Tag Archives: Remarkable Book Shop

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.

Remarkable Bookcycle: The Back Story

Saturday night’s Pics of the Day was one of “06880”‘s most special — and most commented on.

The photo s– sent by a reader who did not identify him or herself — showed a 3-wheeler. In front of the pedals sat a wooden structure, filled with books.

It was painted pink — just like the old Remarkable Book Shop.

More remarkably, the front featured the beloved store’s dancing man logo.

And — in case you missed the other clues — a sign on the top said “The Remarkable Bookcycle.”

The photos were taken in and around Compo Beach.

Readers loved it. But no one knew the back story.

Now it can be told. And the tale comes courtesy of Jane Green: author of 19 novels, with over 10 million books in print in more than 25 languages. Besides being (duh) a huge book lover, she’s a longtime Westporter — and a very involved neighbor. She writes:

It started with George, although really, it started with the Remarkable Book Shop. Ever since I moved to Westport almost 18 years ago, everyone has told me that I would have loved the Remarkable Book Shop. Esther and Sidney Kramer were neighbors of ours, and I’ve harbored a secret fantasy of re-opening the bright pink bookshop for years.

Which brings me to George: a cargo tricycle we bought from neighbors of ours at the beach about 12 years ago. It seemed like a great idea at the time, a way to transport picnics and children back and forth to the beach, but those children are now teenagers, and George has languished in our garage for years.

More recently, I found myself obsessed with Little Free Libraries. The Little Free Library is a non-profit organization founded in the 1980’s to encourage people to read, and to bring communities together. Usually, people build them at the end of their driveways, giving away free books, bringing strangers together, chatting about books.

As a novelist who created the Facebook group Westport Front Porch for exactly that reason — to bring a sense of community back — and as an avid reader, I had always wanted a little free library. Also, my house is threatening to topple over with the piles of books everywhere. But I live on a small private street, and suspected my neighbors might not be so happy with an influx of readers coming over.

A mobile Little Free Library suddenly seemed an excellent idea, one that could travel around the beach and bring a bit of happy nostalgia to our town, for who doesn’t feel good when they remember the Remarkable Book Shop? I found a wonderful new Staples graduate, Ryan Peterson, to rebuild George and transform him into the bookshop. I downloaded pictures of the store for him, and with my husband Ian Warburg, who grew up here and has so many happy memories of the bookstore, designed the cart as a double-sided library where people can take home free books.

Jane Green stocks the Remarkable Bookcycle library …

I was ready to paint the sign myself, but realized that Miggs Burroughs would do a much better job. I sent him an email asking for his help with a secret project, with no idea that his mother, Esta Burroughs, worked at the book shop from the day it opened until the day it closed. (How remarkable is that?!) Miggs was thrilled, and painted both the sign and the instantly recognizable dancing man.

We have loved parking the Remarkable Bookcycle (pronounced bicycle!) by the beach this weekend, and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. At some point soon, we’ll have a website set up with news of how to donate books. In the meantime, look for the Remarkable Bookcycle around Compo, raise your glasses to the spirits of Sidney and Esther Kramer and Esta Burroughs, and don’t forget to stroke Heathcliff the cat while you’re picking out your book. Yes, there’s even a Heathcliff the cat tucked in amongst the books in the Remarkable Bookcycle!

… and takes an inaugural ride, along Compo Beach Road.

Pics Of The Day #495

It’s remarkable what you could see near Compo Beach this weekend.


 

Friday Flashback #99

At first glance, this photo looks unremarkable.

Fred Cantor took it in 1977, he thinks — during the Great Race. That was the fun, funny and often alcohol-infused event in which people dressed in costumes, created their own vessels, ran from Taylor Place to the river, jumped in their watercraft, raced out to Cockenoe Island, filled a bag with garbage (the cheaters already carried pre-packed trash), then rowed or sailed or whatever-ed back to shore.

Meanwhile, Main Street merchants held sales. This was the scene outside Remarkable Book Shop. The stalls were always outside, but on this day they attracted huge crowds.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

The Great Race is (regrettably) long gone. But this weekend the Fine Arts Festival returns to Main Street. It’s a great show.

Unfortunately, few Remarkable-type stores anymore offer something else to all those art-lovers (though Savvy + Grace is worth a trip from anywhere).

