Tag Archives: Main Street

“Downtown Future” Forum Set

It’s a hot Westport topic, right alongside the future of Coleytown Middle School, bathrooms at South Beach, and ospreys.

“What’s up with downtown?” we ask.

We jabber about Main Street vacancies, online shopping, high rents and the new Norwalk mall.

We pine for the old mom-and-pop shops — or snort that those days are long gone.

Those were the days. Right?

The Coalition for Westport discusses that too. Members talk about attracting retailers like grocery and hardware stores, book shops and pharmacies; about 2nd-floor apartments; about a movie theater, cafes and other attractions that draw nighttime crowds.

To get a discussion going, the Coalition is sponsoring a forum. “Let’s Talk About Downtown and the  Future of Main Street” is set for next Monday (May 13, 7 p.m., 24 Elm Street — in Bedford Square, next to HSBC Bank 56 Church Lane, the Visual Brand office).

Panelists include Joseph McGee, Business Council of Fairfield County vice president for public policy and programs; David Kooris, deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, and a representative of the downtown business community.

All Westporters — and stakeholders — are invited.

The event is free.

So is the parking.

Pic Of The Day #725

Main Street construction, at the site of the old Onion Alley/Bobby Q’s (Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

Pic Of The Day #673

Downtown by drone (By John Videler/Videler Photography)

Friday Flashback #123

The other day, town arts curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz moved a Westport Public Art Collection painting from the Parks & Recreation office to Town Hall.

“Up by Daybreak Nursery” — done by noted Westport artist Howard Munce in 1989 — showed the weird Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street intersection, near Merritt Parkway Exit 42.

On the back, Kathie noticed a few interesting things:


The note on the left — written by Howard in December of 1999 — said:

In 1989 I came upon this scene and quickly went home for my camera.

The locale is at the convergence of Rt. 136 and Rt. 57 — just opposite the Daybreak Nursery.

When former 1st Selectman Bill Seiden saw it he said “Worst traffic situation in town.” Many agree.

Since this painting was done, the nursery has built and planted a mound on the small island that separate the two roads. Also, the Merritt Parkway entrance has been redesigned, causing greater complication at the corner.

Happy motoring. Howard Munce.

Equally fascinating were these “Street Beat” interviews from the December 2, 1999 Minuteman newspaper. The question was: “Which is the most dangerous intersection in Westport?”

On the left, Jim Izzo — owner of Crossroads Ace Hardware — described nearby Main Street and Canal Road. “There is an accident every 2 weeks or so, some kind of fender-bender or something,” he said.

Sid Goldstein nominated Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, because of its narrow turning lane onto Wilton (since improved), and “drivers stop too close to the yellow line on Route 33 heading south” (still an issue).

Nancy Roberts of Wilton said it was the very intersection that Munce had painted: “The merge is laid out so that it confuses people, and not everyone stops properly.”

Todd Woodard — a Tacos or What? employee — thought it was Post Road East, where Roseville and Hillspoint Roads were not aligned properly. Plus, he said, the “big dip” on Roseville makes it hard for visibility. Also the two restaurants’ driveways are poorly placed within the intersection.”

Finally, Chris Cullen — who worked in marketing — pointed to North Compo and the Post Road. “They should make a right turn lane” on North Compo, he said, “because traffic gets backed up very easily.”

Those comments were made 20 years ago. Many are still relevant today.

And probably will be in 2039, too.

Friday Flashback #122

Steve Baldwin took this picture in 1964, and posted it on Facebook:

He thinks it was for the Staples High School yearbook. But he doesn’t remember much else about it.

He has no idea why the “John F. Kennedy Library Hdqs.” sign hangs on Main Street, between Country Gal and the side entrance to the YMCA.

Perhaps, he thinks, it was to raise funds or interest in the library for the president, who had been killed a few months earlier. However, he’s not sure.

If you remember why this sign was there, click “Comments” below. Right now, it’s a Main Street mystery.

Friday Flashback #117

Today is Black Friday: the start of the holiday shopping season.

Merchants hope folks flock downtown, jamming Main Street to shop at the many chain stores and less numerous but very cool locally owned ones, then grab a bite at the few places left to eat.

If you want basics, you have to go elsewhere. But back in the day, Main Street was an actual “main street.” It was filled with grocery stores, drugstores, hardware stores: the lifeblood of any town.

Here are 2 photos, from years past.

3 Main Street, near the corner of the Post Road (then called State Street). The building looks the same today, though the tenant is long gone. (Photo courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

Another long-ago business — though the building next door looks almost the same.

Friday Flashback #114

Last weekend’s nor’easter brought flooding — again — to many parts of town. Main Street was spared this time.

Downtown was not so lucky last month, though. Torrential downpours on consecutive Tuesdays sent water pouring into stores on both side of the road.

Merchants and shoppers think these floods happen more frequently these days.

Perhaps.

