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Tag Archives: Main Street Westport CT
This was the scene last night on Main Street:
Today is “Black Friday.” Downtown should be bustling.
Merchants hope to see much more action every day between now and Christmas.
Every evening, too.
Like many communities, Hamburg, New York needed to resurrect its downtown.
One suggestion was to add a traffic lane to Main Street.
Nothing doing, said a number of Hamburgers.
Instead, a committee designed an alternative. They added 4 roundabouts — a deliberate attempt to slow traffic. They planted trees on sidewalks, and increased on-street parking. And they built “safety lanes,” where drivers could open doors without banging the new bike riders who also used them.
Crosswalks were built mid-block. Sidewalks were extended into the road.
“If you build a place for cars, it will be a gathering place for cars,” a village trustee (and ladies boutique owner) told The New York Times. “If it’s built for people, it will be a gathering place for people.”
Also important: inviting facades. Most storefronts now have large windows — “once a mainstay of Main Streets,” the Times says. Hamburg’s architectural design guidelines encourage 2-story buildings, “with stores at street level and housing above.”
At the same time, Hamburg focused on “doing small things for small businesses,” the town’s special-projects coordinator said. There are few national chain stores in town.
In five years, building permits rose fivefold. Property values more than doubled.
And there’s been a “burst of civic activity, including a movie-in-the-park night, a village-garden walk, a street-music festival, a progressive dinner called Hamburg Bites, and a soapbox derby.”
Westport is not Hamburg. We’re an affluent New York suburb. Hamburg is — in the New York Times‘ words — a Buffalo-area “Rust Belt village of 10,000 people (needing to) resurrect itself from a 30-year slide.”
Still, like Hamburg, Westport has a Main Street.
Like Hamburg, we’ve spent time talking about the past, present and future of that Main Street.
Pretty soon, we’ll come to a fork in our planning road.
It won’t hurt to have as many road maps to follow as we can.
Not to get all Chicken Little here, but shouldn’t Tuesday’s post — about the closing of Klaff’s — be a little worrisome to Westport?
The downtown lighting store — a Taylor Place anchor for at least 2 decades — is the latest victim of Hurricane Sandy. Though the showroom was not damaged, the stockroom and storage area downstairs were ruined. The store was closed for 2 weeks, and never recovered.
Meanwhile, on nearby Main Street, Chico’s and Sunglass Hut remain closed. It’s been over 5 months since the super-storm struck. And Sunglass Hut is on the far side of Main Street — away from the river.
Downtown Westport is far from dead. Paper Source and Steven Alan have moved into the 1st new building there since the Nixon administration, while the Westport Downtown Merchants Association — a clever, energetic group — brings life, creativity and human beings to that part of town.
And yet…and yet…what’s the future of Main Street? How much flooding can those low-lying streets and parking lots endure? The next time — and there will be a next time — how many more corporate headquarters will say “See ya?” Even before the next time, how many leases coming up for renewal will not be renewed?
Sandy flooded the Westport Y big-time. And the damage did not just come from the river roaring up the road. Water rose from underneath, flooding the Y’s electrical system and nearly delivering a knockout punch.
What will that mean for development of the new Bedford Square — and what will it do to the cost of that retail/residential/office complex?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do know that they haven’t been asked much, even as Main Street stores remain shuttered, and Klaff’s is ready to go.
And that lack of public discussion may be the biggest question mark of all.
UPDATE: As WestportNow pointed out yesterday, a 2nd Taylor Place business is also leaving. Chic Jolie, a women’s apparel store, will close on April 30, and reopen the next day in Fairfield’s Brick Walk. The store was in Westport for just 8 months, but flooded twice.
Some people might call opening a fitness center whose parking lot is shared with the Y a ballsy move.
Tom Baker calls it complementary.
Aspire Fitness — Tom’s new business on the top floor of Banana Republic (the entrance is in the back, off Elm Street) — is a “holistic studio.” He wants members to really know each other — and Tom promises that he and his staff will play an important role in members’ lives, helping them deal with stress, nutrition, even sleep routines.
The Y, he says, offers a different product.
“I’m a big supporter of the Y. It’s a great place,” he says.
“Aspire is a holistic, very personal service. Some people don’t want to be bothered — they just want to go somewhere, work out, and be done.”
Tom is no new-age newcomer to town. He spent part of his youth in Westport, and attended Staples for a while before his family moved to South America.
After college he worked in advertising, finance and real estate. But fitness and well-being were always passions. Tom was frustrated by the constant changes he saw in the field.
“People get really confused about health and wellness,” he says. “Every day there’s a different story about what to eat, or what not to eat. And a lot of fitness center trainers just don’t look out for you.”
That’s what Aspire aspires to. Tom plans 1-on-1 and group training, nutritional consultations — an approach tailored to each member’s needs.
He also wants Aspire to be community oriented. He plans events with downtown businesses like Lululemon. The Studio 44 dance center already occupies space next to Aspire; Tom hopes to partner with them in some way.
