Annette Norton has a full-time job. She owns Savvy + Grace, the fun, funky gifts-and-more store underneath Tavern on Main.
But she spends plenty of time on a related project: bringing excitement back to all of Main Street.
Last month she brought an outdoor market to the parking lot behind her place. It rained — but the vendors and shoppers had a blast.
Tomorrow, she’s arranged for live music out in front. Madelyn Spera is a young singer-songwriter who plays piano and guitar, acts in musical theater, and — though just a rising Staples High School freshman — has already performed at New York’s Bitter End.
She’ll be on Main Street from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Annette is working with the Youth Arts Forum — of which Madelyn is a member — to bring young talent downtown every Saturday.
Her landlord — Phil Teuscher — is very supportive. Like Annette, he understands the importance of fun — and music — on Main Street.
The mobile free library — a fun, funky collaboration between writer Jane Green, her husband Ian Warburg, artist/longtime Remarkable Book Shop enthusiast Miggs Burroughs and former Staples High School student Ryan Peterson — made its way from the Green/Warburgs’ Owenoke home to Bedford Square last fall.
EJ Zebro — owner of TAP StrengthLab — pedaled it over to Main Street recently, where it greeted visitors to the 1st Outdoor Market behind Savvy + Grace.
But Jane — a client and friend of EJ’s — told him the Bookcycle had to be back at the beach for the summer.
He and his TAP staff jumped at the chance to help. When the weather was right, Lauren Leppla hopped on, and made her move.
Local director Amelia Arnold chronicled the trip. If you didn’t see her (and it) riding by, here you go:
When Annette Norton made the rainy decision to postpone last weekend’s rainy Outdoor Market to this Sunday (May 5), she thought her biggest issue would be letting everyone know.
She didn’t figure that — in addition to Main Street being closed right in front of the private parking lot behind Tavern on Main, where 2 dozen vendors of very cool jewelry, crafts and terrariums set up shop — a jet will be parked next door.
The street closing — which only impacts the first hour of the Outdoor Market — is for the Spring Concours d’Caffeine. Vintage and classic cars are on display.
So is a Cirrus Vision CF50 jet. It’s very light — but a jet is a jet.
Joining it is an ICON A5 amphibious light sport aircraft.
The Concours runs from 8 to 11 a.m. The Outdoor Market is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. So come for the cars and the jet. Stay for the crafts, music and food.
Who says downtown Westport is dead?
Among the vehicles on display at the Spring Concours d’Caffeine:
1910 Mercedes Benz 37/90 1911 Simplex 90 1915 Dodge Brothers 2 Indy pace cars (Camaro ’69, Oldsmobile ’70) Mustang retractable hard top Mercedes Benz 190SL, 230SL, 280SL 1940 Lincoln Continental convertible Several Porsche 356s Several Triumph TR3s and 4s Ferrari California
Acura NSX 2019 BMW I8.
The Ackleys from Fairfield, with their Dodge Brothers car. They were dressed in costume for a part in a new film, “The Chaperone.”
Jane Green’s Remarkable Bookcycle — the quirky, fun homage to the late, much-lamented Remarkable Book Shop — reappeared on Main Street this weekend, across the street from the old pink store at the corner of Parker Harding Plaza.
Next week (note rain date: Sunday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you can find it at the first-ever Outdoor Market. Savvy + Grace owner Annette Norton developed the idea of filling the private parking lot behind Tavern on Main with local artisans.
Nearly 2 dozen vendors will offer jewelry, terrariums, hand-designed greeting cards and more.
The Remarkable Book Shop is gone. But the Remarkable Bookcycle is back.
And next weekend’s Outdoor Market may be the start of a remarkable new tradition of its own.
As the owner of Savvy + Grace — that cool, funky, crammed-to-the-gills-gift-and-more shop tucked underneath Tavern on Main — she is proud to be on the same Main Street she used to visit as a girl.
She has gotten to know many fellow merchants. Like her, they believe in Main Street. They feel supported by their landlords.
So it pains Annette that on busy weekends, her store and the sidewalks are filled with non-Westporters.
People come from throughout Fairfield County, New York and as far as New Jersey to shop here, Annette says.
But they don’t come from around the corner.
Annette wants Westporters to rediscover downtown. So on Sunday, April 28, she’s organizing an Outdoor Market.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the private parking lot behind Savvy + Grace will be filled with local artisans. Nearly 2 dozen vendors will offer jewelry, terrariums, hand-designed greeting cards and more. Each has something special.
