Tag Archives: Westport

Lending A Westport Hand

As a mother, Krista Bradford heard her daughter’s regular updates about friends’ parents who lost jobs.

As a Westporter, Krista realized our town is better equipped than most to deal with an economic nosedive.  Few places have as many residents still able to make well-placed calls that rocket an out-of-work neighbor’s resume to the top of the pile, or pry open doors for an interview.

And as a self-described “idealistic, tilt-at-windmills former investigative reporter,” Krista wanted to put her energy and talent to use.

The result:  Westporters Helping Westporters, an innovative online group that does exactly what its long, inelegant name promises.

Existing primarily as a Facebook group, Westporters Helping Westporters links job-seekers with job-offerers (or at least job-connecters).  In just a couple of weeks it has already facilitated a CFO opening, and opportunities at consumer products and risk management companies.

“I started it, but it’s really owned by everyone in town,” Krista says.  “I see this as a gathering place for lots of different efforts involving the economy.  People can report observations, make suggestions, rant, soothe, and help other people land on their feet.”

Already, Krista has heard from a few “desperate” people.  One man thanked the group for being there in his “darkest hour.”  It meant everything, he said, to know that people cared.

The online element is important.  Though people need help now, they may feel awkward meeting in groups.  However, Krista hopes warmer weather will bring offline gatherings, perhaps at the beach.

In California, where she grew up, “everyone shared their personal problems.  My experience in Westport is that people don’t want to share that they’re hurting.  But because our group includes people who can help, maybe there’s less of a stigma.  It’s all about getting to know each other, and share connections.”

(For more information, search for the Westporters Helping Westporters group on Facebook, or call Krista at 203-227-8615.)

BREAKING NEWS — Y TO MERGE OPERATIONS

The Westport Weston Family Y has thrown in the towel, “06880” has learned.

According to inside sources, the organization is abandoning its decade-long pursuit of a new building at Mahackeno.  Instead, after leaving its Church Lane location within a year, the Y will consolidate operations at a variety of sites around town.

Swim and cardio programs, for example, will move to Staples High School. “Granted, the fitness center there is much smaller than what we’ve got now,” Y CEO Robert Reeves said.  “But the pool is adequate, I think.”

The Y would have access to Staples facilities only when the high school is not using them — including after-school events. “It’s not the best solution,” Reeves admitted.  “But tough times call for desperate measures.”

Basketball and gymnastics programs will be held in the Assumption Church gym on Riverside Avenue.  Years ago, it was used by a parochial school.

Yoga and other classes will be sub-contracted to private fitness centers around town.  Child care may be handled by the Staples child development classes, if scheduling problems can be worked out.

Several Y offerings, such as squash and racquetball, may end if no suitable sites can be found, Reeves acknowledged.

“Obviously, some details remain to be worked out,” the CEO said.  “But we are committed to making this work soon — by next April 1, at the latest.”

For further details of the plan, click here.

Satchel Paige

If you search hard enough, everything in the world has a Westport connection.

Even Satchel Paige.

Tomorrow at 7 p.m., Craig “Doc” Davidson — who in 1970 was thrown off the Staples baseball team for long hair — will show his new documentary, “Pitching Man,” at the Westport Library.  A celebration of the legendary Negro League pitcher who became a Major League rookie at 42, the film’s never-before-seen images add power to an already compelling story.

satchel_paige1Included too is an interview Doc did with Paige shortly before his death in 1982.

“Pitching Man” builds on Doc’s previous effort, “There Was Always Sun Shining Someplace.”  That video — narrated by James Earl Jones — is a broader look at baseball before Jackie Robinson.  It has become a staple of PBS fundraising.  Doc jokes, “I never made it into the Hall of Fame.  But my film did.”

Making his films, Doc grew impressed with the perserverance of Negro League players, against tremendous obstacles.  He also learned that, rare for the era, Paige made money.  During World War II he was the highest paid player in the country — black or white.

