There’s no “Sing We Noel” processional this weekend. Alumni won’t throng the risers for the “Hallelujah Chorus.” All the little things — the beautiful music, zippy production number, even the large wreath hanging as a backdrop — are missing from this year’s Candlelight Concert.
But parents, friends and alumni — even the singers and musicians themselves — will feel the familiar goosebumps this Saturday (December 19, 7:30 p.m.), when a special livestream brings Candlelight to homes around the globe.
And if your home is in Westport, why not do something to help the town?
(Photo by Lynn U. Miller)
The Staples High School music department — which for 80 yeas has offered this gift to the town — has a great idea to make this home-for-the-holiday event extra special.
They suggest that everyone in Westport enjoy a takeout dinner this Saturday. Pick a favorite spot. Order a favorite meal. Pick it up (or have it delivered). Then gather around the TV screen (or computer), and make a festive night of it.
The music department makes this super easy. They’ve linked to Our Town Crier’s Westport Marketplace restaurant page. Just click here. There are dozens of places to choose from, featuring every cuisine (and price point).
It’s no secret: Restaurants need our help.
It’s also no secret: The Candlelight Concert is all about sharing.
This Saturday, share a meal along with music. And help our restaurants end 2020 on a high “note.”
(Click here for free registration for Saturday’s Candlelight Concert.)
The online, one-stop shop for operating hours, safety precautions, links and more for nearly every store, restaurant, market, medical office, fitness center, realtor, auto dealer, and professional, home, personal and children’s service in town was a herculean effort.
Our Town Crier‘s Betsy Pollak led the way. She had the backing of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, Westport Downtown Merchants Association and town officials.
But none of it would have been possible without the skills and smarts of over 40 interns.
From graphic design to social media — and of course boots-on-the-ground gruntwork — the team of teenagers and and 20-somethings stepped up for their town.
It helped that all of the interns were already here. They left Staples High School and their colleges abruptly in March, pivoting to distance learning. But they had time on their hands, an abrupt end to their social lives to contend with — and talent, creativity and energy to share in abundance.
Rising Staples junior Tessa Moore got involved because she saw her community struggling. She appreciates being able to share information, while helping the local economy.
Sanna ten Cate, Marketplace co-director and a rising junior at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, had a chance to get “an inside look into the back end of businesses.” She calls the skill set of her fellow interns “astonishing.”‘
One of the most skillful was lead graphics intern Nate Kolek. The rising Staples senior called the digital collaboration “such a positive environment.”
A few of Westport Marketplace’s many interns.
Web operations lead and Emory University rising freshman Serena Ye volunteered as a way to combine her passions for business and communications, while supporting her community.
Jasmine Kitahara — a 2020 Cornell University graduate, and the lead web developer — was “able to do something I’ve never done before, and would never get the chance to do prior to starting my full-time career.” She used her college education to program and build the website.
Now that she is starting that career, the Westport Marketplace is looking for someone to take over her role (click here for details).
The Marketplace is also looking to expand its media team. For that, the web developer position and other posts, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before the Marketplace project, there was no master list of every Westport business. Even town officials had access to land records only, not the businesses within the parcels.
That’s one legacy of this effort. And — if the interns’ work has helped save even a few of them — that’s another.
(To view the Westport Marketplace, click here. To support it — and the interns — click here. Hat tip: Ally Schwartz)
The “Virtual Yellow Pages” directory is filled with links and up-to-date information for just about every business and service in Westport. There’s contact information, operating hours,, safety precautions and more.
Users can search by name, relevance, distance, even popularity.
Major categories unfold with dozens of sub-categories.
Besides retail, restaurants, automotives, realty, markets and pharmacies, there are sections on home services (landscaping, builders, interior design, organizers …), medical (acupuncture, specialists, therapists …), banks (accounting, financial advisors, tax help …), personal services (hair, dry cleaners, physical therapy, tanning …), children’s services (sports and music lessons …) and more.
The project could not have happened without 72 interns, says Our Town Crier founder Betsy Pollak.
“The first group drove around town, literally going to each doorstep. They hand-surveyed the entire town. The next group got it onto the website, and took care of social media.”
The Chamber helped keep the restaurant list accurate. The WDMA did the same with retail. Selectwomen Jennifer Tooker and Melissa Kane funneled new information to Pollak and her crew. Local artist/super-volunteer Miggs Burroughs created the Westport Marketplace logo.
“We have incredible young people in Westport. I feel like I should be working for them,” she says.
This is the site we’ve all been waiting for. And need.
Click here to access (and bookmark) the Westport Marketplace. Then go to town!
(Questions? Email email@example.com. To update or add a business, or offer feedback, click here.)
Earlier today, interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey emailed a district-wide update to all parents.
He noted many examples of how — behind the scenes — the Westport Public Schools are helping the town deal with COVID-19. For example:
The district has transferred “a significant amount” of personal protective equipment to town agencies. School nurses and health assistants have helped organizing and distributing that equipment — hundreds of N95 masks, cloth masks, gloves and gowns — as well as thermometers and office supplies.