“I’m up for anything local,” Tom says. “Yoga, spinning studios, cycling places — I’m trying to step away from the feeling that we’re competitors. We can actually do unique events together, and introduce people to new places and things to do. Anything to make Westport more healthy, aware and active.”
Tom researched locations for a long time, before setting on his quasi-hometown. He thinks Westport is “on the verge of becoming a hip destination.” New construction on Church Lane, and the new Nike store on Main Street — he’s smack in between both — along with what he calls the P&Z’s “initiative to make downtown more vibrant” excite him.
“That’s my approach too,” Tom says.
Not a bad thing to aspire to.
(Aspire Fitness plans a soft opening early next week. A grand opening will take place after Labor Day.)
An alert “06880” reader passes along the news that Perfumerie Douglas will close all its U.S. stores, with Westport’s Main Street location shutting on Saturday, Sept. 18.
Blue Mercury is said to be moving into its space. Fortunately, it will fill downtown’s crying need for a makeup/skincare/spa place.
This information comes from the reader’s colleague, who heard it as she shopped at Douglas yesterday.
“Frankly,” the reader says, “I always found that store way too snooty for me.
She adds: “Perhaps the photo of the store providing air conditioning for all of downtown Westport through their open door this summer doomed them.”
That’s not exactly what “06880” had in mind when we urged Parfumerie Douglas to “close its doors.”
As we worry about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, how many of us think about our own waste here in Westport?
From 1 spot on Main Street today — with the temperature near 90 — I saw 4 stores with their doors wide open.
Air conditioning was on full blast — luring customers with the promise of a refreshing shopping experience, while wreaking havoc on the environment.
True, it’s not 2 million gallons a day. But it’s energy just the same.
“06880” is a blog by, for and about Westporters. But “Westporters” is a very broad concept.
Many folks who left long ago — even those who lived here only briefly — still consider themselves Westporters. A large number are avid “06880” fans.
One — a woman named Brenda — emailed me last weekend. She said:
I really enjoy this blog.
I spent my young years in Westport in the 1960’s, and have nostalgia for those days. I really miss it and dream about it. It seems so changed, but somehow the same in some ways.
I grew up off of Main Street and then on Bridge Street. It was almost magical, even though they seemed like plain ordinary neighborhoods. The spooky abandoned houses on our street, the embalming fluid factory at the end of our road gave us kids major nightmares! And the beach, Big Top hamburgers, all of it is etched in my memory.
The book signings at The Remarkable Bookshop, Rico’s Hair Salon on Main, Carrols, the Carousel toy shop — I really wish I had stayed in Westport for my teen to college years. I visited several times when I lived in NYC in my 20’s. It was changing then, but still so much the same.
I would love to move back with my husband, but does it in any way resemble the Westport in our day? The magic in my mind of Westport is perhaps unrealistic from all of the comments I’ve read about how much it has changed.
Thanks for all of these memories.
Brenda is not the 1st person to ask such a question. It’s a great one — and not easy to answer. Here’s my attempt, in an email back to her:
Thanks, Brenda — much appreciated. We definitely grew up in a magical time, and you’ve nailed many important memories, places and events.
So is Westport the same? Yes and no. Some nice old homes have been torn down. Places like Welch’s Hardware, Remarkable and Selective Eye — the stores that made downtown so memorable and homey — are long gone; the chains that replaced them have sucked the soul out of Main Street.
Kids don’t ride their bikes all over town; they don’t walk to school; they don’t play running bases at the end of cul-de-sacs.
BUT — you hoped this was coming — many newcomers are as involved in Westport as our parents were. They are intelligent, creative, hard-working, and just as dedicated to making this a true community as previous generations. They’re doing good things for others, and having a great time in the process.
Our school system is in tremendous shape. I know Staples best — and with a dynamic principal, an outstanding staff, superb facilities and a remarkable student body, this could be the “best” Staples has ever been (however you measure such a thing). That’s really saying something. From everything I see and hear the middle schools and elementary schools are also highly regarded, and in excellent shape.
Despite being overbuilt (and over-banked), Westport remains an incredibly beautiful town. As Longshore celebrates its 50th anniversary as a municipal park; Compo retains its grace and allure; trees grow, leaves turn and snow falls — this really is a special place.
You didn’t say where you live now. But if you’re close by, I hope you can get to the Westport Historical Society on Saturday, March 6. From 1-4 p.m. there’s a party celebrating a very cool map and exhibit of “Main Street Memories.” It’s dedicated to the downtown of the 1960s. You’ll enjoy looking back — but you can also see Westport’s present, and envision our future.
I hope that helps. Thanks again for writing. I’d love to see you on March 6 — and, soon after, as a neighbor.
That’s my 2 cents. But I’m just one guy. I invite other Westporters — wherever in the world you live — to toss in your own thoughts. Click the “Comments” tab at the top or bottom of this post.
Let’s give Brenda a piece of our Westport minds.
On Saturday, “06880” called out the never-ending, seldom-seen Main Street construction project directly in front of Westport Pizzeria.
This morning it was over. The fence is gone; the safety cones, removed.
The power of “06880”? Pure coincidence?
Who cares? Mel Mioli’s parking spots are back.