This film’s audience, Doc says, is “baseball lovers; anyone who adores history, and kids and parents.”  Because baseball is, Doc notes, “the great melting pot,” those numbers are huge.  When he told a few Westport Little League dads about tomorrow’s showing, one said, “Great!  My son loves Satchel Paige.”

The library will provide free peanuts and Cracker Jacks.  Take that, Citi Field!

Retail Space Available

Do not read this if you are a commercial real estate owner.  Or if you are prone to depression.

Especially do not read this if you are a commercial real estate owner prone to depression.

A friend recently said there were 26 vacant storefronts in downtown Westport.  Despite the economy, I thought that was high.  I decided to see for myself.

The good news is:  He’s wrong.  The bad news is:  He’s not off by much.

“Downtown” is an amorphous concept, but if you consider it as Main Street and environs, here’s what I found.

Across the Post Road Bridge, near Riverside Avenue, both Little Tibet and The Stuart Collection have closed.  There is a “retail/restaurant” available sign near the Inn at National Hall, while in the other direction King’s Texaco has serviced its last vehicle.

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A “Prime Retail” sign sits in the window of the old library (now HSBC Bank).  Katzenberg Kafe on Main Street is gone; so is the spot next to Ann Taylor and, just past always-thriving Westport Pizzeria, both the old Soup’s On and the former Clementine.

The entire odd 4-story building at 125 Main Street — a vertical mall erected after a furniture store fire 30 years ago, and which never took hold in horizontal Westport — is completely closed.

Swezey’s Jewelers — site of the best Christmas window in town — is long gone.  Behind Talbot’s on Parker Harding Plaza, a sign advertises “Space Available.”  A similar sign hangs in front of Cocoa Michelle (though that upscale coffee/chocolate shop thrives).

Over in Sconset Square, we’re down both a jewelry store and a cabinet/countertop maker.

The storefront next to La Villa Restaurant is vacant; across from the post office, Sang’s Tailoring is shut.  A few steps west, Beautiful Faces is empty.  Particularly sad is the old Town Hall, the handsome stone building next to Restoration Hardware.  A bank — actually, a few banks — used to operate there.  Now the only sign of life is  a “Welcome to Westport” banner out front.

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The rest of town fares no better.  In Playhouse Square, Derma Clinic has given its final facial.  Heading east, Totally Kool is totally closed.  Across the street, tumbleweeds blow across the empty asphalt of both Curran Cadillac and Shaw’s — plus nearby Everything Personalized, the Kodak photo place, and a third store I can’t even recall.

There is one vacancy in the Calise’s strip mall, another where Gallerie Je Reviens used to be.  Carvel will never close, but the business next to the Great American Stamp Store behind it did.

Just past Bertucci’s, Sports Collectables and another store could not make it.  Retail space is available in the Crate & Barrel shopping center, and where Green’s Farms Variety used to be.

Pane Vino restaurant closed recently; the old Pepper Mill property remains undeveloped.  Across from Super Stop & Shop, an empty storefront snoozes next to Sleepy’s.

Circling back toward downtown, through Saugatuck, Conte’s restaurant is vacant.  So is part of Bridge Square, the poster shop on Riverside Avenue, a store across from the railroad station, and a large space next to the AAA.

What a list — talk about a buzzkill.  So, to avoid starting off your week on a down note, consider a few signs of life:

Crumbs Bakery will soon dispense scrumptious cupcakes (for dessert after dinner at nearby Matsu Sushi?).  Joe Arcudi’s square pizza returns to its old stomping ground.  A flotation therapy spa opens in May downtown.

Or take an even broader view:  With all that empty space, now’s the perfect time to make your move.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald Returns

Three decades ago, at home across from the Minuteman statue, Deej Webb read The Beautiful and the Damned. Suddenly he realized something amazing:  F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing about Westport.

Not just any part of town, either.  The classic 1922 novel described South Compo Road and Longshore, a few steps from where Deej sat.

Just 14 years old, he was “intoxicated and captured” by Fitzgerald’s images.  Now the history department head at New Canaan High School, Deej’s historian’s brain is always perking.  Sparked by a 1996 New Yorker article that confirmed The Beautiful‘s Westport geography — along with the theory that The Great Gatsby was also based here — he developed a presentation weaving modern technology with Jazz Age joie de vivre.

