made for interesting people watching….

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

Main Street 1976. West Lake (left) had just closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

There was a musical instrument store around the corner from Main, and when Baskin-Robbins went in across the street, a night at the movies took on new meaning. While my mother usually shopped for groceries at the less costly Stop and Shop, Westport Food Center and Gristede’s were there for forgotten items.

At night the greatest place to go for a bottle of wine and some live folk music was Grass Roots, which shared a wall with its rowdier counterpart, Ye Olde Bridge Grille. My parents often ate at Chez Pierre, while my friends and I stopped at competing pizza parlors, the Westport Pizzeria and S & M—both of which are still there, thank God….

One of the saddest deaths in Westport was the closing of the Ice Cream Parlor. The big pink palace was special for my brothers and me, a place where we bought bags full of penny candy from the turn of the century candy shop, ate hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the ornately decorated parlor, and watched old 5-cent movies on the machines that hovered in the corner of the room.

The Ice Cream Parlor was a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of establishment that gave Westport its character. But it’s gone and soon its pink sister, The Remarkable Book Store, will be gone too. While the new Westport generation will have its Gap, J. Crew, and Banana Republic memories, mine will be of two pink ladies and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops.

Ice Cream Parlor

The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road not far from Main Street.


Sally’s Place To Close; A Westport Era To End

Sally White has been selling music on Main Street since 1956.

Sometime this summer, her song will finally end.

The beloved owner of Sally’s Place — the record/CD store where Keith Richards and Mary Travers shopped (and schmoozed) with Sally, and any other music lovers who wandered up the steps at 190 Main Street — is closing down.

She’s not sure when (probably later this summer). And she has no idea what she’ll do with the hundreds of posters, autographed photos and musical tchotchkes that line the way (maybe sell them?).

Sally White, standing underneath a photo of one of her all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra.

Sally White, standing underneath a photo of one of her all-time favorites: Frank Sinatra.

She does know, though, that she’ll leave a business she’s loved from her 1st day at Melody House, a few doors away, 57 years ago.

She also knows why she’s closing. The internet dragged too many customers away. The stagnant economy dragged business down further.

Sally’s Place has a niche in Westport that will never be replaced. I walked in this afternoon at the same time as another customer. She wanted a vinyl copy of “Rubber Soul.” Sally promised it would be in by Saturday.

When Melody House closed in the late ’50s, Stanley Klein offered her a job in his department store’s record section. Raising 2 sons alone, she said she could work only 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She also told him how much she needed to be paid. He hired her on the spot.

She worked there for more than 20 years. Her gentle nature, loving presence and encyclopedic knowledge of music influenced generations of Westporters — myself included.

Sally's Place is at 190 Main Street -- on the right, just past Avery Place.

Sally’s Place is at 190 Main Street — on the right, just past Avery Place.

When Klein’s record department closed in 1985, she decided to open her own store. Her brother-in-law wrote a business plan. She showed it to the president of Westport Bank & Trust.

He gave it right back. “We don’t need it,” he said. He trusted her word.

She offered her house as collateral. He refused. He was happy to back Sally’s Place without it.

It’s been an “amazing” 27 years, Sally says. “The bank, the record companies, my landlord — everyone has been fantastic.”

Especially her customers. “They make me feel special,” says Sally. “But I’m just doing what I love.”

Another customer this afternoon asked Sally for a turntable needle. She handed him a phone number. “This is the Needle Doctor,” she said. “He has everything.”

Sally’s musical roots run deep. She’s seen Frank Sinatra on stage. Also Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan were close friends. So are many customers who never played a note. All are bound by a love of music — and the treasure that is Sally.

Sally doing what she loves most: interacting with one customer. Another one browses in back.

Sally doing what she loves: interacting with a customer. Another browses in back.

“I’ve been working since I was 14,” Sally says. “I’ve been a part of this town for a long time. This is my heart and soul. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”

She’s survived as long as she has on special orders. Bluegrass compilations, rap, the “Roar of the Greasepaint” soundtrack — all are hand-written, in old-school logbooks. People find her from around the country.

