Tag Archives: Remarkable Book Shop

[OPINION] Main Street Musings

Fred Cantor moved to Westport when he was 10. After Yale University and law school, he and his wife bought a 2nd home here. Then they moved permanently. They spent COVID in California, but are back now.

Fred is an astute observer of all things Westport. Today — looking backward and toward the future too — he trains his eye on downtown.

On Friday, the New York Times wrote about efforts in England to help keep alive and/or revitalize the nation’s “high streets” — the British equivalent of our Main Street — in towns around the country.

Among the ideas is the notion of short-term leases in certain instances — even just 3 months.

That got me thinking about one of the great mysteries of life (which perhaps “06880” readers who work in commercial real estate can answer): How come middle school students in Westport have no memory of any business operating out of the prime location where the Remarkable Book Shop was so successful for so many years?

How and why has that building remained vacant for so long?

The Remarkable Book Shop, back in the day. 

And is the concept of a short-term lease for perhaps a seasonal summer-related business, or another entity that would run from the beginning of October through Christmas feasible at that location? Or any retail site on Main Street?

On a related note: The Remarkable used to have display cases outside its store.  Even if the current owner of the building can’t find a suitable tenant for the space, is it worth it for the owner to consider renting to a business that wanted to operate a kiosk on its property? Are there other Main Street locations where a kiosk might make sense?

I have happily patronized the Strand Bookstore kiosk on 5th Avenue near Central Park South. Perhaps kiosks would add some street appeal to downtown.

Shopping at the Remarkable Book kiosks. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Turning from England and New York to California: When we stayed not far from Laguna Beach, we enjoyed seeing how the town closed off the bottom portion of its Main Street equivalent — Forest Avenue — and turned it into a pedestrian mall. “The Promenade on Forest” featured temporary retail and dining decks, along with art displays.

I love what has happened here with Church Lane. And I know that Main Street has been closed off for an entire weekend for the annual Arts Festival.

I hope to hear from store proprietors on the lower half of Main Street whether they think it might be worthwhile to experiment with closing that section, perhaps for an entire week, to see if it successfully attracts more business.

At the same time, I would love to hear from local officials and residents who live near downtown whether such an experiment might be worth pursuing to evaluate the impact on traffic congestion near downtown.

This was Main Street, during the 2014 Art About Town festival.

Speaking of Laguna Beach: The town permitted installation right by City Hall of a fabulous artwork that generated a lot of interest.

Could Westport do something similar with Veterans Green on a regular basis? By that I mean perhaps scheduling periodic events such as small acoustic concerts?  Would that type of “happening” help make Main Street more of a destination?

I don’t claim to have any definitive answers. But I would have no objection if Main Street became something close to Yogi Berra’s famous observation: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Friday Flashback #235

Last week’s Friday Flashback of the Pack Roads men’s store stirred plenty of memories.

And though Fred Cantor sent this newspaper clipping in a while ago, it fits now.

The photo caption from the October 21, 1965 Town Crier describes the scene: junior high musicians playing to celebrate an extension being built in the back of a downtown store.

The photo has everything: music, nostalgia (The Remarkable Book Shop) — and there in the background is Pack Roads!

This photo is timely today. Two book stores opened recently downtown: Barnes & Noble, and Westport Book Shop.

Four members of band are still around. Trace Burroughs is a noted artist (and host, with his brother Miggs, of a popular Westport Library podcast). Rick Castillo lives in Norwalk, Chip Jackson in New York, and Tony Pryor in North Carolina. All are still involved in music.

And while the event back in the mid-’60s heralded the expansion of a downtown business, nearly 60 years later Main Street and beyond is undergoing its own renaissance.

Play it again, Rogues!