Sunday at the Westport Historical Society (3 p.m.), Deej will use Google Earth and PowerPoint to show local landmarks from Fitzgerald’s works.  Included are 244 Compo Road South (F. Scott and Zelda’s rented house next to the Longshore entrance — and purported home of Gatsby narrator Nick Carraway); Longshore itself (Jay Gatsby’s mansion), and the E.T. Bedford estate (Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s place).

Fitzgerald spent just one summer in Westport.  But that was long enough to influence two major works — and help give this place the “writer’s colony” brand that has endured for nearly a century.

Tomorrow Deej Webb and Google bring us back to the dawn of that era.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in front of their rented South Compo Road home. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in front of their rented South Compo Road home. (Photo courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

Driving Down The Age

The telephone.  The airplane.  TV dinners.

Given enough time, man can dream up anything.  But it takes a creative Westporter to think of this idea:

Lower the driving age to 14.

A middle-aged neighbor — who asked to remain nameless — has devised a new way to meld environmentalism and puberty.

“Everyone says kids are not responsible,” he explains.  “I think we need to give them more responsibility.”

At a time when our entire nation needs to be more responsible — particularly if we want future generations to do things like drive and live — this Westporter suggests handing car keys to boys and girls a year after their bar or bat mitzvahs.  Here’s the catch:  They could not drive high-speed vehicles.

“America needs to produce new types of cars,” he says.  “But manufacturers don’t think there’s a market for them.  If we allow 14- and 15-year-olds to drive — but not let them on highways, or in cars that go over 45 miles an hour — we’ll expand the market.  There’ll be a new sector for efficient, low-cost, locally driven cars.”  One more buzzkill for young drivers:  Their cars would be small enough to carry only one or two passengers.

The Westporter has a 14-year-old daughter.  Would he actually let her get behind the wheel?

“Sure!” he says cheerfully.  “She’d be a better driver than me tomorrow!”

He is a brave man indeed.  Just not brave enough to allow his name to be printed publicly.

A First For First Selectman

A woman nearly earns the presidential nomination; an African American edges her out, and wins in a landslide.  What’s next?

How about an Englishman running for first selectman?

That’s next, by Jove, after this week’s announcement from the Republican Town Committee. Gavin Anderson — two-term Board of Finance member, and long-time  corporate finance director — is expected to win nomination when the RTC meets in July.

His running mate is likely to be Board of Education member Kristin LaFleur.  That’s not ground-breaking — Jacqueline Heneage, Marty Hauhuth and Diane Farrell were female first selectmen; Betty Lou Cummings has served in the second spot, and Shelly Kassen is our current second selectman(woman)(person).

But a Brit — that’s one for the books. 

Gavin Anderson is straight out of central casting.  He stands tall and dignified; he speaks perfect English (in a perfect English accent), and makes key points with wry understatement.

His manners are courteous.  His expected foe — first selectman Gordon Joseloff — is similarly calm and clear-headed.

Both men love Westport, and have served the town in many volunteer capacities.  The incumbent was raised here; the challenger chose it years ago, after leaving his native land.

Whoever wins, Westport will not lose.

This Play’s The Thing

Two students walked out of Staples’ production of “Twelve Angry Men.”

“I want to serve on a jury,” one said.

“I want to be a lawyer,” his friend replied.

That’s one story of the power of the legendary high school drama troupe’s production of the intense courtroom drama.

Here’s another:  Earlier this week, the widow of Reginald Rose — the man who wrote the drama for television, then co-produced the movie version — bought a ticket for the Staples show.  She could have seen dozens of productions of “Twelve Angry Men” over the years; she chose this one.

Photo by Kerry Long

Photo by Kerry Long

One more story:  designer Reid Thompson, a Staples grad, served jury duty several weeks ago.  That experience shows, in the set’s superb yet stark details.

