For every sign the economy is still sagging — the New York Times reports that an uptick in vasectomies means families are hesitant to grow (or else men want snippage before their insurance runs out) — another says hard times may be easing.
Take bread and cake sales.
A Westport bakery owner says that until 3 weeks ago, business was off 15 percent from last year. That’s not as bad as many stores, he knows, but it’s still a substantial downturn.
Lately though, he’s noticed an increase. And Passover and Easter orders were even higher than last year.
He’s not sure the upturn will last. Interestingly too, if this week’s business is off, it might be a positive sign.
This is school vacation. Strong sales may mean more people are staying home — bad. If sales fall, perhaps they’re away — that’s good.
So in a perverse way, let’s hope business tanks this week. And then rebounds spectacularly on Monday.
In the mid-1950s, construction of I-95 ripped the heart out of the thriving Saugatuck neighborhood. Homes were demolished, entire roads wiped out, generations of families uprooted from the tightest-knit section of Westport.
Twenty years later, an incongruous multi-story office building — 21 Charles Street — rose nearby. More old houses were sacrificed, and fears rose that Saugatuck would soon devolve into one more anonymous, glass-faced business center.
It never happened. Over time Saugatuck found a new groove. Some decent restaurants and a funky art print store moved in. Bridge Square thrived, and the train station remained an important anchor.
Now Saugatuck is on the cusp of another change. As reported on WestportNow.com, an application to demolish 533 Riverside Avenue — DeRosa’s Restaurant, Westport Florists and Riverside Barber — is working its way through town government. That teardown would be one more step in the plan — approved last year by the Planning and Zoning Commission — to develop a new “Saugatuck Center” combining retail and residential properties.
I understand the retail concept — though I hope the space will be filled by local businesses, not the chain stores that sucked the life and energy out of Main Street. Gault is happy to move; as important as its location once was to the 145-year-old business, that’s no longer true. It will be cool to see the Saugatuck River opened up to everyone in town.
What I don’t get is the residential part. Will people really pay good money to live in — let’s face it — the shadow of the massive I-95 bridge? It’s one thing to shop there; it’s another thing entirely to open your window every morning directly underneath it.
Half a century ago, I-95 caused havoc for Saugatuck. Will it — unintentionally — do so again?
I know we live in perilous times. I understand the reasoning behind demands for wage freezes for town employees — the police officers, firefighters, public works employees, secretaries and teachers who make Westport “Westport.”
To help out, I am willing to forgo the contractually agreed-upon increase in my Staples coaching salary this year.
But I also wonder why, when times are flush — as they were not long ago — I did not hear similar requests to reopen contracts, and give something extra back to these same folks.
When it comes to nightlife, “cool” and “hot” mean the same thing.
These days, Westport’s nightlife can be summed up in one word: “not.”
Two hip-but-nerdy researchers recently unveiled a means of measuring cool hot spots based on things like film screenings, concerts, gallery openings and fashion shows.
It examined only two cities — New York and L.A. — but once upon a time Westport had nightlife too. There were movie theaters (five!), concerts (The Doors, Yardbirds and Cream all played here) and galleries.
Sure, we had a fashion show just last month. The models were Staples football players and cheerleaders. No offense but, I mean, no one confused it with Project Runway.
These days, Westport’s nightlife is confined to a tiny triangle of restaurant/bars: the Black Duck, Viva’s and Dunville’s. Call ’em by their initials: BVD.
That sums up Westport’s sad night scene, doesn’t it? No one wears BVDs anymore.
It’s time to toss off our briefs. Westport: Move into a boxers world!
Last week, Balducci’s director of marketing promised “an exciting announcement” about the company. She wouldn’t say what it was, or when it was coming.
This morning, a self-described “displaced balducci’s employee” posted this comment underneath that story: “the announcement is that Kings has bought the stores that are still open.”
A quick search of cyberspace revealed no official word. But the closing of 4 Balducci’s stores — including 2 in Manhattan — has generated plenty of press. The New York Times weighed in; so did the New York Post and the website Chowhound.
Whether you are a Balducci’s booster from the Hay Day days (back when Bear Stearns touted it as a great acquisition) or think “gourmet food” feeds into every frou-frou stereotype about Westport, the place is an institution in town.
“06880” will continue to be all over this story, like pesto on salmon.
Driving past the very active North Compo Little League fields recently, I flashed back to my own baseball experience, all those years ago.
Sorry — I didn’t mean that. I should have said: I really sucked.
I loved baseball. I truly did. I just couldn’t play it.
Despite years of experience with the cul-de-sac pastime called “running bases,” and plenty of impromptu recess games at Burr Farms Elementary, the organized version of Little League lost me.
I remember being assigned each year to Cap League teams, finally making the minors as a 12-year-old charity case.
I recall standing endlessly in right field, knowing that the rare ball that came my way would never land in my upraised glove. (This was in the pre-contact lens, pre-pre-Lasek surgery days).
And I will never forget standing at home plate, happily trying to follow the coach’s instructions to not swing — “just get a walk.” I was 2-foot-1, so the advice was wise. Still, even 9-year-old pitchers managed to throw with Sandy Koufax-like accuracy against me. I can’t recall ever making it all the way to first.
Going to Yankee Stadium was fun. Going to the Coleytown Elementary field was not.
I still like the game, particularly because it offers such a leisurely opportunity to second-guess strategy, look ahead to the next inning, and answer email.
I’m not anti-baseball. I’m just pro-not-playing-a-sport-I-suck-at.
It’s hard to imagine a business better suited to today’s save-money, save-the-earth ethos than a bike shop. Its product is relatively inexpensive, easily maintained, environmentally vital, and it appeals to all ages.
The store — despite its broad selection, knowledgeable staff and superb service — is no more. Not long ago it hummed; now it’s just another empty storefront, not far from similarly shuttered Shaw’s, Totally Kool — and Curran Cadillac.
First a car dealer; now a bike shop. Soon we won’t have any place to buy wheels to get to the stores that are not open, anyway.
Wait, wait — before you get all verklempt about your butternut squash and goat cheese ravioli, Bilinski chicken sausages and Caribbean pumpkin black bean soup, listen: It’s the two stores in Manhattan, and one each in Ridgefield and Washington, D.C., that will soon sell their last green crushed olive spreads. The Westport location — along with Greenwich, Scarsdale, Bethesda (MD), and McLean and Alexandria (VA) — escaped the cutting knife.
Jennifer Barton, Balducci’s director of marketing, did not mince words. “The Westport store will remain open,” she said soothingly when I called a few minutes ago. “That store will not close. No, no. There’s no talk of that. Not at all. We are in the process of reorganizing our business and closing underperforming stores” — she sounded so disappointed at their failure to meet Balduccian standards — “but those six other stores are doing fine.”
Jennifer was on a PR roll. “We look forward to making an exciting announcement about our remaining stores in the coming weeks!” she chirped.
Wow — an exciting announcement about the Westport Balducci’s! I could barely contain myself. Perhaps, I prodded, she could give me a teeny hint?
“No, I’m sorry, I can’t,” she said corporately. “But it will be a very exciting announcement, in the coming weeks.”
To celebrate, I’m heading out right now. I’m thinking a tin of Royal Osetra (Acipenser Gueldenstaedti) Kazakhstan caviar would be perfect.
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