Tag Archives: Main Street

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.

[OPINION] Daybreak Traffic Pattern Won’t Work

RTM member Mark Friedman’s District 3 includes the former Daybreak property, where a new 9-home development has been proposed. He writes: 

I am in favor of smart development in Westport. However, with its horrific new traffic pattern, the proposed development at 500 Main Street is not smart.  Having attended P&Z meetings and spoken with dozens of Westporters about this proposal, I have concluded that the proposed new traffic pattern adds significant danger to the lives of residents but fails to benefit the town.

Given the wide discretion afforded the P&Z in considering applications for Special Permits, the additional hazards presented by the proposed new traffic pattern serve as a moral imperative to deny this application.

The developer’s proposed traffic pattern poses new and additional threats to public safety — at an intersection haunted by dozens of accidents over the last few years and given the lowest possible grade by the town’s traffic consultant: an F.

To this clear and present danger, the developer suggests adding a new road that connects Weston Road to Main Street, roughly parallel to Daybreak Lane.  In its current iteration, the new street would flow one way, southbound, from Weston Road to Main Street.

Unfortunately, this configuration would pose new safety issues on both Weston Road and Main Street.

Looking south on Weston Road. Easton Road is to the left; Main Street to the right. The proposed development is at the former Daybreak property, bordered by Weston Road and Main Street.

On Weston Road, the danger would be acute for those taking a left turn into the new road because cars accelerate in the other direction from the 4-way stop sign at Easton/Weston Roads.

The peril for cars exiting onto Main Street from the new throughway could be even greater when they try to turn left, towards town. This results from the blind corner and terrible sight lines for cars heading around the bend on Weston Road/Main Street.

An estimated 30,000 cars traverse this route daily at an average speed of 41 miles per hour; approximately half, or 15,000 cars, thus travel in excess of 41 mph, making the limited sight lines — and stopping distances — all the more perilous.

Moreover, cars exiting the proposed new road may have their own sight lines restricted further by northbound traffic on Main Street. A “no left turn” sign on the new road, while perhaps theoretically appealing, would likely be disregarded regularly, given the apparent convenience of a left turn when heading towards town.

Main Street, looking east at the Weston Road intersection.

Switching the flow of traffic to the opposite direction — which the developer originally contemplated — on the new proposed street creates new and different hazards.

There would be significant peril for cars turning left from the new street on to Weston Road, as there could be limited opportunities to enter this congested road Cars accelerating from the 4-way stop could t-bone a turning car.

The possibility of a car turning left inching onto Weston Road, thus backing up traffic to the 4-way stop and beyond, is high during peak traffic times.

Worse, if traffic flowed northbound on the new street, from Main Street towards Weston Road, then cars heading southbound on Main Street  that want to enter the new road would frequently have to come to a full stop on that busy thoroughfare — immediately after a blind turn with extremely limited sight lines.

In a best case scenario, this increases traffic dramatically. In a worst case scenario, the stopped car gets rear-ended by one of the 15,000 cars a day that travels in excess of 41 mph around this blind turn.

Cost benefit analysis requires that the P&Z reject this special permit, and they have wide discretion to do so.

In the fall elections, voters resoundingly demanded that the town address traffic and safety concerns.  Further, hundreds of residents have signed a petition protesting the traffic hazards that this proposed development presents with its new traffic pattern.

A 9-home development has been proposed for the former Daybreak Nursery property.

Town officials have a moral obligation to protect the health and safety of its citizens and a duty to listen to voters.

This is especially pertinent when the suggested benefits of a Special Permit application are so meager. The prospect of each Westport household “benefiting” from the 50 cents a month of incremental tax revenue this project might yield does nothing to change the calculation.

Nor does the suggestion that this proposed 55 and up development somehow qualifies as senior housing. While the town does need to consider senior housing alternatives, age 55 is hardly senior.  Moreover, the perils of the proposed new traffic pattern are especially significant for actual seniors.

Finally, given the current real estate slump and overabundance of houses on the market, adding new supply — especially high density housing that is out of character of its neighborhood — actually damages the finances of every homeowner in Westport.

As citizens, we all know that the intersection of Main Street, Easton and Weston Road presents a clear and present danger.  As a town, we cannot afford to approve a new traffic pattern that creates new perils.

Pic Of The Day #319

Recent Main Street scene: 9:45 a.m. (Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

Pic Of The Day #301

Main Street, in yesterday’s rain (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Weaving Through Westport’s Worst Intersection

In a town filled with traffic lights and stop signs, you’d think one of the busiest and most confusing intersections in town would be tightly regulated.

You’d be wrong.

The Weston Road/Easton Road/Main Street clusterf*** has long defied explanation. Despite traffic funneling from downtown, Cross Highway, the Coleytown area, Weston and the Merritt Parkway — and headed out in all those directions — the confusing, chaotic and dangerous area remains a transportation Wild West.

