Tag Archives: Remarkable Book Shop

Friday Flashback #325

Westporters have many options for holiday shopping, and festive meals.

Of course, our retail and restaurant scene is always in flux.

A look at this “board game” from the 1980s shows how much has changed since then.

(Courtesy of Ashley Hemson, via Facebook)

Nearly every business is gone: Remarkable Book Shop. Soup’s On. Daybreak Florist. Max’s Art Supplies. Silver’s. Tacos or What?

But we’ve still got Achorn Pharmacy.

And the Duck.

(If you like traveling down Westport’s memory lane every Friday, please support “06880.” Click here to contribute. Thank you!) 

A Most Remarkable Website

Westporters of a certain age remember the Remarkable Book Shop.

The pink building at the Main Street/Parker Harding Plaza corner was as funky inside as it was colorful outside.

For over 30 years — from 1963 to 1995 — owner Esther Kramer and her band of bright, devoted and eclectic employees made the bookstore a home away from home for anyone looking for anything to read.

If they didn’t have what you needed, Esther and her crew found it for you.

And if you didn’t know what you wanted, they did.

A classic photo of a classic store.

Roaming the crooked aisles of “Remarkable” — and sitting in one of the over-stuffed chairs — was like wandering down a rabbit hole.

Now — nearly 30 years after it closed — there’s another Remarkable Book Shop rabbit hole to explore.

It’s there for everyone: those who remember the store fondly. Those who moved here too late, and know it only as Talbots (or more recently, Westport Local to Market). Even those too young to know what an independent bookstore is.

This Remarkable Book Shop rabbit hole is accessible to anyone with a browser. It’s a website that’s both a historical archive, and a labor of love.

Fittingly, it’s the product of a collaboration between the owner’s son, and a woman who never set foot in the place.

Mark Kramer is a writer (National Geographic, New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic), founding director of the Nieman program on narrative journalism at Harvard University, and a writing instructor at Smith College, Boston University and abroad.

Mark Kramer and his mother Esther. He inherited his love of writing from both parents.

Maya Reisz is a neighbor of Mark’s in Newton, Massachusetts. A professional organizer, she helped him sort through thousands of photos, letters and news clippings belonging to Esther and her husband Sidney Kramer, an attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books, who died in 2014, a month before his 100th birthday.

For years, Mark had been impressed at the impact his mother’s store made.

“Every time ‘06880’ mentioned the Remarkable Book Shop, dozens of people commented affectionately,” he says.

“I’ve come to realize it represented human connection, in a world where connections have become more and more distant.

“She had a vibrant spirit. She was vivacious and effervescent,” he says. “And she created something that was like public art.”

As he and Maya sorted through stacks of photos and news clippings, she too grasped what Esther had done.

“I’m a storyteller,” Maya says. “I saw we had enough substance to tell that story, and bring back memories.”

She has the technical skills to make it happen.  For the past few months, she and Mark worked to bring the “Remembering the Remarkable Bookshop” website to life.

Together, they created a — well, I tried for a synonym. but there is none better — remarkable online archive.

There’s the back story (of course), plus photos, news clippings and artwork.

The painter of this downtown holiday scene is unknown.

But the fun comes — as it did in the store — by burrowing deep.

At the end of each “chapter” — “Esther Through Time,” shelves stocked with more than books, author signings, customers — there’s a link to the next.

Throughout the site, visitors can leave comments (and memories).

The Remarkable Book Shop hosted many noted authors for readings. Pictured here: Erica Jong.

The project was as important to Maya as it was to Mark. As she worked, she felt she got to know Esther and Sidney. She grew nostalgic for a place she never knew. She felt the responsibility — and pride — of producing something that will mean a lot, to a lot of people.

Esther and Sidney Kramer, on TV.

Including those who, like Maya, never set foot inside the Remarkable Book Shop.

And not just new Westporters.

While Mark was teaching recently in Bergen, Norway, the owner of a bookstore asked him where he shopped at home. He told her about his mother’s place — and the website. She said, “I want to see it!”

The Remarkable Book Shop is gone. It lives on now, happily, as a website.

But there are still physical reminders of the legendary store around town. Jane Green’s Bookcycle — a mobile free library — is painted pink, and proudly sports “The Remarkable Man” (the Edward Gorey-inspired dancing figure that hung for years on the front of the store).

The store — and the Remarkable Man.

That’s not the only place to see the famed mascot. The actual, real live (okay, wooden) Remarkable Man now lives inside Cold Fusion. He gazes happily from his new home, at his old one.

Which gave Mark another idea: How about a gathering — at Cold Fusion — for everyone who remembers the Remarkable Book Shop? Friends and former employees could have a very cool time.

Or who goes down its website rabbit hole, and wishes they did?

What a remarkable event that would be!

