Cold Fusion opened Thursday. From the moment the new gelato place served its first scoop, it was packed.
It’s on Main Street near Avery Place, in the former Papyrus space next to Chase Bank.
Or, to put it another way: opposite the old Remarkable Book Shop.
The Remarkable Book Shop.
Relative newcomers know it as the long-shuttered Talbots (soon to be, remarkably, Local to Market, selling fresh produce, food and artisan craft items, all produced around here).
Cold Fusion owners (and longtime Westporters) Eric and Kelly Emmert know their history. As they planned their store, they knew they wanted to honor their long-ago neighbor.
For 34 years, an Edward Gorey-inspired dancing figure hung on the side of the Remarkable Book Shop.
Now — after all these years — he’s back.
With a different point of view. He’s inside Cold Fusion — occupying the spot he gazed out upon, for all those years.
The Remarkable Guy was stored at the former Westport Historical Society. More recently, Pam Barkentin has taken care of him. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)
The Remarkable Book Shop was owned by Sidney and Esther Kramer. (The store’s perfect name includes “Kramer,” spelled backward.) Their children, Mark and Wendy, have loaned the iconic work of art to the Emmerts.
Esther made her store a Westport landmark. Shelves were filled with books on every topic imaginable. Cozy, overstuffed chairs (and a house cat named Heathcliffe) invited browsers to sit, read, linger and talk to each other long before “store experiences” were a thing.
Esther knew every customer’s name, from Paul Newman and writers to young children. She and her team of loyal, learned employees remembered everyone’s interests and tastes, and happily recommended the next good read.
Warm, friendly and funky, the pink store was a community gathering place from 1960 until 1994.
That’s the kind of feeling the Emmerts hope to recreate at Cold Fusion. Bringing the Remarkable Guy back is a great way to start.
After standing vacant for more than a decade, one of the most valuable retail properties in town reopens soon.
The old Talbots — and, before that, Remarkable Book Shop — at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza is well positioned. Since GG & Joe opened behind it last year, there’s been an increase in foot traffic. The opening of Cold Fusion across the street will add more.
Local To Market should be another destination for food lovers.
After working with small start-up and emerging Connecticut-based food and beverage companies who needed a retail store to help bring their products to market, Chris Marcocci conceived of Local To Market.
It will carry local food and beverage products and fresh produce, plus an assortment of locally manufactured non-food and craft artisan items.
Formerly Talbots, and Remarkable Book Shop. Soon: Local To Market.
Local To Market’s mission is to create a community of consumers and producers, all giving back part of the proceeds to Connecticut charities.
“Getting your food as close to the source as possible is eating well,” Marcocci says.
“This is all about being a community, supporting local small businesses and businesses providing locally produced products to neighbors, friends, family and consumers who know the importance of local.”
Local To Market is in the buildout and permitting process. They hope for a July opening.
The building — dating to the 18th century — was once a private home, with a wharf on the Saugatuck River.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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