A few of the many items featured at the Outdoor Market.
One woman makes headbands for kids. Another paints faces on dolls. A non-profit will teach youngsters how to play instruments. Jane Green’s Remarkable Bookcycle will be there too (a few feet from its inspiration, the old Remarkable Book Shop).
There’s live music. Food. And plenty of fun.
Annette wants to show off the downtown she loves to a town that she thinks has turned sour on it. She wants people to mingle, browse, actually touch merchandise before buying instead of clicking a button online. She envisions a Westport version of a New York street market — with a special downtown touch.
She had no idea how much work it would be — finding vendors, getting permits, spreading the word — but it’s a labor of love. Once she gets Westporters downtown, she says, they’ll realize there’s a lot going on there.
The April 28 Outdoor Market will be held in the parking lot behind Savvy + Grace.
Annette’s landlord — Phillip Teuscher — has been very helpful. So has 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker, the liaison with the town. The Downtown Merchants Association is on board too.
“The Westport community is special,” she says. “After the flash floods, lots of people checked in to see if I was okay.” Now she wants those special people to come downtown not for a disaster, but to celebrate.
Annette is doing all she can to give back to downtown.
And if there’s any money left over when the Outdoor Market is done, she’ll keep giving back. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Westport Moms’ downtown playground initiative.
A year and a half ago, the New York Times said Bleecker Street “looks like a Rust Belt city.”
On 5 blocks from Christopher Street to Bank Street, more than a dozen storefronts sat empty.
“Where textured-leather totes and cashmere scarves once beckoned to passers-by,” the paper reported, “the windows are now covered with brown construction paper, with ‘For Lease’ signs and directives to ‘Please visit us at our other locations.'”
Eighteen months after its obituary, that same 5-block stretch of the West Village is “full of cool, vibrant people doing interesting things.”
“Big-name luxury labels” are gone. Their storefronts are now filled with “young, digitally native brands….a well-curated mix of small brands with big ideas.” Many are run by women.
Hill House Home on Bleecker Street shows that a bit of creativity can produce wonders — and entice shoppers. (Photo/Stefania Curto for New York Times)
The sudden switch was no accident. Brookfield Properties bought 4 properties with 7 storefronts last April — “after exorbitant rents and a dearth of shoppers had driven out most of the businesses.” The new owners “immediately set to work rethinking the landscape.”
A creative strategy firm helped plan short-term leases — and revenue sharing.
Nell Diamond — the founder of bedding and bath retailer Hill House Home, an early arrival — did not believe retail was dead.
“Bad retail is dead,” she clarified.
Bleecker Street’s new stores have become destinations — and community centers. They offer hot cocoa, and host podcasts, educational events and book club meetings. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a book signing at Lingua Franca, which sells cashmere sweaters hand-stitched with political slogans.
So why is “06880” highlighting a story about 10012?
Because some of the descriptions about last year’s Bleecker Street resonate with this year’s Main Street.
There are some great, fun stores downtown. You can lose yourself — and find nearly every gift you need — at Savvy + Grace, and The Brownstone. Bedford Square is filled with shops like Savannah Bee Company. Serena & Lily has brought new energy and creativity too.
Serena & Lily draws crowds of shoppers, just off Main Street.
But there are too many “windows covered with brown construction paper.” Landlords still hold out for sky-high rents, and refuse to consider options like short-term leases and revenue sharing.
I know, I know. Apples and oranges. Westport is not New York. Main Street will never have the foot traffic of Bleecker Street.
But we don’t need all those empty storefronts either.
If Greenwich Village can find a way out of its retail doldrums, our village can too.
(Click here for the full New York Times story. Hat tip: Michelle Sinclair Colman)
Ryan Meserole owns a great business on Railroad Place.
Suited.co — recently rebranded as Quentin Row — is a men’s custom clothing shop. Directly opposite the train station, Ryan makes commuters (and many other folks) look and feel great.
A couple of miles away, Michael Connors has a thriving business too. Taylor Place — named for its location, between the library and Tiffany — is a consignment boutique, with an ever-changing treasure trove of intriguing items.
We often think of Saugatuck and downtown merchants as competitors. But Ryan and Michael forged a connection that’s a model for small local merchants, wherever they are in town.
Not long ago, Ryan wandered into Michael’s shop. He wanted some vintage pieces for his window display.
Michael already knew of Ryan from “06880.” The consignment owner asked the custom suit guy a few questions about marketing. Ryan helped re-build Michael’s website, and gave advice on how to leverage social media.
