Tag Archives: Railroad Place

Restaurant Follow-up: Railroad Place Redo?

As Westport restaurant owners get ready to reopen — outdoors only, with tables 6 feet apart and no bar service — one resident has an idea to help them succeed.

The other day, David Basich and his wife Vanessa took a walk by the train station. A daily New York commuter before COVID-19, this was his first time there in nearly 10 weeks.

That got him thinking. David says:

As I looked at the restaurants on Railroad Place — Tarantino, Harvest, Romamacci — I reflected on how tough it’s been for them (and all other restaurants around town).

I started thinking about what would put them in a position to best optimize the situation when they are able to reopen, and what would make patrons comfortable coming back. I know outdoor dining is one possible solution.

I thought it would be great if we could close down entirely the street that runs past them, and open it up entirely for outdoor seating.

Railroad Place has been closed before — for the annual Slice of Saugatuck festival.

We talked with Graziano, the owner of Romanacci, about the idea. They are the only one thus far that had carved out some small space.

Closing down the entire street would open it up even more. Restaurant-goers would feel more comfortable overall if some capacity could move outside, social distancing could be maintained more easily, and of course this would create a pretty unique al fresco dining row for Westport.

Regarding the impact on commuters, I don’t think closing this street would be too great of a hardship (at least for a while). I imagine Metro-North numbers will be down for the foreseeable future.

However, to alleviate some of the hassle, the one-way portion of Railroad Place that runs north past the parking lot off Charles Street, could be opened up to two-way traffic.

We could try this for a while — maybe through Labor Day — and readjust as things evolve.

I don’t know exactly what this would entail and how much of a hassle it would be. But I do know Westporters love our town, love dining out, and want to see these business given the best chance to survive.

“06880” readers: What do you think? Is this a good idea? Are there other places in town that could benefit from something similar? Click “Comments” below!

The Basich family (from left): Vanessa, Greens Farms Academy senior David, David Sr., Staples High School junior Lucas, Bedford Middle School 7th grader Michael. Though the photo shows them at home, they look forward to dining outside soon — perhaps on Railroad Place?

Final Indulgence By Mersene

Alert “06880” readers know that Mersene* is one of my favorite people in the world.

And her store —Indulge by Mersene — is one of the best on the planet.

It’s fun. It’s funky. It’s totally Mersene.

Yet all good things must end. Today, the popular, vivacious, beloved unofficial mayor of Railroad Place announces she’s closing. She writes:

In a few weeks, the corner by the train station will be a little less lively.

There will be one less place to buy pillows, ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want — all stashed in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine that looks so lovely you hate to unwrap it.

Mersene has been unfailingly generous and supportive — to “06880” (the blog) and 06880 (the community).

Her closing leaves a hole in our community, and our hearts. Happily, she’ll still be here — online, and in pop-up shops.

So we’ll keep indulging, the unique Mersene way.

*Like Cher, Madonna and Divine, she needs only one name.

Mersene, with a small sampling of her many great items.

Remembering Charlene Girden

You may not know the name Charlene Margot Girden.

But you probably knew her.

She befriended everyone she met: the hair salon staff and its patrons, restaurant owners, dry cleaners, merchants — you name it.

Charlene grew up in East Norwalk, but her roots in Westport were strong and deep.

Her grandmother lived on Compo Beach. Charlene spent her childhood there with families like the Lanes and Cunninghams.

Her father, Norman Tobin, founded Saugatuck Grain and Supply in 1911, and owned nearly the entire block of Railroad Place. She learned at a young age how to collect rents, talk to tenants and be a good landlord.

She also set up deliveries — and delivered oil — with and for her father.

Charlene Girden

Norman died in 1992. Sophie — his wife of 62 years — took over the reins. When she died 12 years later, Charlene became president and CEO of Saugatuck Grain, Hanes Realty and several other companies.

Some of her favorite spots were Vincent Palumbo Salon, Mitchell’s, Party Hardy, Westport Hardware, Stiles Market, Final Touch Cleaners, Posh, Tutti’s, Tarantino’s and Pane e Bene. Like “Cheers,” at all those places everyone knew her name.

She supported many charities, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the Actors Fund and the Metropolitan Golf Association Caddy Scholarship. (She learned to play at Longshore in the late 1940s, and was an avid golfer for the rest of her life. She also loved tennis.)

Charlene died last week, at 83. As word spread, her children were flooded with phone calls, emails, texts and notes about her. Everyone, it seemed, had a story.

Charlene was predeceased by her husband of 53 years, Eugene Girden. She is survived by her daughter Lisa Girden-Barkan, her son Steve Girden, and her grandchildren Lindsay Girden, Alex Girden and Emelie Wittenberg.

Contributions in her name can be made to the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

Pics Of The Day #413

A pair of storefronts on Railroad Place (Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

Pic Of The Day #88

Railroad Place (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Fred Cantor Grants Staples A Special Gift

All year long, Staples Tuition Grants raises money for scholarships.