Quite a welcome to Westport, for those coming off the Merritt. Quite a potential death trap, for all of us.

Over the years, a variety of recommendations have been floated. They range from traffic lights everywhere, to an English/Massachusetts-style roundabout/rotary, to blowing the whole thing up and starting over. (Just kidding on the last one.) (Kind of.)

Recently, Facebook’s Westport Front Porch page has provided a place to discuss the intersection everyone loves to hate.

Jeff Mitchell used Google Earth View to explain his ideas for improvement. Now he’s shared them with “06880.”

First he showed the current situation:

To orient yourself: Weston Road near Cross Highway is at the lower right; Merritt Parkway Exit 42 is just off the top of the photo, in the upper left. Traffic coming from downtown on Main Street is at the lower left.

Next, Jeff offers Solution #1:

It would make the section of Main Street from near the Merritt to the merge by the old Daybreak Florist 1-way, headed toward town.

That would eliminate 2 hazardous merges — in front of Daybreak, and going to the Merritt — but would make life tough for people living on Wassell Lane.

It would also shunt more traffic into the Weston Road/Easton Road intersection. However, Jeff says, replacing the current blinking yellow light with a full stop light — perhaps for rush hour only — could move traffic more quickly to and from the Merritt.

Jeff’s 2nd solution is this:

It would convert all current merges to 3-way stops. This would eliminate all hazardous merges, while keeping Main Street 2-way.

There would be more “formal” stopping and starting — though perhaps no more than currently occurs, with hesitation over who goes when.

Solution #2 would involve construction, including possibly moving a utility pole.

Jeff met last weekend with Avi Kaner. The 2nd selectman had posted several other complex alternatives on Westport Front Porch. They’d been proposed by state engineers in the past. All would take eons to approve and construct — and may include the contentious taking of land by eminent domain.

Of course, these are state roads. It’s their decision what to do, and when.

“06880” readers: What do you think? Click “Comments” to weigh in on Jeff’s plans — or offer your own.

And if you like it just the way it is, we’d love to know why.

Pic Of The Day #22

Main Street at night (Photo by Katherine Bruan)

Another Main Street Women’s Store Closes

Chico’s is the latest women’s clothing chain store to depart Main Street.

A spokesperson said they’ll leave at the end of January. Their lease is up, and they chose not to renew.

In case you didn’t know, Chico’s offers “one-of-a-kind designs. Conversation starting jewelry. The most amazing service.”

At least, that’s what their website says.

chicos-main-street

Downtown Merchants Kick It Up A Notch

You may have noticed the signage downtown. Perhaps you saw the hanging baskets, the holiday snowflakes or the Christmas tree near Starbucks.

westport-dmaAll are part of recent initiatives by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association. Since welcoming new president Randy Herbertson this summer — and installing a fresh team including a marketing manager and events coordinator — the sometimes active, occasionally moribund, often ill-defined group has worked hard to make its mark on Main Street and nearby.

“We’re here to be the merchants’ advocate,” Herbertson — whose fulltime gig is running a Church Street multimidia design and promotion firm, The Visual Brand — says.

“We’re taking ourselves up a notch.”

The WDMA has addressed nagging issues like the Parker Harding dumpster — long a pig sty — with new enclosures and daily maintenance.

The organization has spoken with the Public Works and Parks & Recreation departments to ensure clear lines of responsibility for downtown upkeep.

Merchants are responsible for keeping their sidewalks clean. The WMDA is making sure they do it well.

Merchants are responsible for keeping their sidewalks clean. The WMDA is making sure they do it well.

Some of that sounds mundane. But small stuff pays off big time, in areas like public perception.

The WDMA has vowed to protect the new sidewalks. Each merchant is in charge of keeping them clean, but “everyone has different standards,” Herbertson notes. His group is working on a collaborative plan.

The Downtown Merchants Association may be best known for event sponsorship. Moving forward, Herbertson says, “We’ll try to focus on what matters most to merchants.”

The popular carriage rides, Santa visits and singing groups will continue this holiday season, for example. But the WMDA will offer gift wrapping and craft activities for children.

Plus this: valet parking.

It began on Friday, and continues every Saturday and Sunday through Christmas (plus Friday, December 23). The valet station is at the corner of Main and Elm Streets. Cost is $5 per car (plus optional tip).

Last year, horse-drawn carriages clomped throughout downtown.

Last year, horse-drawn carriages clomped throughout downtown.

The Fine Arts Festival may be relocated. The Blues, Views & BBQ Fest will be “better than ever,” Herbertson says.

A Fashion and Beauty Week is in the works. 80% of downtown merchants are involved in those fields, he explains.

The WMDA has just launched a new website. It offers more information on stores promotions and hours, along with a robust calendar.

Meanwhile, the merchants’ group is already looking ahead to next year. In 2017, Herbertson promises, the new trees on and around Main Street will be mature enough to decorate.