Now 50 years old,  it’s hard to imagine Staples Players coming up with anything new.  But they always do.  This time it’s directors David Roth and Kerry Long’s innovative staging.  The jury sits in the middle of the Black Box Theatre, surrounded on all sides by the audience .  Blocking is challenging — but the result is both intimate and compelling.

“Twelve Angry Men”‘s final performances are tonight, tomorrow and Saturday (all 7:30 p.m.).  Click here for more details and ticket information.

Pizza Power

Once upon a time, there was  Arcudi’s.

It was not Westport’s first pizza place — that honor goes to Westport Pizzeria, opened 40 years ago and still blissfully unchanged, right down to the paper place mats — but Arcudi’s was among the most loved.

It was home to two institutions: the “square pizza,” which makes sense because pizza boxes are square, and Joe Arcudi, who also made plenty of sense much of the time. Joe had 3 loves: his restaurant (in the free-standing store next to Carvel’s); baseball and softball (he coached and played), and Westport. In fact, he parlayed his Saugatuck roots and local renown into a term as first selectman, from 1993 through 1997. He was not what some people in Westport expected in a chief executive, but the Arcudi family was here a lot longer than you, I or Joe and Mel Mioli, and he always had the town’s best interests at heart.

In the mid-’90s, Joe took his square pizza to Norwalk. During and since that time, a parade of pizza places plowed through town. There are strictly home-grown places like Angelina’s; big chains (Bertucci’s) and small (Planet, John’s Best). There are spots with suitable Italian names (Joe’s, 4 Brothers), and those whose names have nothing to do with pizza (Martha’s? Gimme a break.)

There are names that miss by an inch (Pizza Thyme — a bit too frou-frou, no?) and by a mile (S&M Pizza — you didn’t want to know what those guys were doing in the back). There have been several others, clustered in the Westfair area, all of whose names (except Slice) I forget.

But now — bellisimo! — Arcudi’s is coming back.

Soon, the very same storefront — most recently the site of Chef’s Table, which served great food perhaps a wee bit more health-conscious than pizza — will house Arcudi’s.  Joe will be back in action, no doubt wearing the same apron and dishing up the same great grub. You may not be able to go home again, but you will feast on a square pizza at Arcudi’s in Westport.

Now, if we could work that same magic on Big Top…

Risky Business

There were plenty of handouts at last night’s “Risky Behaviors” panel, sponsored by the Staples PTA. Drug use, drinking, eating disorders, peer pressure, self-mutilation, sex — you name it, a flier described it.

The parent next to me examined his stash. “What’s worse?” he asked. “This, or your 401 (k)?”

I figured it was a tossup.

But as the panelists —  a therapist, attorney, paramedic, youth detective and 6 articulate, probably quasi-angelic students — spoke, I thought of the Who song from my own teenage years:  “The Kids Are Alright.”

Sure, in Westport some (the majority? a lot? most?) smoke, drink, get high, have sex, drive like Jeff Gordon, and  instantly post photos of it all on Facebook.

Just like they do in New York, California and Utah. Especially Utah.

When I was at Staples, some of us did all that too (except Facebook).

But as the adults and teenagers talked about risky behavior — abusing Adderall, hooking up in basements, sending salacious photos by cellphone — other themes crept in. There was talk of how much these kids trust their parents, and confide in them. Of how far the police go not to arrest partying teens, even as their flashing lights scatter them like cockroaches. Of the fact that — though kids will always be kids — they’re being kids with  more designated drivers and common sense than ever before.

In the 1983  movie “Risky Business,” Tom Cruise threw a rager when his parents were out of town.  Last night, “Risky Behaviors” explored the same phenomenon. Twenty-six years from now, today’s teens will throw up their hands at their own kids’ antics.  Teenagers in 2035 will face similar perils, plus dangers yet unforeseen.

But I think their parents — the young people growing up in Westport today — will be well prepared for those challenges.  After all,  they’re being raised  in a community that respects them, values them, and will do all it can to help them succeed.

On second thought, they’ve got a much brighter future than my 401 (k).