She does not charge for mailing. “It’s my way of saying thanks,” she says.

As if on cue, a customer requested “old Polish-American polka music” for a wedding. She mentioned a composer. “S-t-u-r-r,” Sally spelled. “Right!” the woman said.

There is plenty of new vinyl -- and CDs, and random stuff, and musical knowledge -- at Sally's Place.

There is plenty of new vinyl — and CDs, random stuff, and musical knowledge — at Sally’s Place.

She does not stock Lady Gaga. “You can get that at Walmart for 10 bucks,” she says.

You can get it online, too — along with virtually everything Sally sells. Which is why she has written this message (by hand):

After 27 years of business I have decided to retire. The economy and internet sales have made it impossible for me to continue.

I thank you for your support, and hope you wish me well in retirement. I’ll miss you.

“Quick and easy,” she says. “I don’t need the schmaltz.”

But we need to say “thank you” to Sally White. Please hit “Comments” to share  your memories, or offer praise.

And then — whether you’re a longtime admirer, a former customer who faded away, or someone who always meant to stop by but never did — go see Sally.

She’ll be glad to see you.

And her broad, loving smile will make your day.

(Click here to read a previous post about Sally’s Westport Arts Center award.)

Back to the Basics: A Portrait of Sally White from Claire Bangser.


22 ½ Main Street

The recent “06880” post about the circa 1950s House of Morgan store on Main Street drew plenty of comments. One reader wondered about a “tenement” downtown, around that time. A few others chimed in with similar vague recollections.

I told the story years ago, in my Westport News “Woog’s World” column. Here it is again — slightly updated, for modern references.

The address for Bobby Q’s restaurant is now 42 Main Street, but for many years part of the property was numbered 22 ½. Accessible off the alley that leads now to the popular restaurant, 22 ½ Main Street was a large wooden apartment building filled with black men and women who worked in Westport homes and businesses.

Longtime white Westporters remember the residents as keeping very much to themselves, causing no controversy. One man called the rooms “immaculate.”

This is a Main Street photo from the 1970s or ’80s. The tenants of 22 1/2 Main Street lived behind where these buildings are now.

William “Billy” Dew, a black man who worked as a house cleaner and maintenance man, owned the property, and lived there with his invalid wife. He was a hard worker, and so were his tenants. They included Beulah Casey, her sister, and a Mrs. Wallace who worked at the Open Door Inn, located near where police headquarters now sit. Because the Open Door had accommodations for guests’ maids and chauffeurs, it was a popular after-work spot for the residents of 22 ½ Main Street.

James Burch, who for several decades owned and lived over the Commuter Shoe Repair Shop near the train station, also began his Westport life on Main Street.

Herman Smith came to Westport from Orangeburg (SC) State College in the early 1920s. He too lived at 22 ½ Main Street for a while, working 2 jobs as a waiter and sanitation man.

Herman married a college woman. Eventually they bought a home on Crescent Road, and became established Westporters. Mrs. Smith told the Westport Oral History Project that her family never felt any discrimination here. “The only trouble we had was making the down payment,” she laughed.

Another view, this one further north. The alley entrance to 22 1/2 Main Street, was just to the right of Klein’s. The Townly Restaurant is next to Klein’s.

But the Smiths’ long stay in Westport, and their involvement in civic affairs, seems unusual. Many residents of 22 ½ Main Street appear to have kept deliberately low profiles. They left early for work, returned late, and remained apart from town life as much as possible.

Many old-timers interviewed for this piece had few memories of the downtown blacks. Eleanor Street worked as a librarian for many years across the street from 22 ½ Main, but could barely recall the tenants. She did note that the boys and girls came upstairs to her 2nd floor children’s library while their parents worked.

Other longtime residents had similar vague recollections of their 1 or 2 black classmates. All say they were treated well, with no apparent rancor.

But one veteran Westporter had a much clearer vision of 22 ½ Main Street. Dan Bradley, a retired attorney with over 50 years of Fire Department service, fought a fierce blaze there “sometime around 1950.”