Also this weekend, the Westport Library hosts its 26th annual Book Sale. Those squintillions of volumes make this Remarkable scene look, well, unremarkable. But whenever and wherever people buy books, it’s a good thing.

Finally, this Friday Flashback raises the question: Now that Remarkable Book Shop is gone — and Talbots too is a long-ago memory too — will anything ever take their place?

Friday Flashback #70

Last week’s “06880” story about downtown holiday decorations drew plenty of comments. Many readers recalled with fondness the ghosts of Christmases past. Main Street, they remembered, was alive with lights and garlands. It was a bright, magical winter wonderland.

That may have been true. But not in 1975.

On Christmas Day that year, Fred Cantor drove through town. He captured several scenes. The other day — sparked by the nostalgic debate — he unearthed those photos.

Snow had fallen earlier. The plowed, shoveled and congealed streets and sidewalks have that bleak midwinter look.

There’s nary a star, ornament or whimsical Santa on any pole. You don’t see any twinkling lights either.

The only wreaths are on Sport Mart (far left).

But the view of the Mobil station (now Vineyard Vines) brings back fond memories. Every year — a few days before Christmas — owners Gene and Mary Hallowell lowered the hydraulic lifts. They covered them with table cloths. Then they laid out a feast.

The party was supposed to be for loyal customers. But anyone could wander by for food and (of course) drink.

And everyone did.

Further down Main Street, Fred found this:

The Remarkable Book Shop hummed with activity at holiday time. It was the perfect place for gifts — there were toys, puzzles and trinkets, plus a joyfully eclectic collection of books, maps and whatnot — as well as a great spot for curling up in an easy chair to read, relax or just people-watch.

But the Remarkable Book Shop did not go all out with holiday decorations either. In fact, as Fred’s photo shows, in 1975 there were none.

One place did get into the holiday spirit.

And with good reason: The Corner Spirit Shop — on Wilton Road, at the Post Road West intersection — was one of the most visible spots in town.

Plus — then, as now — a liquor store hops at holiday time.

So of course they threw a couple of wreaths on their windows.

That’s what Westport looked like, 42 years ago this holiday season.

The Sport Mart is gone. Remarkable, too. And — as of a few weeks ago — the building that housed the Corner Spirit Shop is only a fond memory.

Just like some of those Christmas decorations of yore.

Pic Of The Day #221

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

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.

Remembering Esta Burroughs

Esta Burroughs — pillar of the famed Remarkable Book Shop, and mother of noted Westport artist/graphic designer Miggs Burroughs — died earlier today. She was 102.

On March 15, 2013 — her 100th birthday — I posted this story on “06880.” It’s a great way to remember a truly “remarkable” woman.

Esta Freedman’s mother left Poland for Ellis Island at 17.  Esta’s father worked in the gold mines of South Africa as a teenager.  He stowed away on a US-bound ship, but gambled away his nest egg before it docked.

Esta was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1913. She and her 4 siblings shared a room. At 17, she left home for New York.

Esta Freedman at 17.

Esta Freedman at 17.

A chance meeting in the subway led to a meeting with Bernie Burroughs, an illustrator.  They hit it off.  Soon they eloped.  They lived in Greenwich Village, then Neptune, N.J.  In 1946 their son Miggs was born.

Bernie’s artist friends were moving to Connecticut.   The Burroughses followed:  to Stamford in 1948, then Westport in 1950 when their 2nd son Tracy was born.

Bernie and Esta quickly joined the local artists and writers’ circle, making friends with the likes of Howard Munce, Tracy Sugarman, Max Shulman, Evan Hunter, John G. Fuller and their families.

Bernie played poker; Esta, bridge.  They entertained often, and went to parties.  At some, couples put car keys in a bowl, and drove home with the owner of whichever set they pulled out.  Esta says she and Bernie always left before that happened.

She wrote articles for local newsletters.  Then she met Sidney and Esther Kramer.   They were opening a bookstore, called Remarkable — the name included “Kramer” spelled backwards — and asked her to join them.

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

The Remarkable Book Shop. (Photo by Dave Matlow)

Esta stayed in the iconic pink building on Main Street — working in the warren of rooms, loving the tall stacks of books, sloping floors and comfy chairs — until the day it closed.

She also partnered with Pat Fay — running tag sales as “Those 2 Girls” — but her Remarkable work really defined Esta Burroughs for generations of Westporters.

