Tag Archives: Main Street

Pics Of The Day #1071

 

Post Road East, 11:30 a.m., looking west …

… and east (Photos/Dan Woog)

Not far away, the Post Road … 

… and, a few hours later, Main Street (Photos/Katherine Bruan)

Main Street At An Inflection Point: An “06880” Call To Action

A recent “06880” post on the future of Main Street got readers thinking.

65 people commented. Thoughtfully, insightfully and civilly, they offered suggestions.

Your flood of reactions got me thinking.

As a native Westporter — someone who remembers the Remarkable Book Shop, Klein’s department store, the African Room, World Affairs Center, movie theaters, Mark’s Place music club, Oscar’s, Dorain’s Drug Store — I know the kind of life that can pulse on Main Street.

A classic 1960s Main Street photo.

But I also realize that we can’t simply wish for that kind of street again. The world is far different today.

For a long time, I thought a few tweaks would bring downtown back to life. I nodded as stakeholders assured me that once the flood-proofing and renovation projects were done, and empty storefronts filled up again, all would be well again.

After reading the comments, and talking to a broad array of sharp, committed Westporters, I no longer believe that’s true.

Main Street is no longer — and perhaps never again will be — our “main street.” It’s simply a short stretch off the Post Road near the Saugatuck River. It’s lined with commercial buildings, connecting one side of town with another.

To think of it as our “main street” is to live in the 20th century — or even the 19th.

Main Street — particularly the business district — is not very long. You can barely see it here, in Larry Untermeyer’s aerial shot.

But boy, does it have potential.

The problem is, “potential” implies re-imagining the future. And re-designing the present.

We can’t simply tweak the Post Road. We need to (almost) blow it up, and start again.

The possibilities are endless.

Main Street could be a car-less, pedestrian-friendly piazza/promenade lined with trees, tables and benches; upscale and family restaurants and cafes, including outside dining (with space heaters for winter); food carts and artists’ kiosks; independent businesses like a general store, bookstore and ice cream shop (joining the special Savvy + Grace-type places already there).

It could be filled with cultural and arts events; food festivals, and something at Christmas; music on weekends, plus waterfront access, with paddleboat and kayak rentals. In the winter, we could flood part of it for a skating rink.

And more: The Farmers’ Market could relocate there. We could add offices for non-profits, and co-working spaces. Apartments could be build on 2nd and 3rd floors.

This was Main Street, during the 2014 Art About Town festival.

Downtown is at an inflection point.

The decisions we make now are as important as the ones we made 70 years ago. That’s when town officials decided — and citizens agreed — to fill in the Saugatuck River, behind the stores on the west side of Main Street.

The result — a parking lot named for selectman Emerson Parker and Daybreak Nursery owner Evan Harding — may have been the right idea then.

But today we need a new downtown. And the change can’t be incremental. It must be big, bright and bold.

Bigger, brighter and bolder, even, than Parker Harding Plaza was then.

The time for consultants is past. They, and the Downtown Plan Implementation  Committee, have generated some good ideas. Now we must seize the initiative.

Who is “we”?

All of us. Everyone in Westport. We all have a stake in a vibrant, exciting, innovative, walkable, livable, enjoyable downtown. A downtown that will draw us all in again — and many others, from around the area.

Our town already offers so much: excellent schools, the transformed library, beaches, Longshore, Levitt Pavilion, Senior Center, Playhouse, Wakeman Town Farm, YMCA, Earthplace and tons more.

We often take these jewels for granted. For too long, we’ve taken the idea that Main Street “must” be a shopping-only street for granted too.

Look at the river. Look at Church Lane. Look at Main Street. Imagine the possibilities. (Drone photo by John Videler/Videler Photography)

I said it before: Downtown is at an inflection point. We have the opportunity to create something truly dynamic and visionary.

How do we do it?

Let’s start with a town meeting (of course, in the Library Forum). Let’s talk about the most exciting new Main Street we can imagine. Then let’s figure out how to make it happen.

