Tag Archives: Talbots

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?

First Snowflake Of The Season

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

And only 67 days until Christmas!

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.

 

Take This Job And Shovel It!

An alert and in-the-Christmas-mood “06880” reader ventured downtown yesterday.

Ready for some holiday shopping, he was surprised to see so many uncleared Main Street sidewalks, 2 days after Saturday’s snow.

It was piled high in front of vacated stores like Talbot’s and Kate Spade. There were also “half-hearted attempts” to clear the way in front of several open-for-business places. Nike and Papyrus are 2 that he singled out.

“Rather than being obsessed with parking shortages downtown, it seems the merchants should make clearing the walks a priority,” he says.

And, he adds — tongue in cheek? fist cocked? — “I know ‘06880’ has made a 2nd career out of bashing local businesses. So I want to make sure you’re on the lookout during today’s snow.”

In this scene from last winter, no one had yet cleared the streets -- or sidewalks. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

In this scene from last winter, no one had yet cleared the streets — but some sidewalks were done. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)

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.

Remarkable Graffiti

Sometime last night, this graffiti appeared on the side of the Talbots Petites store by the Parker Harding entrance:

But it was hardly vandalism.  In Westport, graffiti is elegant — and historic.

Featuring a replica of the dude who appeared on the logo of the Remarkable Book Shop, it honors Esther Kramer — the founder and longtime owner of the long-cherished store.  She died earlier this month, at 93.

From 1962 to 1994, the Remarkable Book Shop occupied a former private home at the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding.

Painted pink, it was certainly distinctive.  Even more remarkable was what was inside.  Books on every topic imaginable — including cutting-edge topics like women’s rights — filled uneven shelves.  Overstuffed chairs invited browsers to sit, read and linger, long before Barnes & Noble turned that concept into corporate policy.

A cat curled in the corner.

The Remarkable Book Shop, back in the day. Note the dude on the logo next to the large window.

The floor was wooden, and uneven — something Esther and her staff never were.  They knew every customer — from Paul Newman and hotshot writers down to 3rd graders — by name.  Esther and her staff knew everyone’s tastes, and never hesitated to recommend a good read.

They knew what a local bookstore could — and should — be:  A community gathering place.  Warm, friendly, funky.  Something remarkable, which no one seemed to remark upon until it was gone.

Last night, someone remembered.  And made his or her mark in a way Esther no doubt would have loved.

(Fun fact:  “Remarkable” included Esther’s last name, Kramer, spelled backward.  A commemoration of her life will be held Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m. at the Westport Library.)