Peter Jennings’ family has been here for 11 generations.
Maxx Crowley — a 4th-generation Westporter — is, by comparison, a new arrival.
For years, the 2 families’ businesses have been friendly rivals — and sometimes partners — in the property management field.
Now they’ve joined forces. A recent merger created a new firm that offers a wide range of services — leasing, maintenance, bookkeeping and more — to commercial and residential owners from Westchester to Hartford.
But they’ll still concentrate on — and be headquartered in — Westport.
SCA Crowley trucks and team outside one of their properties: the 55 Greens Farms Road office complex.
After 28 yeas with the HK Group, Jennings started his own firm, Bayberry Property Management, in 2009. He eventually serviced, and served as a broker for, 80 buildings.
SCA Crowley — the business formed by Maxx’s father Steve — recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Steve started as a real estate broker, but soon realized that property owners wanted leaf removal, snow shoveling, landscaping, pothole fixing, painting and many other services.
COVID sparked a change in SCA’s real estate management. Homeowners moving from Manhattan and Brooklyn needed help learning about irrigation systems, hot water heaters and pools, and jobs like power-washing patios. The company — whose clients already included Playhouse Square, MoCA Westport, office buildings, medical centers and Homes with Hope facilities — expanded their residential property portfolio.
(From left): Bobby, Steve and Maxx Crowley.
SCA and Bayberry had been friendly for a while. They referred customers to each other’s services.
Now, Crowley says, their combined operations will be even more seamless.
The only change, Jennings adds, is the purchase of new logowear and business cards.
The new firm’s offices will be on Kings Highway North, near Main Street. Its trucks will be at Riverside Avenue.
Though properties extend from White Plains to Hartford, it will still be a “mom-and-pop” company.
Plus other family members.
Maxx Crowley works with his siblings Bobby and Judy. Jennings is joined by his sister Karen, daughter Katie, and sister-in-law Beth.
Both families will continue to contribute to Westport, in non-property management ways too. Steve Crowley is a longtime volunteer with many civic causes. Maxx Crowley is president of the Westport Downtown Association. Jennings is the Green’s Farms Congregational Church historian.
After 15 combined generations, the Jennings and Crowley family histories continue.
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Two years ago, in the early days of the pandemic, indoor dining was banned. Restaurants grew desperate.
Moving with unprecedented speed, town officials okayed outdoor dining in areas like Church Lane and Railroad Place.
It was such a hit, they allowed it again last summer.
Now it’s back for a third year. And it will continue for at least 2 more after that.
Outdoor dining on Church Lane. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Last week, the Planning & Zoning Commission voted 6-1 in favor of a text amendment that gives even more space to outdoor tables and chairs. The previous allotment was 25% of a restaurant’s indoor space. It’s now 75%.
Restaurants can also use a neighbor’s property, with permission.
The Board of Selectwomen gave their okay too. And rather than go through the process every year, they extended approval through 2024.
Maxx Crowley — president of the Westport Downtown Association — is thrilled.
“Church Lane is a key piece of downtown,” he says, referring to the short road that — closed to traffic — has turned into a street festival. Spotted Horse, Manna Toast and Pink Sumo serve al fresco; bands play, and everyone strolls.
Musicians play …
“There’s a real sense of community” when cars are banned, Crowley says. “There’s excitement and life, especially at night.”
And, Crowley notes, it’s not only restaurant owners who benefit. “People sit or walk, they see all the shops, and they want to go in and explore. Walkability is the key to retail.”
… and so do little kids. (Photo/Jordan Schur)
Church Lane’s closure will last through November 6.
Saugatuck — Westport’s “other” downtown — is another hot spot for outdoor dining. The Selectwomen approved the continued use of parking spots by Romanacci’s and Tarantino. Two nearby restaurants may also apply.
Outdoor dining is here to stay. It’s one of our town’s newest, and most popular, traditions.
Now all we need is the weather to enjoy it.
