As downtown prepares for its Next Big Thing — Bedford Square, opening in the spring, will change completely the way we drive, walk and imagine the entire area — let’s look back on a previous version of Main Street.
Fred Cantor found this in the 1964 Staples High School yearbook.
It’s fascinating for several reasons. It shows:
The original location of Oscar’s
The old Mobil station (now Vineyard Vines)
Two-way traffic all the way to the Post Road.
A lot has changed in 52 years.
Then again, a lot hasn’t.
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In the 1st World, we don’t think much about water. (Unless — as happened recently in Flint and at Staples High School — it turns discolored.)
But Ben Goldstein does.
Since age 9, Ben — now a Staples senior — has raised money for charity. He’s earned awards from Autism Speaks, for bringing in more than $10,000 a year for 5 years.
As a sophomore — fascinated by business — he decided to start his own venture. He wanted to include a charitable component too.
That summer, Ben took a business course at Brown University. It spurred him to develop an idea, a name and a business plan. He chose Choice Water.
Ben spoke with industry professionals, bottlers, plastic manufacturers and deli owners. He learned all he could about the bottled water industry.
What makes Choice Water different from the bajillions of other water bottles out there is that — based on the label they choose — consumers can direct a portion of the purchase price to different charities. So far, Ben has lined up 2: Autism Speaks and Child Advocates of Southwest Connecticut.
Using the 99designs website, Ben found a woman in Indonesia to create his logo, and a man in Hungary to design the label.
Ben hit the pavement, talking with local deli and grocery store owners about refrigerator space. It’s not easy competing against Poland Spring and Coke. But Choice Water is on sale in all 4 Garelick & Herbs locations, Oscar’s, Gold’s, Fortuna’s and Village Bagels.
Ben Goldstein and Jim Eckl at Gold’s Delicatessen.
“Each store is different,” Ben says. “Competition is different, space is different, the clientele is different.” In one store he may compete against 1 brand of water; in another, 6. He’s learned to adapt his product’s presentation for each store.
Ben believes Choice Water is important because “it’s an easy way for people to do good, while doing something they were going to do anyway. If you have a choice between buying water that supports a local charity, or a bottle from a multi-billion-dollar company…”
In addition, Choice Water empowers consumers to pick exactly which charity they like. Ben hopes to have more choices soon, and more locations throughout Fairfield County.
Westport Sunrise Rotary has honored Ben for his work.
On the one hand, Westport teenagers always complain “there’s nothing to do here!”
On the other hand, they love to eat.
In an effort to convince hungry kids that there are things to do in Westport — like, go to a variety of local restaurants — the Youth Commission has created a Student Discount Partnership.
Working with the Downtown Merchants Association and Chamber of Commerce, commission members have signed nearly 30 restaurants (and 2 businesses: Suited.co and Lux Bond & Green). They offer 10% off for Staples, Weston High and Greens Farms Academy students presenting a school ID. Only 2 places said no.
Participating locations sport a sticker. The eye-catching Minuteman design was created by Staples senior Julia Schorr. Baker Graphics printed 70, for free.
The program began just a couple of weeks ago, with low-key publicity. But participation — and feedback — has been great. Oscar’s, for example, has seen a definite bump in business, from groups of teens.
Oscar’s owner Lee Papageorge gives thumb’s-up to the Youth Commission’s Student Discount Partnership.
A girl reported that she and her friends had a great time at Spotted Horse. They gave everyone a discount, even though a couple of kids forgot their student IDs.
Outside Spotted Horse, with student IDs from Staples, Weston and Greens Farms Academy.
“We wanted to concentrate on home-owned places, where kids could have an impact,” says Youth Commission member Reece Schachne, discussing why members selected restaurants instead of chain stores.
Publicity has come mainly through Instagram (“wycstudentdiscounts” is the handle). Youth Commission co-chair Kyle Ratner is helping coordinate an official launch this week, with announcements on the “Good Morning Staples” TV show, a story in the school newspaper Inklings, and the website westportyouthcommission.org (launching February 9).
You’re probably wondering: Why do Westport students need a discount for anything?
Lower prices are not the main aim, Reece and Kyle say. It’s more about making sure teenagers know they have plenty of things to do, and many places to do it, all around Westport.
Especially if it involves food.
(For more information, click here. Participants in the program include 323, Acqua, Angelina’s, Arezzo, Bartaco, Black Duck, Blue Lemon, Border Grill, Da Pietro’s, Finalmente, Freshii, Garelick & Herbs, Jeera Little Thai Kitchen, Joe’s Pizza, Lux Bond & Green, Mumbai Times, Oscar’s, Planet Pizza, Rizzuto’s, Señor Salsa, SoNo Baking Company, Spotted Horse, Suited.Co, Sweet Frog, The Boathouse, Tutti’s, Villa del Sol, Viva Zapata and Westport Pizzeria. Any restaurant or business interested in joining the program should email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)
iFloat is a downtown oasis of relaxation and rejuvenation.
Last year, owner David Conneely thought of putting up decorations to brighten the drab Main Street scene. But he was too busy — that’s what happens when you run a business that helps people slow down — so it never happened.
This year, he lit some candles. He wasn’t satisfied, but it was a start.
Yesterday, he read an “06880” post about another dismal, decorations-less downtown holiday season.
This morning — as in, 2 a.m. — David was hard at work adding color to the iFloat windows above Oscar’s.
He’s proud of his work. And, he notes, he bought the lights locally. So he looks forward to bringing his receipt to the Spotted Horse, for a free dessert.
The view from inside, looking toward Tavern on Main.
David Conneely owns iFloat. For the past year and a half, the “float therapy” center above Oscar’s has relieved stress, rejuvenated bodies, and earned thousands of grateful followers.