BONUS FEATURE: After last week’s Friday Flashback, Peter Barlow sent me a dramatic photo he’d taken of Pack Roads back in the ’60s. I added it to the story, but it’s worth posting again:

(Photo/Peter Barlow)

Friday Flashback #224

When Fred Cantor graduated from Yale University in May of 1975, his parents gave him a 35mm Nikkormat camera. He’d always enjoyed taking photos, with an inexpensive Kodak.

In December he returned to Westport for break, from the University of Connecticut School of Law.

There was a beautiful snowfall. On Christmas Day, Fred knew that downtown would be empty. He’d always enjoyed the “Norman Rockwell-esque” feeling there. He hoped to capture it, without interference.

After 45 years — to the day — parts of downtown look very different. Parts look much the same.

After 45 years too, the photos have faded.

But the memories have not.

Gorham Island. The Victorian house has been replaced by a large office building.

Main Street, without any holiday decorations. Gene Hallowell’s Mobil station is now the site of Vineyard Vines.

The Remarkable Book Shop. For over a decade, it’s been the “vacant Talbots store.”

Westport Bank & Trust is now Patagonia.

Ice on the Saugatuck River still looks the same.

Fairfield Furniture has been transformed into National Hall — the original name for the 1800s building.

The Corner Spirit Shop at the Post Road West/Wilton Road intersection is now the rebuilt home to an architectural firm.

Barnes & Noble Nears Downtown Move

Growing up, Gordon Joseloff loved the Remarkable Book Shop. Klein’s books, too.

For years after the Main Street stores closed, he dreamed of bringing a bookstore back downtown.

Joseloff died last month. But now that’s almost a reality — in a building his family has owned for years.

Joseloff’s cousin Bruce Beinfield – an architect who also grew up here, and remembers the bookstores fondly — is handling negotiations for the Post Road East building.

For decades, it housed the Fine Arts Theater. From 1999 through last spring, it was Restoration Hardware.

Soon — perhaps right after the holidays — Barnes & Noble will move from its current location, to the downtown site. Earlier today, Beinfield confirmed that a deal is imminent.

Barnes & Noble is poised to move here …

The Barnes & Noble chain was acquired last year by Elliott Management Corporation. Their goal is to give local managers more leeway in operating each store.

At 10,000 square feet, the new Barnes & Noble will be smaller than its current store. It moved into the shopping center near Angelina’s after outgrowing its original Post Road location further east (most recently, Pier 1).

Beinfield says that once the deal is finalized, Barnes & Noble hopes to move as soon as possible. Applications for signage are already on file with town officials.

Plans for a new Starbucks café inside have not yet been filed. However, the back of the building will have food. As reported on “06880” last month, Basso Restaurant & Wine Bar will soon replace Matsu Sushi (the former Fine Arts 3 theater) on Jesup Road.

So what will become of the current Barnes & Noble location? There’s no official word, but rumors include Amazon Go — the high-tech, automated, geofenced app-driven store selling prepared foods, meal kits, groceries and alcohol.

If that happens, it would be a full circle of sorts. Before Barnes & Noble, that building was a Waldbaum’s supermarket.

… from here.

Friday Flashback #187

COVID-19 has given many of us time to clean attics, basements, garages — all those places we haven’t organized in years.

Alert “06880” reader and native Westporter Nikki Zeoli did just that in her parents’ basement. She found this “Townopoloy Game”:

“I imagine it was from some fundraiser years ago,” she says.

“It denotes some cool old Westport establishments, like the Remarkable Book Shop, Quigley Electric, Bambi Lynn’s Dance Academy, Soup’s On, Silver’s, Daybreak Nurseries and CameraArts. Do you know anything more?”

I don’t. I’m guessing it’s from the late 1970s or early ’80s — my reference is point is Masters Sports Cafe, which occupied a cavernous space near the present Michaels Arts & Crafts around that time.

If anyone remembers this game — or any of its now-gone businesses — click “Comments” below.