(Click here to enter the Remarkable Book Shop website. Happy “browsing”!)

(“06880” is your source for remarkable Westport history. Please click here to support this hyper-local blog.)

The Remarkable Bookcycle (and the Remarkable Man), outside the former book shop last year.

 

Roundup: GFA’s DMC, Cavalry Bridge, Beach Jetty …

Greens Farms Academy’s commencement ceremony yesterday had many traditional elements.

The 90 members of the Class of 2022 marched in, to “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Valedictorian Shealeigh Crombie and salutatorian Alicja Farber addressed the crowd. Head of school Bob Whelan spoke movingly of the class as a whole, and described each individual graduate with personal adjectives.

But the commencement speaker was not your usual honoree. Darryl McDaniels — co-founder of Run-DMC (the first rap group on the cover of Rolling Stone, and first inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame); an author, philanthropist and mental health advocate — took the mic, and owned the crowd.

Parents, grandparents — and of course the graduates — sat rapt, as “DMC” spoke (and rapped) about the soon-to-be-alums’ possibilities, potential and purpose.

He talked about the importance of imagination, and assured them they were well prepared for whatever lies ahead.

The recessional was as traditional as ever. But this was a GFA graduation for the record.

Darryl McDaniels delivers the commencement address.

Proud graduates’ processional.

Head of school Bob Whelan. (Photos/Dan Woog)

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Peggy Lehn had quite a day yesterday.

Doing just one errand, she saw:

  • 3 stop sign runners without a tap on the brakes
  • 2 separate cars pulling out dangerously in front of her
  • 1 U-turn on the blind corner at Greens Farms Road and Center Street.

But this one — at Maple Avenue North, near the Post Road — took the cake. (And almost the donuts and falafels.)

(Photo/Peggy Lehn)

Neither Peggy nor I know what happened. But heed her words: “Be careful out there!”

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Once again it’s graduation season. For the third year in a row, Le Rouge is distributing “Give a Little Love” chocolate hearts. The goal is to give one to every graduating student in Bridgeport, when they get their diplomas.

It’s a community-wide effort, for our neighbors a few miles away. Each heart is $8. To buy one (or more!), click here.

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“Double Indemnity” — an exhibit of work by artists Miggs Burroughs and Ann Chernow, based on the film noir classic — is on display at the Westport Library through September 6. An opening reception is set for June 23 (6:30 p.m.).

The show also includes 3 special movie nights, all on the 19-foot screen in the Trefz Forum.

“Double Indemnity” will be shown on June 23, immediately following the reception.

“Detour” will be screened on July 7 (7 p.m.); Susan Granger hosts.

On July 14 (7 p.m.), it’s the original “Nightmare Alley.” Miggs and Ann will host.

Click here for more information.

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The long Cavalry Road reconstruction project — and its long delays — are finally over.

The bridge in Westport’s northwest corner opened yesterday, to the surprise (and delight) of the neighborhood.

It’s been closed since April 2021. If you live nearby, tell us: Was it worth the wait?

Cavalry Road bridge (Photo/Screenshot from Kristy Theisinger video)

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Speaking of reconstruction: Chris Swan has been watching the Burying Hill jetty replacement project with great interest.

He reports that all but about 12 of the second row of pilings has been set, and cut down to finished height at the top of jetty. The end is in sight!

Progress! (Photo/Chris Swan)

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Yesterday’s “06880” Roundup noted that dog licenses must be renewed by July 1. I included several links, from a Town Hall press release.

Town clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton sends along this all-in-one link (click here). It should cover every question — and every dog. Arf!

Cute! But register him (or her).

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Ever since COVID, Westporters have enjoyed outdoor dining — and music — on Church Lane. It’s a great experience — but the musicians don’t play for free.

The Westport Downtown Association has started a GoFundMe campaign to help. The goal is $4,000, to offset the cost of 30 evenings of music by local performers. Click here for more information, and to help.

Music on Church Lane.

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Around the corner from Church Lane, one of Westport’s most iconic buildings has been sold.

177 Main Street — the restored house at the entrance to Parker Harding Plaza, most recently home to Local to Market, and before that Talbots and (of course) the Remarkable Book Shop — was purchased by Eleish Van Breems Home Westport.

Headquartered on Franklin Street, and with stores on Railroad Place  and Nantucket, Eleish Van Breems offers “a clean, elegant and fresh approach to interiors, all with a Scandinavian essence.”

The new home of Eleish Van Breems Home.

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A small local book has just won a big book award.

“In Death, the Gift of Life” earned top honors in the “Death & Dying” category, for the 16th annual National Indie Excellence Awards.

The anthology — inspired by Dan Levinson’s experience with his father’s end-of-life passage — includes 10 Westport stories about those choices, and the challenges faced by people with terminal illnesses.