Emerson Parker and Evan Harding were great civic volunteers. But look at their sorry legacy.

This is our chance to leave a legacy, for at least the next 70 years.

Who wants to step up and lead us forward?

Saving Main Street

Everyone talks about the empty storefronts on Main Street.

Evan Chevrier documented them.

The other day the 9-year Westport resident — a New York-based TV producer — went up and down the fabled artery, with a camera.

This is what he found:

“Most are quick to blame greedy landlords and their unsustainable rents,” he says. “And they may be right.

“But our only chance at saving Main Street is to take our fight to the people who can do something about it.

“Most building owners have no vested interest in the preservation of our downtown area. They only care about their bottom line. And for them an empty lot in Westport is barely a blip on the radar.

“It’s up to our town leadership to step up, and stop waiting around for things to get better on their own. And they need to do it before it’s too late, and Main Street becomes a ghost town.”

Thoughts? Is this a local government issue? Can town officials affect or impact landlords? Is there a citizen-oriented, out-of-the-box solution? Click “Comments” below.

3 Million Records — In Westport?

A few days ago, the New York Times ran a story about the Archive of Contemporary Music. The non-profit houses one of the world’s largest collections of popular music: over 3 million recordings, plus music books, memorabilia and press kids.

There are “shelves upon shelves upon shelves of vinyl records and CDs, signed Johnny Cash records… boxes of big band recordings, world music and jazz and original soundtracks.”

Keith Richards

It also holds the bulk of Keith Richards’ famed blues collection. (He’s on the board of advisers.)

But rising TriBeCa rents are forcing the mammoth collection elsewhere. They’ve got until June to find a new space.

Nile Rodgers —  the record producer and co-founder of the band Chic — is also on the Archive’s board.

Which raises an intriguing idea, first proposed by alert “06880” reader Jeff Mitchell. With those 2 luminaries so involved — and living in Westport and Weston, along with other great recording artists like Michael Bolton and Jose Feliciano, not to mention our long musical history of legendary concerts from Bo Diddley to the Doors; REO Speedwagon writing 157 Riverside about their time here; Johnny Winter and Joe Cocker recording and rehearsing in Westport — why not invite the Archive of Contemporary Music to set up shop here?

I’m (semi) serious. We already have a Museum of Contemporary Art (formerly the Westport Arts Center). a Westport Museum for History and Culture (most recently the Westport Historical Society), plus the Westport Country Playhouse (unchanged after 90 years). This would be one more cultural attraction.

Where would they go? That’s for wiser heads than mine to decide. But we do have an unused building sitting smack in the middle of Baron’s South.

And we keep talking about all those vacant stores on Main Street…

New home of the Archive of Contemporary Music? (Photos/Chip Stephens)

Entitled Parking: The Main (Street) Event

In nearly 11 years of posting photos of spectacularly selfish, jaw-droppingly self-centered, stupefyingly entitled drivers, I thought I’d seen everything.

Silly me.

On Monday, this person — I would not call him or her a “driver,” because that implies some sentience — landed his or her Jeep here:

This takes your breath away.

The person crossed the yellow line. The person stopped, going the wrong way against traffic — in a “No Parking” zone.

The person took the keys, opened the door, and left.

Without even the decency to park close to the curb!

Don’t believe me? Here’s another view.

(Photos/Dr. Edward Paul)

I would like to say that no one can top this. The bar has been set astronomically high.

But this is “06880.”

Someone will.

Friday Flashback #160

This photo is over 100 years old.

The buildings look different. So does the transportation. The trees are gone; the street is now paved.

But more than a century later, there’s no mistaking the gentle curve of Main Street, as it heads north toward Elm Street.

Some things never change.

(Photo courtesy of Mary Gai)

Dari Herman Has A Head For Business

It’s a First World problem, sure.