Remarkable Guy: The Sequel

When the Westport Museum for History & Culture jettisoned the nod-to-local-history name of its Remarkable Gift Shop — it’s now the much-more-meh The Shop at Wheeler House — it thankfully did not also toss out the Remarkable Guy.

That’s the wooden, Edward Gorey-inspired dancing figure that greeted folks browsing for books, posters and other Westport-themed gifts at what used to be called the Historical Society, on Avery Place.

Remarkable Guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Remarkable Guy had been exhibited at the WHS thanks to the Kramer family. Sid and Esther Kramer owned the Remarkable Book Shop, a long-lived, much-loved funky bookstore on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza, a few feet from Wheeler House. (Westporters know it now as the long-vacant Talbots building.)

WMHC officials tracked down Sid and Esther’s son Mark. Executive director Ramin Ganeshram emailed him that the Remarkable Theater — the new organization that hopes to bring a theater to Westport, staffed by people with disabilities — had asked for the “wooden die cut image.”

She suggested Kramer take it from the museum, and give or lend it to the theater for their events. (It is of course still in the early planning stages).

She noted that because the Remarkable Guy had never been “formally gifted or accepted into the collections,” it was not the museum’s right to lend.

Though the museum did not have the funds to ship the Remarkable Guy to Kramer, who lives in Massachusetts, they promised to keep it safe until he could retrieve it.

Or perhaps, Ganeshram said, he could officially donate it to the museum. Then, however, it could not be lent to anyone, because of insurance complications. She noted, “It is our understanding that the figure was brought to the museum but never intended to be an ‘artifact’ per se.”

Kramer worried that the museum might not treasure the Remarkable Guy.

A solution arose when Kramer’s longtime Westport friend Pam Barkentin offered to keep it in Westport, so it can be loaned when appropriate.

Chris O’Dell — whose O Living Experience builds high-quality, high-efficiency new homes and renovations — quickly agreed to move the Remarkable Guy to Pam’s garage. gratis.

Chris O’Dell (left), O Living Experience owner, and employee Chuck Hilman volunteered to move the Remarkable Guy.

That’s where he sits now, safe and sound.

And waiting to be loaned, to lend a bit of local history to organizations that appreciate and cherish him.

Pam Barkentin is keeping the Remarkable Guy safe for Mark Kramer.

Westport History Museum: A Remarkable Story

When the Remarkable Book Shop closed, Westporters mourned the loss of a quirky, comfy store that for decades epitomized Main Street.

When former owners Sidney and Esther Kramer gifted the Westport Historical Society the right to use the name — and their Edward Gorey-inspired logo — for its gift shop, Westporters rejoiced.

The Remarkable name lived again — and on Avery Place, just a few yards from the original store. Not everyone who shopped for books, maps and posters about Westport knew the significance of the Remarkable Gift Shop name, or the delightful logo, but that didn’t matter.

Those who did, smiled.

Remarkable guy at Westport Historical Society (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

But they — and the Kramer family — are not smiling now.

Besides renaming both the Historical Society itself (it’s become the Westport Museum for History & Culture), and the main exhibition room (the Sheffer Gallery now honors Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust), there’s a new name for the gift shop.

Gone is the Remarkable name. Gone is the Remarkable guy.

“It’s a makeover!” the website trumpets. “New space. new stock, new name!”

Are you ready for the great new name? Nothing says Westport like …

“The Shop at Wheeler House.”

PS: Neither Wendy Posner nor Mark Kramer received any notification from the Westport History Museum that their parents’ naming gift had been expunged.

Movie Theater Downtown: It’s Remarkable!

The Westport Public Schools do a wonderful job providing opportunities to students with disabilities.

But at age 21, they age out. Meanwhile, the state has cut funding for day programs for adults with disabilities.

A group of parents has a goal: increase employment for area men and women with physical and intellectual disabilities.

The result: a remarkable idea.

The parents were inspired by the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. It shows first-run films; 65% of employees are people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, a different group of Westporters worked for years, trying to open a theater downtown. They had a name — Westport Cinema Initiative — but no building and little funding.