Michael — who has a wonderfully artistic eye — helped Ryan redecorate his storefront. He gave Ryan some sharp-looking furniture.
There’s now green ivy on the bricks, a new sign and alluring windows. Soon, Ryan will add a barber, stylists and shoeshine in the back, ramping up the men’s style vibe.
Quentin Row is going all out to be a great neighbor. Starting this Saturday, Ryan is opening up some of his newly renovated space as a holiday pop-up. For example, Lynn Reale of Gypsy Bleu Jewels will showcase her line of men’s beaded bracelets.
Artisans, craftsmen and other cool people interested in exhibiting at Quentin Row should email Ryan@suited.co.
Quentin Row also offers a Black Friday special (November 23 to 26): Buy one, get 50% off the second.
Michael and Ryan share a passion for Westport’s small businesses. Wherever they’re located in town, the 2 owners don’t want them to leave.
“The Chamber of Commerce helps where it can,” Ryan notes. “But 1-on-1 connections like this — sharing talents, helping each other — can really help revitalize Main Street, the rest of downtown, and Saugatuck.”
A vintage piece from Taylor Place, now on display at Quentin Row.
The idea is spreading. Ryan says that other stores on the block — like The Flat next door — are also freshening up their looks.
“If you don’t evolve, you die,” he notes. “We have to make sure that people enjoy shopping local.”
“No one wants to see a store like ours, or Michael’s — or Savvy + Grace, The Brownstone or Indulge by Mersene — go out. We all need to work together. And we’re having a great time doing it.”
The holiday season is here. Our local merchants work hard to draw shoppers in.
Now, they’re working together — to sew together our town.
It was a common refrain all summer, from former Westporters who returned to visit parents, attend high school reunions or just passed through: “What happened to Main Street?!”
They saw the butcher-papered storefronts. They noticed empty signs where national chains once stood. They found plenty of parking, but not much life.
Behind those grim facades though, another story is emerging.
Frequent flooding has taken a toll on downtown businesses. Chico’s, for example — and Sunglass Hut, across the street — were closed for at least 6 months after Hurricane Sandy. Both are now gone.
Main Street, a bit after the worst flooding from Hurricane Irene. This photo was taken exactly 7 years ago today: August 28, 2011.
High-tech gates offer a solution. Basements are filled with special concrete. Foundations are poured. The gates are stored off-site. But — with just a couple of days’ notice of impending bad weather — they can be trucked over, and clicked into place on both the Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza sides of buildings.
When the storm passes, the gates are removed.
It’s a new approach, resulting in fortress-like properties. A similar project is underway in Lower Manhattan, following Sandy’s destruction there. Closer to home, David Waldman flood-proofed Bedford Square as it was built.
But it’s expensive and labor-intensive. It takes several months for the concrete and foundation work to be done. And that’s after the long permitting process, involving a number of town bodies.
Plus, every Main Street landlord needs to be part of the project. If one store is not protected, water pours into adjacent properties through the walls.
But it’s a solution that landlords and merchants have worked on for months. Skip Lane — a 1979 Staples High School graduate who remembers downtown’s mom-and-pop days — is now a retail director for commercial real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield. He works with Empire State Realty Trust, an enormous firm that owns the Empire State Building, along with a substantial portion of Main Street.
They’re in the midst of flood-proofing the now-empty stretch, from the former Chico’s to the old Ann Taylor.
Stores on Main Street frequently flood. This is the scene at Parker Harding Plaza. (Photo/Chip Stephens)
It’s not easy. Though they’re Empire’s buildings, for example, the town owns the sidewalks that are part of the project. Many other municipal obstacles slow the work too.
But it’s important. As Lane notes, landlords have gotten hammered for the vacancies on — and vacant look of — Main Street.
Lane says that commitments have already been made for key retailers to fill the former Nike, Allen Edmonds and Ann Taylor stores. Peloton is moving in to the old Sperry spot — and they’re flood-proofing too.
“Main Street is not as bad as it looks,” Lane adds. “But with all the construction, it will probably look that way for another 9 months.”
Meanwhile, downtown shoppers should not miss some real gems. Shops like Savvy + Grace and The Brownstone are open, thriving, and vivid reminders of the days when downtown pulsed with fun, unique (and locally owned) options.
Let’s hope they’re flooded soon.
Savvy + Grace is on Main Street, underneath Tavern on Main. It’s one bright spot in Westport’s downtown retail scene.
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