There was a church in the basement of the apartment building, Bradley recalled, with a piano and chairs. One cold winter night the place burned.

“The scuttlebutt was that someone dropped a firebomb through a basement window,” he said. Nothing was ever proved.

“The fire got off to a heavy start, and the place was all in flames by the time we got there,” he said. “It burned everyone right out.”

Firefighters rescued the invalid Mrs. Dew, and there were no casualties.

When the fire was out Bradley entered the building, and searched every room. “I’ve been under a number of beds in Westport,” he said, “and those rooms were the cleanest I’ve ever seen. They were immaculate.”

A view across Main Street, from the pedestrian walkway to Onion Alley (now Bobby Q’s). That “alley” once served as an entryway to 22 1/2 Main Street.

The apartments were never rebuilt, and Bradley does not know what became of the 20 or so tenants. “I guess they relocated to Norwalk or somewhere,” he said.

“They were a good bunch of people. There was very little trouble there.”

The Townly Restaurant took over the site; a bar was built in the old alleyway. “People sat there and talked about the fire,” Bradley said.

The Townly Restaurant was later destroyed in a fire too. Henry Klein bought the property, and expanded his small shop into a department store. Decades later it closed; Banana Republic moved in.

No photographic evidence seems to exist of 22 ½ Main Street, or of the black men, women and children who lived there for at least 3 decades. A call to the Westport Historical Society turned up nothing, and a search of the Westport Public Library newspaper, photo and memorabilia files proved equally fruitless.

You won’t even find anything in Westport: A Special Place, Eve Potts and Howard Munce’s lovingly compiled, exhaustively researched photographic history of town. In fact, an examination of the book’s 200 illustrations turns up just 1 black face: a school picture of a girl in a mutton-sleeves coat, standing far apart from her classmates.

The only black child in this undated Westport school photo stands apart from her classmates, on the far right.

But photographs don’t always tell the full story. And perhaps their invisibility says more about the relationship between the residents of 22 ½ Main Street and Westport than any picture ever could.

Revisiting Main Street’s Memories

The cover painting on the brochure announcing “Main Street Memories 1960” is lovely, quaint — and historically inaccurate.

It shows cars creeping north, from the Y past Klein’s and Oscar’s.  In 1960, Main Street traffic flowed both ways.

But I’m sure the rest of the Westport Historical Society show — which opens next Saturday (March 6) with a party from 1-4 p.m. — is both accurate and compelling.

Main Street, from the 1962 Staples yearbook. Klein's is now Banana Republic (and more than 1 floor); the Townly Restaurant just beyond it burned down, and the Mobil station in the distance is Vineyard Vines. Note the stoplight and 2-way traffic.

Susan Malloy — a long-time resident and philanthropist — has created a lively 4-color map.  It depicts a downtown Westport filled with locally owned shops and restaurants.  The map is spiced with quotes from people who remember that time fondly.

Susan will be at Saturday’s party.  Guests — which the WHS hopes will include newcomers as well as old fogeys timers — can chat about yesterday and today, and put their thoughts down in a special book.

In the meantime, to get the recollection juices flowing, here are a few names from the map:

Shilepsky’s Clothing
Country Gal
Rico Beauty Salon
Townley Restaurant
Tracy’s Menswear
Hartman’s Hardware
Oakes Automotive Service
Barnum Travel
Melody House Music
Dress Box
Westlake Restaurant
Swerdling’s Bakery
Welch’s Hardware
Westport Food Center
Greenberg’s Department Store
Economy Liquors
Ben Franklin Store
Pickwick Gift Shop
Isabel Eland Shop
Dorain’s Drugs
Town & Country Shoes
Charles Food Shop
Linen Closet
Bill’s Smoke Shop
Westport Hardware
Country Bazaar
Gristede Brothers Grocers

See you Saturday — right across from the Dress Box.

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (now Talbots). This shot is from after the 1960s -- the adjacent Record Hunter (left side of building) has already closed, and the cars look relatively modern.