Romanacci’s outdoor dining, It’s since moved several yards east.
When Maxx Crowley left Westport for college, he figured he’d never return.
Less than a dozen years later, he’s the new president of the Westport Downtown Association. He replaces Randy Herbertson, who resigned after 6 years to chair the Downtown Plan Implementation Committee.
If Crowley’s name sounds familiar. it is. He’s vice president of SCA Crowley, the longtime commercial, residential and management real estate services firm.
It’s a family business he did not expect to be part of. After Long Lots Elementary, Bedford Middle School and Fairfield Prep, Crowley headed off to Loyola University in Baltimore.
Like many peers, he gravitated to New York for work (advertising, then real estate) and play. But, he realized, he missed Westport. “It’s a special place. I took it for granted,” he admits.
When COVID hit, New York’s real estate market ground to a halt. Westport’s, meanwhile, was on fire.
Joining his father Steve, and siblings Bobby and Judy, at the 40-year-old firm was a “perfect opportunity.” Moving here — and working at SCA’s Kings Highway North office, just off Main Street — made him realize how much he had missed.
Maxx Crowley (right) with (from left) his brother Bob Crowley and father Steve Crowley.
“My mom used to drag us to The Gap, and all the little stores. We’d have lunch at Onion Alley,” Crowley — now 29 years old — says. “Other times I’d ride my bike with my buddies to Starbucks and the library. My first date was at a restaurant downtown. My brother’s first job was at J. Crew. I always loved downtown.”
He knows there were years with “lots of vacancies. It lost some excitement, some of the mom-and-pop feel.”
But, Crowley says, downtown is in the midst of a major rebound. When Herbertson asked him to be part of the DMA — offering “a young perspective, and a fresh set of eyes” — he joined eagerly.
Crowley — who calls downtowns “the heartbeat” of a town — hopes to build on recent DMA initiatives like Westoberfest to make Westport’s a place people head to for fun.
Asked for a SWOT analysis of downtown, Crowley ticked off strengths: “attracting serious merchant talent; cool, fun stores; new restaurants — and being on the river is huge.”
Downtown offers shopping, entertainment, the Library — and solitude. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)
A weakness has been “not doing a good enough job connecting downtown with the rest of the town.” Riverside Avenue, Crowley says, has “incredible stores and restaurants. But it’s easily overlooked.”
One opportunity is “making the river a bigger center point. We can really tap into places like the Library, Levitt Pavilion and Remarkable Theater too.”
As for threats, Crowley cites the impact of online shopping, and the possibility that landlords might raise rents quickly in the future.
Returning to his “hearbeat” theme, the new DMA head wants Westport’s downtown to be a place where people “eat, meet and gather.” Recalling a trip to Italy — where entire towns gathered in a central square to watch World Cup matches on giant TV screens — Crowley envisions similar events here.
It’s what people want when they move here, he says. Though many want more space in Westport than in cities like New York, they miss having “everything you need on your block.” The desire to gather together is strong, he says.
So he’s excited about a variety of ideas. Bill Taibe wants to make Don Memo even more of an outdoor gathering spot. Fleet Feet’s Dave Wright has floated a road race from Compo Beach to downtown.
Dining at Don Memo, last summer. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)
And what about a barge/restaurant on the river? A water taxi connecting Compo, Longshore, Saugatuck and downtown?
Maxx Crowley is open to all that — and more. He says he has a strong board in place, and an excellent staff to implement new projects.
Everything and anything is on the table. The new Downtown Merchants Association president is ready for action — in a downtown he never thought he’d be part of again.
As 2020 began, downtown Westport looked bleak. Boarded-up storefronts, empty parking spots, questions about its very future — Main Street and environs were grim.
When COVID struck, downtown looked even bleaker. More stores closed. Fewer people strolled. The cancellation of big events like the Fine Arts Festival seemed like one final cruel blow.
Yet to the surprise of many, life sprouted amid all the real and metaphorical death.