But now David is stressed out. Construction at Madewell — a new women’s store downstairs — has brought noise and disruption. It’s the antithesis of the iFloat experience — and it may drive iFloat out.
On Friday, David sent this email to 2,000 loyal customers:
(Since we opened), we have seen thousands of people eliminate stress, pain, and find solutions to great challenges in their life through floating. We are honored to be partnering with all of you on the path of helping people slow down and enhance their lives and the community.
Floating in Westport.
Unfortunately, we have a new neighbor downstairs. Coach left and Madewell (a J. Crew store) moved in. iFloat had to be closed for countless hours during 10 weeks of construction in May, June, and July. We’ve also had to battle with construction people as they came in during hours they were not supposed to be there. It has been disruptive to the iFloat community. There have been times when people call saying, “Please, I need to get in.” The cost to our community has been staggering.
Madewell opened 2 weeks ago. No one told us they were going to be removing the sheet rock ceiling that separated iFloat from the store below. It is now gone and the sound is coming up into the float chambers….
Andrew Shinn and David Conneely, owners of iFloat.
…Given the changes taking place in our building, I do not see how this location can be conducive to peaceful floating.
We are more than just a place where people float. We care about this community. During Hurricane Sandy, we opened our home to our clients. We opened iFloat as a place to hang out and take showers. During the Newtown incident, we gave complimentary floats to people affected by the incident. People used our services. We saw the impact iFloat has had on people. We do events and give back to non-profit organizations through financial donations, float donations, and through our time.
We believe in an iFloat that is peaceful and tranquil. We believe in an iFloat where people slow down, look within, and find solutions to the challenges in their lives. We believe in an iFloat that makes a difference in the local community and beyond.
We at iFloat are not sure how best to proceed, but we are open to lots of suggestions at this point…. iFloat needs your help.
I asked David — a calm, quiet and reasonable man — for some more details. He said that when Coach was underneath iFloat, there was occasional noise — but it was never an issue.
He says that neither his landlord nor J. Crew thought about how the new store would affect the business above it. David Abelow — a Westport resident, iFloat member and architect who builds music production studios in New York — did some adjustments to Madewell’s sound system, taking out the bass.
That worked — a bit. But iFloat members kept hearing music, people talking, and phones ringing. David closed off 2 of his chambers, and used the 2 that were least noisy.
A glass brain sits in the iFloat conference room — a soothing place, once upon a time.
Another iFloat customer reached out to an executive he knew at J. Crew. The response from the construction division was (paraphrased) “we know all about iFloat; we tried to help; they’re just not satisfied.” Further communications have given David the impression that this is not a high priority for J. Crew.
Meanwhile, David is exploring solutions, such as raising his floor and putting insulation underneath. That’s costly, though.
Bottom line: David says he’s a small business, and can’t wait for corporate tape to unravel. He closed for a while, to allow Madewell to do construction. He feels that his own good neighborliness is not being reciprocated.
Interestingly, there’s a page on Madewell’s website that talks about their “green committee.” The company wants to have a minimum impact on surrounding environments.
From the Peace Corps to teaching advanced biology to recent immigrant teenagers at the Brooklyn International School, David Conneely has spent his working life helping others grow and reach their potential.
Now he wants people to float in warm water in a dark, insulated private room. It’s a relaxing, rejuvenating experience — and one that, in its own way, encourages people to grow and reach their potential.
Floating in Westport.
David’s path to iFloat — on Main Street above Oscar’s, it’s the only 4-room float center east of Arizona — was an outgrowth of his own desire to understand how to harness the mind’s shifting patterns.
David first floated — in warm water with 1000 pounds of Epsom salt, no light and almost no sound; the incredibly relaxing experience calms the nervous system, amplifies slow brain waves that are the source of creativity and insight, and stimulates dopamine — about 5 years ago.
Inspired and enlightened, he bought a float tank for his own New York apartment. He taught workshops. Last summer, a colleague offered to invest, if David wanted to expand.
Andrew Shinn and David Conneely.
He loved teaching, but sensed the time was right to make a move. Andrew Shinn, his partner in a long-distance relationship, lived in Cambridge. They decided to open a float tank in Boston, and gave themselves a year to get ready.
Through Google, Andrew stumbled on iFloat, an existing business in Westport. Driving to Brooklyn to visit David, he stopped in.
No one was there. Andrew learned the former owner had basically abandoned it 2 months earlier. Two days from then, workers would rip out the float tanks, and turn it into a chiropractor’s office.
Lee Papageorge, Oscar’s owner and iFloat’s landlord, saw Andrew’s concern. Lee said the iFloat owner might sell his business to Andrew.
After poring over spreadsheets and talking with lawyers, David and Andrew made an offer. Nine months earlier than they expected — and 160 miles south — they owned a suite of float tanks.
They opened on January 8, part time. David took an early leave from his teaching job, and moved here in March. Andrew joined him in April. iFloat was now a full-time operation.
Though they did not choose Westport — “it chose us,” David says — the choice worked out well.
The owners have done plenty of community outreach. Artists receive 3 complimentary floats, in exchange for providing float-inspired works. Teachers, students, public employees and nurses get discounts.
A monthly wellness event (with free food and drinks) is a popular attraction. Courses and lectures on improving brain patterns and communication are good draws too.
David and Andrew love those crowds. But they also appreciate serving as sounding boards for people after their hour in the float tank.
A glass brain sits in the iFloat conference room.
“Things pop into your mind while you’re suspended there,” David explains. “You’re isolated from all stimuli. You just rest, reduce stress, and concentrate on healing your body and mind.” iFloat’s lounge (with tea) is a good place to re-acclimate.
As a long-time teacher, David enjoys educating Westporters about the float experience.
“We want this to be a place were people can come, slow down, reflect, and leave in a better state of mind.”
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