Tag Archives: Remarkable Book Shop

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.

 

 

Remarkable Downtown Scene

Really old Westporters remember the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza as the site of a sea captain’s house-turned-map store.

Relatively old Westporters know it as the Remarkable Book Shop.

Newbies called it Talbots.

Now it’s — who knows what?

Remarkable Book Shop 2014

The iconic building that long symbolized downtown Westport is being transformed once again.

I had to use a little filter to keep it pink.

 

Looking Back Fondly On…?

From time to time, to the delight of some readers — and the annoyance of others — “06880” waxes rapturously about long-gone relics from Westport’s past.

The Remarkable Book Shop. Allen’s Clam House. Famous Artists School.

If you’ve read this blog for more than a week — even if you moved here this winter — you probably know those names.

Now it’s time to turn the tables.

Alert (and creative) “06880” reader Erik Marcus suggests looking ahead and back, simultaneously. How about crowdsourcing current Westport stores, restaurants and institutions that — 30, 40 or 50 years from now — would deserve as much respect, if they are no longer around?

To make it interesting — and because we’ve given plenty of props already to places like Westport Pizzeria and Oscar’s — let’s limit it to relative newcomers. In other words, you can only mention something that did not exist here before 2000.

Hit “Comments” to add your favorite future nostalgia-inducers. Add a few details. And please, use your full, real name.

Will Bartaco and the west bank of the Saugatuck River still be hopping in 2054? Or will it be a long-ago memory? (Photo by Anne Hardy)

Will Bartaco and the west bank of the Saugatuck River still be hopping in 2054? Or will it be a long-ago memory? (Photo by Anne Hardy)

I Resolve…

Happy New Year!

In the spirit of the season, “06880” offers up a few resolutions.

In 2014, I promise to…

Run only a few photos of selfish, entitled drivers taking up 3 spaces, parking almost on the jetty at Compo Beach, and using the sidewalk in front of Silver’s to enter and exit the Post Road. And I will make snarky comments about them only if they really, truly deserve it.

You won't see more than 20 or 30 of this type of photo in 2014!

You won’t see more than 20 or 30 of this type of photo in 2014!

Try my best to find a story that highlights how great it is that a family with no ties to Westport buys a handsome, well-maintained, 200-year-old home; promises the owner to keep it and love it; then levels it and constructs a 12,000-square foot behemoth filled with rooms that don’t even have names, after chopping down more trees than George Washington ever dreamed of. I know you guys are out there — I can’t wait to tell your inspiring tales!

A blight on the neighborhood. Good to see it go!

A blight on the neighborhood. Good to see it go!

Limit my trips down memory lane. After all, how many times can I mention the Remarkable Book Shop, Clam Box, and a time shrouded in nostalgia when a 5-year-old could walk from home all the way downtown, spend a day shooting baskets (or billiards) at the Y, then wander along Main Street while shopkeepers came outside, greeted him by name, fed and clothed him, and put the bill on the back of a paper bag for the parents to settle, hey, whenever they wanted.

Good riddance!

Good riddance!

Like any New Year’s resolutions, I’ll do my best to stick to these as long as I can. I figure at least through Saturday.

(Have your own resolutions? Click “Comments” to share — and please, use your full name!)

Esta Burroughs: 100 Years Young

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.

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs!

Happy Birthday, Esta Burroughs! (Photo by Miggs Burroughs)

(More Burroughs news! Tomorrow — Saturday, March 16, 2 p.m. — Esta’s son Miggs will sign copies of his book, The What If? Book of Questions — at Barnes & Noble. It’s a benefit for the Coleytown Middle School Book Fair.)

Gault Barns Make History

In its 3 decades of existence, Remarkable Book Shop made a remarkable impact on Westport.

As Mitchells celebrates its 55th anniversary, we marvel that the 4th generation of family members waits in the wings.

But those 2 town institutions have the life spans of fruit flies, compared to Gault.

Westport’s oldest family-owned  business is 150 years young this year.

You want a historical reference? It was founded two years before Abraham Lincoln won his battle to pass the 13th Amendment. You know — that ancient event Steven Spielberg is about to win multiple Oscars for.

Gault logoOn Thursday, the company will kick off a year-long anniversary celebration. They’ll find many ways to honor their heritage — moving from a one-horse and wagon hauling enterprise, through freight hauling, grain threshing, seed supplies and lumber to coal, masonry supplies, home heating oil, and now biofuel, propane, electricity and standby generators — along with their century and a half of commitment to Westport.

While the details of the “150 Years of Community” celebration are hush-hush, one item is significant. The press event will be held at the Gault family’s historic Compo Road South barn.

That’s where the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation will announce that the Gault Barn — actually 3 barns, built from 1890 to 1913 — will be added to the State Register of Historic Places.

You’ve driven past the barns a jazillion times — they’re on the right, a half mile or so from the Post Road as you head to the beach.

The Gault Barns today. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation)

The Gault Barns today. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation)

But you may not know — I sure didn’t — that they are historic structures. Their timber frame construction reflects the building traditions of American farming.