GG & Joe opened in an out-of-the-way Parker Harding corner. Their acai bowls and pastries were instant hits.
Plywood and butcher block paper came down. New stores opened.
Two restaurants — Capuli and Basso — opened to rave reviews. Two bookstores — one new, one used — opened too, within days of each other. Two gelato shops announced their arrival. A highly regarded bakery will soon move in on Church Lane.
Capuli is one of several new restaurants opening downtown.
Counterintuitively, downtown has come back.
And no one is happier than Maxx Crowley.
He’s an unlikely champion for Main Street. He’s young (a 2010 graduate of Fairfield Prep). He worked in New York City, in advertising and real estate. He’s single. You wouldn’t figure him for a suburban guy.
But he comes from a storied family. His father Steve is the “S” in SCA Crowley, a residential and commercial real estate services firm. Since starting work in September with them, Maxx has jumped head first into the downtown renaissance. He’s already a co-vice president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.
Maxx Crowley (right) with (from left) his brother Bob Crowley and father Steve Crowley.
Despite his youth, Maxx remembers “exciting stores,” Onion Alley with its rooftop music, and mom-and-pop shops like Liquor Locker.
He recalls took when chain stores — even big names like Nike and Banana Republic — swooped in. “They took some of the character” of Main Street away, he admits.
COVID was “a weird perfect storm” for Westport, Maxx says.
“There was a lot of loss. People died. Businesses closed. Restaurants struggled.”
But the virus drove people out of New York. Westport welcomed a surge of newcomers. And people who already lived here — but spent 12 hours a day, 5 days a week working elsewhere — suddenly had time to focus on their town.
They walked. They biked. They picked up coffee and lunch, clothes and furniture in places they had never known about.
Landlords struggled. Rents — quite a bit north of $100 a square foot — took a significant hit. But some of those same landlords also realized this was a time for a re-set. They lowered rates, and looked for new tenants. And those were not always the same-old, same-old national brands that could be anywhere.
Some landlords lowered their rents, or accepted late payments. Some offered a few free months, or help with certain expenses.
It was not easy. COVID or not, landlords still have their own fixed costs: taxes, insurance, maintenance and more.
Downtown depends on foot traffic. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Commercial real estate is “a relationship business,” Maxx says. Relationships often extend far. When one landlord sees another succeeding, they want to be part of the action.
Downtown has many things going for it, Maxx says. One key element is walkability.
“I can park my car. I get my coffee at GG & Joe. I cross the street to Savvy + Grace. My kid” — he doesn’t have one, but you get the point — “goes next door to Brandy Melville.”
That’s not the case in other parts of town. Anyone wanting to cross from Stop & Shop to the cute Peggy’s Cottage Irish store across the street takes his life in his hands.
But the right business in the right spot can succeed anywhere. Maxx points to Terrain: “a beautiful, redeveloped place. No one minds driving there.”
Terrain attracts customers with intriguing displays.
He’s bullish on both Compo Shopping Center too. “Torrey (Brooks, the landlord) is phenomenal,” Maxx says. “He builds relationships with all his tenants.”
There are vacancies there right now. Maxx is hopeful that a “memorable store” comes into the spaces previously occupied by Olympia Sports and Compo Barber Shop.
He also thinks the shopping plaza at the foot of the Sherwood Island Connector — with Restore Cryotherapy, among others — has great visibility.
Further east on the Post Road, Maxx has mixed feelings about Amazon Go, the automated grocery store that’s the rumored replacement for Barnes & Noble.
“People will always want to talk to the butcher and the deli guy. But it’s exciting to see a brand like Amazon come to Westport. There aren’t many Amazon Gos on the East Coast.”
And at the Southport border, Maxx notes that the Home Goods shopping center always has solid occupancy.
The one piece missing from downtown Westport, he says is “experiential” places. He cites the lack of restaurants on Main Street (though a new one will at some point replace Tavern on Main). “In a perfect world,” Maxx adds, “the ice rink would move from Longshore. And music always brings people together. We might not have bars with bands anymore, but they played on Church Lane last summer. That was great. And what about a stage downtown?”