Each narrative explores men and women who faced the medical establishment head-on, then deliberately embraced grace and courage in the aftermath.

Click here to order the book. All proceeds benefit the Westport Library, Senior Center and Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County.

Mark your calendar for October 13 (7 p.m.), too. That’s the date of the official, twice-COVID-delayed launch party for the book, at the Westport Library. Click here for details.

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There’s a new resident at Willowbrook Cemetery.

This one is very much alive.

Danny Amoruccio, manager/sexton of Willowbrook Cemetery Association, says:  “This little one is hanging around Section 11. We remind everyone not to approach or bother the new fawn. We seeing so many people pestering this little guy.”

New life at Willowbrook Cemetery.

So  be a dear — leave it alone!

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They’re not around for long. But while they’re here, these Saugatuck Shores flowers make for a gorgeous “Westport … Naturally” scene.

(Photo/Diane Yormark)

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And finally … Greens Farms Academy’s choice of Darryl McDaniels as commencement speaker was inspired.

Not tricky at all.

(“06880” relies entirely on contributions. Please click here to support this blog.)

Roundup: Masks, Ben McFall, Skating Rink …

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As COVID cases soar in Westport, a concerned “06880” reader writes:

“Our positivity rate is through the roof. The statistics as of Wednesday were near 18%. When other variants were circulating, an indoor mask mandate was in place.

“Currently there is no mask mandate, except government or municipal buildings. I cannot comprehend why there is no mandate reinstated for all indoor spaces in Westport.

“Masks have proven to work in preventing the spread of COVID. As we are all aware, the Omicron variant is extremely contagious. Westport residents, as well as people who work here, would be much safer with a mask mandate in place.

“Not having everyone wear masks indoors puts all of us in danger, especially the older and immuno-compromised populations.

“This has nothing to do with politics or the economy; it has to do solely with health. Whether people agree or not, it is honestly not much of an inconvenience to mask while indoors in order to protect people.

“Let’s keep everyone safe. Let’s reinstate a mask mandate.”

Masks did not detract from Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert earlier this month.. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Yesterday’s New York Times carried a fascinating obituary of Ben McFall. It calls him “the longest-tenured bookseller in the history of the Strand, New York’s renowned bookstore, who for decades peered above his spectacles at a line of acolytes, tourists and young colleagues for whom he incarnated the store’s erudite but easygoing spirit.” He died last week at his home in Jersey City. He was 73, and suffered from pulmonary fibrosis.

The story notes that after graduating from Olivet College with a degree in French and music in 1971, he moved with college friends to Connecticut — and worked at the Remarkable Book Shop in Westport.

“A co-worker told Mr. McFall she could see him at the Strand,” the Times says. “He had never heard of the place, but in 1978 he arrived in New York and interviewed for a job.” He was hired on the spot.

Click here for the full obituary. (Hat tips: Tom Prince, Jackie Kaplan, Adam Stolpen, Mark Lassoff and Fred Cantor)

Ben McFall (Photo/Julie Glassberg for the New York Times)

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The Longshore skating rink is sponsored by Westport PAL. That stands, of course, for “Police Athletic League.”

To promote this year’s season, the Police Department took this image:

It’s a great one. And we’re not the only ones who think so.

It’s now the Photo of the Week on Police1.com — the go-to site for national police news.

Like the rink itself, that’s very, very cool.

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If you’re like 90% of Westporters*, your New Year’s resolution is: “Get fit” (or “fitter”).

Why wait?**

The Joggers Club starts 2022 on the right foot (ho ho), with their annual 3.5-mile run (Saturday, January 1, 8 a.m., Compo Beach).

But wait! There’s more! Cool off with a Polar Plunge at 10.

For a $50 annual fee, you’ll get access to exclusive parties, 41 group runs, post-run coffee and treats, a Brooks running shirt ($35 value!), a ton of fun — and you’ll get in great shape.

Click here, or check out Instagram (@TheJoggersClub).

PS: Save the date: Joggers Club Jr. (ages 5 to 13) returns April 3. Six weeks of 75-minute coached sessions, for just $99.

*The other 10%? See below.

**Because then you won’t do it.

This could be you! (Photo/Armelle Pouriche-Daniels)

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Perhaps your New Year’s resolution is to find inner peace.

Pause + Purpose is ready. A new studio on 21 Jesup Road — right near Westport Book Shop — they offer drop-in meditation weekdays (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.). They also plan to launch mindfulness gatherings soon.

Founder Emily Vartanian-Tuttle says: “The world is especially stressful right now, and our collective mental health and wellness is suffering. We have built a positive communal space for meditation and discussion in the heart of Westport.

“Scientists are beginning to understand that meditation is essential to a healthy mental landscape, and there is no better way to dedicate yourself to a practice than with the backing of a whole community behind you. We offer meditation modalities and group support, backed by science to improve mental, social, and emotional wellbeing.