You’re running, biking, playing tennis or soccer. Your headband keeps slipping off your head.

Or — if it stays on — it gives you a headache.

That’s the dilemma Dari Herman faced.

Dari Herman and friend.

A lawyer in New York, Washington and Boston, she worked in TV, and handled NBA player endorsements for a sports agency.

She also volunteered for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Central Park, helping fundraising participants run half and full marathons.

But that pesky headband kept slipping off! There had to be a better way…

During lunch hour and on weekends, Dari headed to the Garment District. Through trial and error — and despite having no background in design or sewing — she finally created a no-slip, not-too-tight headband.

The secret: velvet lining, and an elastic outer piece.

Some of Sparkly Soul’s products.

Dari is a lawyer, so her next step was clear: filing for a patent. She got it.

She was not an entrepreneur. But she soon became one.

In 8 years, Sparkly Soul has grown big. The company produces all the Boston Marathon headbands for adidas, and the New York Marathon for New Balance.

 

Earlier this summer, they added a retail outlet.

In Westport.

A few years ago, Dari — who grew up in New York City — started looking for a place to expand. She and her husband (a Westchester chiropractor) wanted a place with a real community feel; somewhere they could get involved in daily life, and grow roots.

The Boston Marathon headband.

They looked all over: Boston, with its Marathon connection. Florida, where Dari provides headbands for runDisney races.

They weren’t sure where they’d end up. But, they told each other, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

“It” was Westport.

They looked at storefronts on Main Street. They ate at the Spotted Horse, and headed to Compo.

Everywhere in town, they felt the same vibe. “It’s beautiful,” Dari says. “But the people really make it. They’re as nice as the town. And there’s so much energy.”

She did notice empty storefronts. She does know that the future of retail is dicey.

But Dari is convinced that a company with roots in the community can thrive. “You have to have faith in your business, your product and yourself,” she says.

Dari and her husband moved to Westport 2 years ago. Sparkly Soul opened in early July — opposite (ironically) the now-closed Nike store.

Sparkly Soul’s new storefront.

Community response has borne out Dari’s faith. Word of mouth is strong. Customers love her headbands for men, women and kids. Sparkly Soul also sells sports and fashion accessories, and Westport-themed gear.

The Main Street space also includes her company office. Dari would like to bring her factory — now in New York — to this area too.

She wants Connecticut vendors too. Whatever helps our economy, she’s ready to try.

Westport-themed accessories, on display at Sparkly Soul.

Dari is a downtown booster. She’s attends merchants’ meetings, took part in the Sidewalk Sale, and looks forward to the Fine Arts Festival. She’s eager to host any kind of function in her store.

Dari is a runner (and triathlete) herself. She’s run 10 New York Marathons, and 2 in Boston.

In addition to feeling part of downtown, Dari has felt welcomed by Westport’s running community. She does the Roadrunner races every weekend, and made many friends through them.

If you see her on the road, just wave.

She’ll be the woman with the cool, fashionable — and no-slip — headband.

Music On Main Street

Annette Norton has a full-time job. She owns Savvy + Grace, the fun, funky gifts-and-more store underneath Tavern on Main.

But she spends plenty of time on a related project: bringing excitement back to all of Main Street.

Last month she brought an outdoor market to the parking lot behind her place. It rained — but the vendors and shoppers had a blast.

Madelyn Spera

Tomorrow, she’s arranged for live music out in front. Madelyn Spera is a young singer-songwriter who plays piano and guitar, acts in musical theater, and — though just a rising Staples High School freshman — has already performed at New York’s Bitter End.

She’ll be on Main Street from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Annette is working with the Youth Arts Forum — of which Madelyn is a member — to bring young talent downtown every Saturday.

Her landlord — Phil Teuscher — is very supportive. Like Annette, he understands the importance of fun — and music — on Main Street.

Pic Of The Day #771

After the Memorial Day parade, Little Leaguers own Main Street. (Photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

“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.