A Connecticut Trust researcher says, “the Gault family showed uncommon ingenuity by integrating a variety of materials from their lines of business, including brick and stone masonry, into the barns to create a truly unique complex.”

The barns have endured since the time when wagons gave way to automobiles. That was the early 20th century — and the Gault company had already been around as long as Mario’s has now been a Westport fixture.

Beef steers in front of the Gault barn, winter of 1930.

Beef steers by the Gault barn, winter of 1930.

While many Westport barns have, um, bought the farm, the Gault family used theirs in evolving ways — to “support and take advantage of changes in the community over time, from dairy farming to lumber and feed grain, to coal and home heating delivery.”

The Gault barns are prized by historians and curators for their architectural bones and historical narrative. They’ve been lovingly preserved and maintained.

In fact, says the Connecticut Trust, they’re among the Top 10 historically significant barns in the state.

Big deal. The Gault family — and their company — have been #1 in service to Westport for decades longer than those barns have even existed.

A Remarkable Real Estate Sale

When Walter Pitkin turned a 1700’s-era sea captain’s house on Main Street into a map and book store, it thrived.

But he sold it to a man who, Sidney Kramer said, “slapped your hand if you picked up a book.” Within a couple of years, business turned sour.

So in the early 1960s, when Sidney’s wife Esther looked to open a bookstore, the stars were aligned. The Kramers bought the property — on the corner of Parker Harding Plaza — and opened the Remarkable Book Shop.

“Remarkable” — the name not only described the store, but contained the name “Kramer” spelled backward — was an instant success.

The low ceilings and sloping wood floors gave it a funky charm. Esther and her band of loyal, learned employees — women like Esta Burroughs, Rita Engelbardt and Wendy Newton — stocked the shelves with an eclectic collection of bestsellers, classics, hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind releases, art and photography books, poetry, political manifestos, and nearly everything else.

They added funky gifts and posters. They painted the exterior a memorable shade of pink.

Large, comfy chairs invited lounging. When customers tore pages out of cookbooks, Esther put up a pad and pencil and invited people to copy recipes.

Eventually, Remarkable took over the space next door — Record Hunter. The Kramers — Sid was an attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books — added space underneath, renting first to a barber, then a succession of gift shops.

The setup of the book store — with its warren of small rooms — made it warm and welcoming. But Sid calls the layout “a pain in the ass. We could never see our customers.”

Because the Kramers owned the building, they succeeded in the always-difficult book world. “If we had to pay rent, we probably wouldn’t have made it,” Sid — now 98, and with a razor-sharp memory — says.

This sign -- immortalizing the longtime owner -- was created by Westport artist Miggs Burroughs. His mother Esta was Esther's longtime second-in-command.

This sign — immortalizing the longtime owner, and incorporating the store’s whimsical mascot — was created by Westport artist Miggs Burroughs. His mother Esta was Esther’s longtime second-in-command.

But the arrival of Barnes & Noble marked the beginning of the end. The discount megastore siphoned off enough customers to force the Kramers to close. Paul Newman called, begging them to reconsider, but — after 34 years — the decision stood.

Nearly 20 years ago Talbots took over — a watershed moment in the Main Street march from mom-and-pop shops to chains.

Two years ago, Esther Kramer died. She was 93 years old.

Last year, Talbots consolidated its wares into the old Record Hunter wing.

Earlier this month, the Kramer family sold the 3,500-square foot building. It fetched $4.2 million.

That’s a lot of money.

But for Westporters of a certain age — who grew up in a certain era — the memories of Remarkable Book Shop are worth much, more more.

From Busytown To Downtown

“06880” has been buzzing recently with news and comments about a variety of Westport connections in books, movies, plays and TV shows.

A Westport Historical Society exhibit opening January 29 looks at Our Town in TV and films in the 1950s, through the eyes of writers who lived and worked here.

Now comes this, from alert “06880” reader Larry Perlstein:

This may be common knowledge, but I just noticed that on the inside cover of Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day?” is a picture of downtown “Busytown.” There in all its glory is the Remarkable Bookshop — with “E. Kramer, Prop.”

The Remarkable Bookshop -- "E. Kramer, Prop." -- is in the lower right corner.

If you’ve just fallen off a turnip truck — or moved to Westport yesterday, or never read “06880” before — you should know that the Remarkable Book Shop was for decades a downtown icon . It was in pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza (today it’s Talbots).

(Today it’s also become a flashpoint for “06880” commenters. Some lament its demise, calling it a symbol of the loss of mom-and-pop shops. Others say, “Get over it. That’s the way the world works.”)

Oh, yeah: Remarkable was owned by “E. Kramer.” (The name of the store is a play on Esther’s last name, spelled backwards.)

Larry asks: “Is this well known? Does anyone know the connection between Scarry and Westport? I can’t find anything on the Wiki.”

I can’t answer that. But I’m sure “06880”‘s remarkable readers can.