In addition to PPE, the townwide science department has supplied goggles for firefighters.
The school district has distributed sanitizing wipes, cleaners and hand sanitizers to fortify the town’s supplies. In addition, they have provided access to equipment for sanitizing emergency vehicles and office spaces.
Collaborating with the Westport Weston Health District and Department of Human Services, school nurses are also reaching out to older Westporters through weekly phone check-ins. Besides checking on their clients physical and mental health, the nurses help them obtain vital supplies like medication and food.
School security officers have monitored athletic fields, to help limit the number and size of gatherings.
Chartwells — the school district’s food service vendor — is providing grab-and-go meals for Westport police officers. The district is also working closely with Human Services to identify and support school families in need of food beyond the grab-and-go lunches and breakfasts that are currently provided.
A number of Westport retailers are doing all they can to stay afloat. They offer curbside pick-up and delivery on items in stock; some even have new spring inventory.
But among their many problems: How can people know they’re open?
Betsy Pollak helps, big time. Her “Our Town Crier” online newsletter is usually chock full of shopping news. Retailers pay to be mentioned.
In true community spirit, Betsy’s latest edition is totally free. Called “Curbside Enthusiasm” (great name!), it offers info, details, hours, links and photos for a ton of merchants: ASF, JL Rocks, Silver Ribbon, Arogya Tea and more. (Click here to view.)
Jennifer Tooker, Melissa Kane and Matthew Mandell helped compile the information.
A 2nd edition is in the works, for Mother’s Day. It’s perfect for restaurants as well as retailers. To be included, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Senior Center has started a YouTube channel for residents to stay active. It includes 39 Zoom courses focusing on mental and emotional health, fitness, creativity and wellness. To register for a class, call 203-341-5099. Click here to sign up for email updates. For more information, email email@example.com.
In addition, the Southwest Connecticut Agency on Aging has developed a helpful guide with plenty of information for seniors and their families. Click here to view.
Staples High School junior Eliza Oren makes gorgeous necklaces. She’s selling them for $10 each. Proceeds go to the Gillespie Center, to help pay for food and other items needed during the current crisis.
She’s already sold nearly $1,000. When she reaches that goal, her parents will match it.
You can Venmo her: @elizaoren. Or you can leave cash in your mailbox; she’ll pick it up. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Need a reminder to wear a mask? Kevin Carroll spotted this, at Weston Gardens:
The other day, Julia Marino put out a plea for ski goggles. They help protect healthcare professionals working with COVID-19 patients.
As usual, “06880” readers came through. Yesterday her mom, Elaine, brought 34 pairs to a nursing home in Milford.
Julia is a member of the US snowboard team. And a gold medal winner in Westporters’ hearts.
PS: The bin will be out again through tomorrow evening. To donate new or used goggles (adult or children’s size): sanitize them with wipes or spray, place them in a sealed plastic ban, then leave them on the front steps at 129 Sturges Highway (near Cross Highway). Questions? Email email@example.com.
Werner Liepolt reports that he recently tried to download a new book, but his Westport Library card had expired.
No problem! The library staff renewed it remotely, and within minutes he was reading. The email is Circulation@westportlibrary.org.
(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
And finally — though Rachel Platten did not record “Fight Song” about COVID-19 — it sure is apt these days:
Back in the day, the Town Crier was Westport’s must-read, twice-weekly newspaper. It covered all the usual local stuff — politics, sports, entertainment — as well as lots that would never be in a paper today. (“New Folks in Town” described new arrivals’ jobs, hobbies and religions. Police Reports included stop sign violations. And Divorce Reports cited names and reasons: abandonment, intolerable cruelty, whatever.)
The Town Crier is still around. And — though it has nothing to do with its predecessor, except the name — it is equally compelling reading.
Our Town Crier is Betsy Pollak’s website. It’s filled with business listings, upcoming events, classified ads and more — just like an old-fashioned newspaper. Of course, it’s a lot better looking. And much more interactive. (The calendar is searchable by day, week, month, and categories like “kids” or “music.”)
Now, Our Town Crier has been upgraded. That’s good news for local business owners. Any store, restaurant, veterinarian, personal trainer, yoga instructor — you name it — can have his or her (or its) own page.
Non-profits are welcome too. The Westport Woman’s Club, Westport Historical Society and Homes With Hope are on there already.
And it’s absolutely free.
(The fine print: It’s free if you create it yourself — which is astonishingly simple. If you want Betsy to do it for you, there’s a small fee.)
On your business page, you can post info about hours of operation, sales, featured merchandise, new hires, photos, videos — whatever.
Our Town Crier is open to all Westport, Weston, Fairfield and Easton businesses. It’s limited to mom-and-pops though — locally owned, in other words. No big-box stores allowed!
Betsy’s upgrade has been accomplished with help from several Staples High School interns. A couple of talented Westport women have helped too.
A lot of businesses don’t have their own website, Betsy notes. Our Town Crier becomes their web presence. Party Harty is a great example.
Click here for Our Town Crier. It’s a worthy successor to the newspaper of the same time.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!)