But there’s no doubt that flooding on Main Street is not new.

Alert “06880” reader James Gray sent this photo. It was taken at 2 p.m. on August 31, 1954. Hurricane Carol had just roared through town. Packing winds of 110 miles an hour, it headed toward landfall in eastern Connecticut.

The sun was already out in Westport. But — in a ritual as unwelcome in 2018 as in 1954 — the cleanup had just begun.

Flooding Main Street With New Stores

It was a common refrain all summer, from former Westporters who returned to visit parents, attend high school reunions or just passed through: “What happened to Main Street?!”

They saw the butcher-papered storefronts. They noticed empty signs where national chains once stood. They found plenty of parking, but not much life.

Behind those grim facades though, another story is emerging.

Frequent flooding has taken a toll on downtown businesses. Chico’s, for example — and Sunglass Hut, across the street — were closed for at least 6 months after Hurricane Sandy. Both are now gone.

Main Street, a bit after the worst flooding from Hurricane Irene. This photo was taken exactly 7 years ago today: August 28, 2011.

High-tech gates offer a solution. Basements are filled with special concrete. Foundations are poured. The gates are stored off-site. But — with just a couple of days’ notice of impending bad weather — they can be trucked over, and clicked into place on both the Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza sides of buildings.

When the storm passes, the gates are removed.

It’s a new approach, resulting in fortress-like properties. A similar project is underway in Lower Manhattan, following Sandy’s destruction there. Closer to home, David Waldman flood-proofed Bedford Square as it was built.

But it’s expensive and labor-intensive. It takes several months for the concrete and foundation work to be done. And that’s after the long permitting process, involving a number of town bodies.

Plus, every Main Street landlord needs to be part of the project. If one store is not protected, water pours into adjacent properties through the walls.

But it’s a solution that landlords and merchants have worked on for months. Skip Lane — a 1979 Staples High School graduate who remembers downtown’s mom-and-pop days — is now a retail director for commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield. He works with Empire State Realty Trust, an enormous firm that owns the Empire State Building, along with a substantial portion of Main Street.

They’re in the midst of flood-proofing the now-empty stretch, from the former Chico’s to the old Ann Taylor.

Stores on Main Street frequently flood. This is the scene at Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Chip Stephens)

It’s not easy. Though they’re Empire’s buildings, for example, the town owns the sidewalks that are part of the project. Many other municipal obstacles slow the work too.

But it’s important. As Lane notes, landlords have gotten hammered for the vacancies on — and vacant look of — Main Street.

Lane says that commitments have already been made for key retailers to fill the former Nike, Allen Edmonds and Ann Taylor stores. Peloton is moving in to the old Sperry spot — and they’re flood-proofing too.

“Main Street is not as bad as it looks,” Lane adds. “But with all the construction, it will probably look that way for another 9 months.”

Meanwhile, downtown shoppers should not miss some real gems. Shops like Savvy + Grace and The Brownstone are open, thriving, and vivid reminders of the days when downtown pulsed with fun, unique (and locally owned) options.

Let’s hope they’re flooded soon.

With shoppers.

Savvy + Grace is on Main Street, underneath Tavern on Main. It’s one bright spot in Westport’s downtown retail scene.

Pic Of The Day #467

Keeping Main Street beautiful, early today. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer)

Good News: Peloton Pedals Down Main Street

After months in which big-name retailers fled downtown — Nike, Ann Taylor and Allen Edmonds, to name 3 — we’re about to score a big win.

Peloton is taking over the Sperry boat shoe store, just past Banana Republic on Main Street. They hope to open in early fall.

A peloton is the main bunch of bicyclists in a race. (Think of all those guys roaring 8 abreast down South Compo or Hillspoint, plowing past stop signs and forcing drivers into the other lane.)

But Peloton — the company — takes that group concept, and brings it into your home.

They sell stationary bikes. They’re sort of like the kind you find at a gym, or that sit unused in a corner of your house — but only in the sense that the Tour de France is like your 6-year-old on training wheels.

Peloton bikes are high-tech, and cutting edge. They’ve got big, bold interactive screens, through which you access “group” classes any time. You can track your performance through many different metrics.

There are tons of instructors — each with his or her own personality, all motivational. Just pick the one who suits your mood most, at the time.

All of this is streamed from a studio in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. (A 2nd tread studio, for treadmill work, is on Christopher Street.)

A Peloton bike

So why is Peloton coming to Westport?

They’ve got 33 retail outlets, in 16 states. That’s where you buy the bike, plus accessories like shoes and heart monitors. (You don’t need a helmet!)

Right now, the closest one is in the Westchester Mall. In fact, most Peloton stores are in malls.

So the fact that Peloton has chosen Main Street, rather than Norwalk’s shiny new GGP Mall, is big.

In a few months, we’ll welcome them to Westport.

Just drive on down.

Or ride your bike.