Tonight, they give it away.

Staples Tuition Grants new logoOver 100 students — soon-to-be graduates as well as alumni from the past 4 years — will receive $300,000 in college aid.

The ceremony is low-key, but warm and inspiring.

And very, very important. Contrary to myth, there is plenty of need right here in Westport.

Fred Cantor did not receive an STG grant when he graduated from Staples in 1971. He no longer has formal ties to the school; he’s just a proud alum.

But the longtime Westporter is eager to give back. Recently, he found a unique way to do so.

For the 1970s on, he’s taken photos of iconic Westport scenes. Now he’s licensed 5 of them to STG: Main Street with Remarkable Book Shop; Fairfield Furniture and the Saugatuck River; Fine Arts Theater; Longshore’s main entrance, and Railroad Place.

They’re displayed on gift items like luggage tags, coffee mugs, magnets, note cards and tote bags. They’re on sale to the public — with all profits going to the scholarship organization.

Actually, they’ll go to one specific fund: the STG award named after Chou Chou Merrill. The 1970 grad reveled in her childhood and youth here — the memories she shared, the friendships she nurtured, the opportunities she was given. She died in 2014.

A luggage tag, with an image of the Longshore entrance.

A luggage tag, with an image of the Longshore entrance.

Fred says that the photos and souvenirs are a perfect way for Westporters, current and spread around the globe, to show their affection for this town. And help a great cause.

How generous of Fred — an avid “06880” reader — to think of Staples Tuition Grants in this way.

How fitting that he’s chosen Chou Chou’s scholarship to be the recipient of his generosity.

Now all you have to do is click here for a great Fred Cantor-themed/Westport-style/STG-assisting souvenir. (NOTE: More items will be added soon!)

(The public is invited to today’s Staples Tuition Grants ceremony [Thursday, June 9, 5:30 p.m. in the Staples library]. To donate to Staples Tuition Grants, click here.) 

all feature Fred Cantor's photos of Westport.

Luggage tags, coffee mugs, magnets, note cards and tote bags feature Fred Cantor’s photos of Westport. Fairfield Furniture is now back to its original name: National Hall.

Railroad Place Redevelopment: Still Stalled

The opening of Harvest restaurant — in the former Mario’s space — has brought renewed attention to Railroad Place.

It’s also reminded people of the long-rumored Railroad Place project — a redevelopment plan for a larger area that shares the name of the small but significant street on the westbound side of the railroad station.

With Saugatuck Center completed and thriving — Riverside Avenue is now a hot spot filled with new restaurants, a butcher shop, gourmet food store, sweet shop, paddle rental store, 27 apartments and more — Westporters have waited for the next phase.

It’s unrelated — who’s-who-wise — to the Gault family’s Saugatuck Center work. But it’s been rumored for years, as a natural next step.

Negotiations have proceeded, in fits and starts, since 2011. In 2012, LandTech — the highly regarded engineering and planning firm headquartered on Riverside Avenue — drew up an RFP for the families who have owned the property for nearly 100 years, to seek developers.

It involved all the land bordered by Railroad Place, Charles Street and Riverside Avenue, as well as the private parking lot adjacent to Luciano Park.

All the land, that is, except the Mario’s/Harvest building, and the grim, out-of-character office building at 21 Charles Street. They have their own owners. All the rest of the property in the plan is owned by 2 families.

An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building is at left); the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building) is at left; the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Luciano Park is at the bottom. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

LandTech’s proposal — in collaboration with Westport architect Peter Wormser — envisions an entirely new look for the 3-acre space.

Steps next to Harvest will lead to a bluestone plaza, similar to the one between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets that draws musicians, sunbathers and people-watchers.

A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.

A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.

Surrounding the plaza will be a mix of retail stores and apartments. There’s room for a small movie theater and boutique hotel.

A closeup of the rendering above. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

A closeup of the rendering above. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

Nearby, planners envision an enclosed, year-round green market.

Two levels of underground parking would accommodate 480 cars.

It’s not a done deal, of course. The 4-story development would need a zone change, to embrace Transit-Oriented Development (programs to link transportation centers with surrounding neighborhoods). The floor area ration would require a text amendment.

The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti's. The buildings in the artist's rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings.

The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti’s. The buildings in the artist’s rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings. The Charles Street office building is on the far right.

The project has moved very slowly, in part because of land valuation questions. No developer has yet signed on.

But Railroad Place — the property — is an unpolished gem, waiting to shine. Bordered by existing businesses and a train station — with a major highway nearby — it’s ripe for development.

Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.

Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.

Exciting plans have been available for several years. They’ve been shopped around, creating excitement among everyone who’s seen them.

The 2 families that own most of Railroad Place have not yet agreed on the next steps. When — that is, if — they do, the future of one of Westport’s most intriguing, often-underutilized sections of town could be very, very cool.