“Our professional staff includes psychologists, counselors, nutritionists, and the like, addressing issues such as postpartum depression, social anxiety, dietary challenges, and mourning, among others.

“Drop in for a self-led practice or join one of our high-quality children and adult mindfulness gatherings, where a seasoned meditation teacher will lead you and a group in meditation and discussion.” Click here to learn more.

The soothing interior of Pause + Purpose.

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Jolantha — Weston’s most famous (or at least most visible) sculpture — greets the New Year:

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

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Our final “Westport … Naturally” photo of 2021 shows one of our town’s most popular (and most photographed) scenes: Grace Salmon Park.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

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And finally … good riddance, 2021!

There was not a lot to laugh at this year. But try this:

 

Book It! A Remarkable Local Market Story.

Remarkable!

The Remarkable Bookcycle — Westport’s free and mobile library, started by Jane Green (yes, the Jane Green) and now kept rolling by others — is back where it belongs.

In front of the old Remarkable Book Shop.

The 3-wheeled library pays homage — in color, logo and spirit — to the remarkable (upper and lowercase) store that sat, for 3 decades, happily on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.

Folks of all ages came from all over the area to sit in comfy chairs, read, and — yes — shop locally.

The Remarkable Book Shop then spent a few unhappy years as a Talbots. Now it’s back as a local shop — called, of course, Local to Market.

The Remarkable Bookcycle, outside Local to Market. (Photo/Chris Marcocci)

Westport’s little free library has left Compo Beach — where it summered — and Bedford Square, where it most recently resided. It’s now parked perfectly on the patio outside Local to Market.

Chris Marcocci, the owner of the food/coffee/gift/gift basket/and more shop — who gives a portion of sales to (of course) local charities == has agreed to keep the bookcycle fully stocked.

So drop on by. Pick up a book. Drop one off.

Then shop locally. Just as so many Westporters did at that same spot, for years.

Friday Flashback #263

No bygone business has been mentioned more in “06880” than the Remarkable Book Shop.

The Main Street/Parker Harding corner store was a beloved, comfortable, meeting place. Whenever I need a reference point for a locally owned, customer-centric shop: Bingo!

But the Remarkable comes up in other ways too. There’s the Remarkable Bookcycle, a three-wheeled, mobile homage complete with the same pink color and logo.

There’s the Remarkable Theater, our downtown drive-in theater that takes its name directly — and fittingly — from that long-ago other entertainment option.

More recently, Cold Fusion Gelato — located opposite the former shop — hung the wooden “Remarkable Guy” inside, looking out on his old haunt.

And now Local to Market has opened on the book shop’s old site, offering food and crafts in a down-home way reminiscent of its predecessor.

But in all my references to the Remarkable Book Shop, I never knew that it was also part of a very popular children’s book.

The other day, alert “06880” reader Kerry Long spotted a Remarkable reference on Instagram. A user posted 2 images from Richard Scarry’s 1968 Random House classic, What Do People Do All Day?

There in the lower right corner — below drawings of a poet, artist and writer — was the Remarkable Book Shop.

A close-up shows that Scarry included the name of the proprietor: E. Kramer.

That would be Esther Kramer — the actual owner of the Westport store. (Regular “06880” readers know that the “Remarkable” name comes from “Kramer” spelled backward.)

So — decades later — the Remarkable Book Shop still lives. And not just on “06880,” but Instagram too.

Remarkable!

 

Cold Fusion: The Remarkable Back Story

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.

Roundup: Levitt, Lemonade Stand …

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Here’s a less-than-alluring Main Street view: the old Banana Republic. Hopefully a new store will soon replace this inelegant sight.

(Photo/Ken Yormark)

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Binky Griptite filled the Levitt Pavilion last night. It was just like old times (except for the pods outlined on the grass).

The WFUV “Boogie Down” host — who has played with Janet Jackson and Amy Winehouse, and backed Sharon Jones with the Dap-Kings — brought his funk and soul to the lawn.

It’s the start of a near-normal summer. On the Levitt bill this week:

  • Tuesday, June 29: The Suzanne Sheridan Band
  • Wednesday, June 30: Joanne Leeds/Children’s Series launch
  • Friday, July 2: The Drew Angus Band.

Click here for details, and to order (free) tickets.

Binky Griptite (Photo/Dan Woog)

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It’s one thing to set up a lemonade stand.

It’s another to add fresh mint.

This young entrepreneur did a booming business yesterday, in the heat along Soundview Drive.

(Photo/Gara Morse)

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Wendy Levy spotted these “Westport … Naturally” poppies somewhere between Burying Hill Beach and Southport.

(Photo/Wendy Levy)

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And finally … on this day in 1855, the Sigma Chi fraternity was founded.

Remarkable! Talbots Becomes “Local To Market”

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.

[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.