Westport’s Fine Arts Festival is an “experiential” event. It has moved back to Main Street, from Parker Harding Plaza.
He’d also like to see downtown connected, somehow, to Saugatuck. “So many great stores across the river don’t get the attention they deserve,” he says.
“Europe has pedestrian bridges. It’s a beautiful walk along the river. This isn’t Amsterdam. But a bridge or two couldn’t hurt. Can you imagine having dinner at Bartaco, then walking across a bridge — without traffic whizzing by — to have a gelato on Main Street. Then you window shop, and run into friends. That’s a real downtown.”
Meanwhile, Saugatuck itself is filled with “wonderful, local restaurants and markets and shops. Viva and the Duck are anchors. It’s very walkable. There will always be activity there.”
The “ultimate connection” to downtown, he believes, is Longshore and Compo. A restaurant at the beach — and a shuttle between there and downtown — would be “amazing.”
Though not yet 30, Maxx says he has “always” been excited about downtown. Now he sees newcomers getting excited too.
Jason Mudd of Cindy Raney & Co. realtors sends a Bloomberg statistic: This fall, Fairfield County had the fastest-rising real estate prices in the country.
Sales rose 80% in September county-wide from a year before. The median home price increased by 33%.
Westport saw a 72% rise in all sales, from January 1 through October 27, 2020, compared to the same time frame a year earlier. It was highest (135%) in the $2 million-plus price range.
Jason hears the same thing as realtors all over town: As quarantine cases increase, buyers (many from New York City) want more space — in their yards, and in their ability to work from home.
They want good schools for their children — and room for their kids to spread out, if they need to learn remotely.
Interestingly, open floor plans are not always the most popular. With families increasingly confined to their homes, “nooks and crannies” enable people to separate from family members for privacy.
Westport is attractive for many reasons, Jason says, beyond space and schools. There’s a vibrant restaurant scene. Plenty of shopping.
Another selling point: proximity to New York. Though the railroad station parking lot seems abandoned, the ease of hopping a train to the city is a big selling point for our town.
Plus it’s just a really pretty place, with tons of great people. But we already knew that.
Among the many people moving from New York to Westport (see above) is Maxx Crowley.
It’s a return home. His father Steve is the longtime owner of SCA Crowley Real Estate Services, and Maxx has joined the family business.
He’s also a new Westport Downtown Merchants Association board member. It did not take him long to help beautify Main Street and environs. He and his dad helped repurpose the summer barrels.
They’re also providing the holiday community tree. It goes up tomorrow, just outside Savvy + Grace.
Just in time for the holiday season: Good Deeds.
Westporter Bill Pecoriello launched the cashback app on Tuesday.
Good Deeds lets shoppers earn cash back while accessing their favorite brands and retailers, then automatically give some or all of those earnings as donations to the causes and nonprofits they care about.
Bill created the app after facing challenges raising funds for his nonprofit Sweet P Bakery, and The Porch to sell those baked goods. For more information, click here.
For 3 decades, ABC News correspondent and anchor Jay Schadler reported around the globe for “20/20,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline” and “World News Tonight.”
He hitchhiked 20,000 miles across America.
On Tuesday, December 8 (7 p.m.) he lands in Westport.
Virtually, anyway. The Westport Library and “Live at Lincoln Center” producer Andrew Wilk team up for this online presentation.
“I come not as a teacher or a guide, but as a fellow traveler who’s still somewhere between being lost and finding his way home,” Schadler says.
Wilk adds, “I worked with Jay when he anchored the National Geographic Channel. I developed great admiration for his talent as a storyteller. Storytelling is at the heart of what we do in television. There aren’t many in Jay’s league.”
And finally … On this day in November 19, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In just 271 words — at a time when the nation’s very existence was in doubt — the president reminded listeners of our highest ideals.
He concluded by urging “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
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