She waited on Paul Newman, Liz Taylor, Bette Davis, Keir Dullea, Christopher Plummer and Patty Hearst.  She also massaged the egos of many local authors, who visited constantly to check on sales of their books.

An avid reader, Esta enjoyed meeting writers.  The opportunity to read any title was a great perk — and a huge advantage for customers.  They asked countless questions about books.  She answered them all.

After Remarkable closed, Esta worked at the Save the Children Gift Shop.  Until recently she volunteered at the Westport Historical Society.

Today, Esta Burroughs turns 100.  The Remarkable Book Shop is long gone.  So are Paul Newman, Bette Davis — and key parties.

But Esta remembers them all, quite clearly.  Those memories are all part of her 6 decades in Westport — and her much-loved, seldom-acknowledged contributions to our town.

(Burial will be private. A memorial service will be announced soon, to be held at the Westport Historical Society. Contributions in her name may be made to an Alzheimer’s organization.)

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs!

Esta Burroughs (Photo by Miggs Burroughs)

It Was Ever Thus

Alert “06880” reader Ann Sheffer sent this along, from the “Exit 18” Facebook page. Lise Krieger wrote it for the Westport News. It could have been written in 2014. But the dateline was more than 20 years ago: March of 1994.

With the imminent closing of The Remarkable Book Shop, downtown Westport, as many of us knew it, is taking its final, dying breath. What used to be a unique town, filled with mom and pop stores, unusual gift and clothing shops, and family restaurants, has succumbed to the latest American disease: “malling.”

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop (Photo/Westporters.com)

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop. It was on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.  (Photo/Westporters.com)

Newcomers and younger folks love the new Westport – and why wouldn’t they? It has every chic clothing store chain that dress-alikes love to patronize. It has coffee bistros. It is expensive. Its parking lots are packed with Volvos, Jeeps, and Range Rovers. Westport is the place to shop and be seen. The mall transformation will be complete when a roof is erected over the entire area.

For comfort, I want to blame this affliction on somebody. Is it the fault of the chain store operators for wanting to increase their bottom line? Is it the fault of the consumers who desperately need to conform fashionably? Is it the fault of town government which allows the transformation? Or is it the fault of store owners who sell out?

I guess no one is to blame, really. Main Street towns all over America are dying because they can’t compete with the shopping malls sprouting like chicken pox throughout their areas. Westport is simply staying in the race.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it''s Vineyard Vines.

Back in the 1970s, a Mobil station sat opposite what was then Westport Pizzeria. Today, it”s Vineyard Vines.

I grew up in Weston and spent much of my childhood on Main Street. I hardly go there anymore unless I absolutely have to. At the risk of sounding bitter, I hate the crowds, I hate the stores, I hate the entire atmosphere. Yes, nostalgia can be a powerful emotional force. I don’t want to accept Westport the way it is today; I want to remember it the way it used to be.

When my brothers and I were young, my mother shopped for our clothing basics at Greenberg’s Department Store. My brothers got their formal clothes up the Post Road at Paul Zabin’s, and I was outfitted for my party duds at Trudy Gary’s….

Often my father took me to town on Saturdays to keep him company while doing errands. I loved to visit my neighbor, Mr. Messex, who worked at Hartman’s Hardware Store. The worn wooden floor was always neatly swept, and the tools, hardware and garden equipment were always in place. The store smelled faintly of fertilizers and insect repellents. If Hartman’s was out of something we needed, my dad would visit its competitor, Welch’s, up the street.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

Back in the day, there were mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. And 2-way traffic.

My father bought his office supplies at Klein’s and was a regular patron of the record section before Sally moved to her own place. We often perused the bookshelves that sat atop crooked, wooden floors at Remarkable, and Dorain’s Drug Store, recently gone from Main Street, was the only place we knew for our pharmacy needs. My father knew the names of all of the people who worked in these stores, giving the Saturday trips to town a social air, as well.

Before fueling up at the gas station where The Limited now stands, dad would take me to Bill’s Smoke Shop for a treat. We sat at the counter and ate ice cream sundaes, and then I looked at the comic book racks while my father read the paper.

One of our regular dinner stops was Westlake, a dimly lit Chinese restaurant. If we were lucky, we were seated next to a window overlooking Needle Park. That was the name given to the hangout for hippies, and it was therefore assumed, drug-users. It was Westport’s answer to the ’60s counter-culture, and always made for interesting people watching….