Stacie Curran and Marina Derman — longtime Westporters with sons with disabilities — met with Doug Tirola. As a Staples High School graduate, current resident and president of documentary producer 4th Row Films, he was perfectly positioned to help.

The 2 groups merged. Now they’re poised to bring a theater to Westport. It will train and employ people with disabilities.

And — in a brilliant homage to Westport’s history and arts heritage — it will be called the Remarkable Theater.

The name — as Tirola, Curran, Derman and thousands of others know — honors the Remarkable Book Shop. That’s the longtime, beloved and still-mourned store at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (now the still-closed Talbots).

Curran came up with the brilliant name. Mark Kramer and Wendy Kramer Posner — whose mother Esther owned the shop — are “thrilled, honored and completely supportive,” says Derman.

“It’s a reminder of a time when downtown was homey, friendly, warm and fun,” Curran adds. “And people with disabilities are remarkable.”

Remarkably too, today is National Arthouse Theater Day. That’s exactly the type of theater the Remarkable will be.

Tirola calls it a “state-of-the-art, independent arthouse theater.” It will show independent and older films. Think of New York’s Film Forum, he says.

You’ll still go to a multiplex for the latest “Star Wars” sequel. But the Remarkable will be the place to go for many intriguing films. On Veterans Day, for example, it might screen a series of historical movies. If a famous director dies, it’s flexible enough to quickly mount a tribute.

Among the Westporters working on the Remarkable Theater project: Front (from left): Joanna Borner, Marina Derman, Deirdre Teed, Stacie Curran. Rear: Doug Tirola, Kristin Ehrlich, Angie Wormser, State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, Diane Johnson.

The theater will be a venue for talkbacks too. Other groups — particularly schools — will be invited to use the space.

Tirola, Curran, Derman and others have already secured a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Developmental Services. Funds will pay for equipment and movie screenings.

Pop-up screenings could begin before the theater opens. Organizers hope to break ground 2 years from now.

As for where it will be: They’d love a downtown site. They’ve begun talking with landlords, looking for options.

After several years, there’s real movement for a movie theater in Westport. The curtain is rising on this remarkable story.

(For more information — or to help — click here, or email marina@remarkabletheater.org).

[UPDATE] Remarkable Books Is Back!

Well, sort of.

Jane Green’s Remarkable Bookcycle — the quirky, fun homage to the late, much-lamented Remarkable Book Shop — reappeared on Main Street this weekend, across the street from the old pink store at the corner of Parker Harding Plaza.

Next week (note rain date: Sunday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you can find it at the first-ever Outdoor Market. Savvy + Grace owner Annette Norton developed the idea of filling the private parking lot behind Tavern on Main with local artisans.

Nearly 2 dozen vendors will offer jewelry, terrariums, hand-designed greeting cards and more.

The Remarkable Book Shop is gone. But the Remarkable Bookcycle is back.

And next weekend’s Outdoor Market may be the start of a remarkable new tradition of its own.

The Remarkable Bookcycle: If You Build It, They Will Read

Last weekend, “06880” reported the remarkable story of the resurrection of the Remarkable Book Shop. The beloved pink shop suddenly appeared at Compo Beach, as a free library balanced on a 3-wheeled bike.

World popular author (and longtime Westport resident) Jane Green masterminded the project.

But she couldn’t have done it without the help of Ryan Peterson. The recent Staples High School graduate transformed Jane’s old cargo trike into a new/old/way cool lending (and donating) library.

Pictures told the story. But now — just before heading to Fairfield University, to study engineering — Ryan’s sent along a video of his handiwork.

Enjoy it. And remember: Jane knows the Remarkable Book Shop only through stories. She moved here after it closed.

Ryan was not even born then.

It takes a village to nurture a book store. And then bring it back to life.

Truly remarkable.