Main Street 1976, by Fred Cantor. West Lake (left) had just closed.

Main Street 1976. West Lake (left) had just closed. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

There was a musical instrument store around the corner from Main, and when Baskin-Robbins went in across the street, a night at the movies took on new meaning. While my mother usually shopped for groceries at the less costly Stop and Shop, Westport Food Center and Gristede’s were there for forgotten items.

At night the greatest place to go for a bottle of wine and some live folk music was Grass Roots, which shared a wall with its rowdier counterpart, Ye Olde Bridge Grille. My parents often ate at Chez Pierre, while my friends and I stopped at competing pizza parlors, the Westport Pizzeria and S & M—both of which are still there, thank God….

One of the saddest deaths in Westport was the closing of the Ice Cream Parlor. The big pink palace was special for my brothers and me, a place where we bought bags full of penny candy from the turn of the century candy shop, ate hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the ornately decorated parlor, and watched old 5-cent movies on the machines that hovered in the corner of the room.

The Ice Cream Parlor was a one-of-a-kind place, the kind of establishment that gave Westport its character. But it’s gone and soon its pink sister, The Remarkable Book Store, will be gone too. While the new Westport generation will have its Gap, J. Crew, and Banana Republic memories, mine will be of two pink ladies and a handful of one-of-a-kind shops.

Ice Cream Parlor

The Ice Cream Parlor, on the Post Road not far from Main Street.

 

Remembering Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer would have been 100 years old on January 21.

He didn’t make it. He died earlier today, 64 years after moving to Westport.

But that’s one of the few things he did not accomplish in a long, productive and well-lived life.

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer

Sidney Kramer was a major player in the publishing world. An attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — the original paperback house, founded during World War II when newsprint was scarce — he was better known locally as the owner of The Remarkable Bookshop.

For more than 30 years the pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza was beloved for its floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with new releases, poetry, cookbooks, obscure volumes and funky gifts; its cozy rooms, well-worn couches and sloping floors, and the encyclopedic knowledge of everyone who worked there.

Sidney’s wife Esther managed the store. She died in April 2011, at 93.

Remarkable made national headlines in 1978 when it refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography because — in Kramer’s words — “we thought he was a rascal.” The store owner noted that it was not a freedom of speech issue. He even walked patrons down the street to Klein’s, which sold the book.

In 2001 — in recognition of the service Remarkable Book Shop provided — Sidney and Esther Kramer received Westport’s Arts Award.

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

The much-loved Remarkable Book Shop

But Remarkable — whose perfect name, serendipitously, includes “Kramer” spelled backwards — was not Sidney Kramer’s major contribution to Westport.

In 1981 he helped found Save Westport Now. Originally organized to prevent an enormous office building from replacing a century-old Victorian house on Gorham Island — diagonally across the parking lot from Remarkable —  Save Westport Now soon evolved into a 3rd political party.

It lost the Gorham Island war. But it won a battle along the way: The green-tinted office was originally planned to be much higher than it is now.

For the next 3 decades, Kramer and other activists monitored the Planning and Zoning Commission. They were particularly involved in issues like parking and the height of new buildings.

Save Westport Now said:

Mr. Kramer was never reticent in voicing his opinions about the manner in which over-reaching development would damage the character of his town. His analyses were not only respected, but often resulted in better outcomes. Although he relied on the members of his organization to help fulfill the SWN mission it was he, well into his 90s, who stood at Town Hall and spoke. And we all listened, learned and benefited.

Save Westport Now

Kramer was born in the Bronx in 1915. His parents emigrated to the US from Vilna and Minsk, in the 1890s. After graduating from NYU and Brooklyn Law School, Kramer served as counsel, accountant and eventually part owner of Penguin Books.

After Bantam he worked with other publishing companies, and was president of New American Library. In 1961 he founded Mews Books Ltd., a literary agency representing authors like Richard Scarry and Hardie Gramatky.

Sidney Kramer is survived by his son Mark of Newton, Massachusetts, the founding director of the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University and the author of many works of narrative non-fiction; his daughter Wendy Posner of Chicago; 4 grandchildren — and a very grateful Westport.

A memorial service is set for Saturday, January 24 (11:30 a.m., Westport Library). It’s 3 days after what would have been his 100th birthday.