The news of the impending death of downtown Westport, as Mark Twain put it, is premature. So much is being made of the new million-square- foot mall being constructed in Norwalk and the so called Amazon effect, that people are missing one simple fact, Westport is a unique and inviting destination.

Sure people shop online, who doesn’t, but we’ve all got to eat, we all need to be entertained and unless you are anti-social, it’s nice to get out and interact with other people and learn new things.

As for the mall, it will just be another sterile monolith where you park underground and see the same stores and restaurants you could find in Syracuse. It is the experience of being in Westport that will set us apart from it.

I’m not saying Westport doesn’t have issues. We need to be proactive about how we position ourselves in this new era, but we have the raw bones, ingenuity and energy to find our place to excel. The empty store fronts you see are just a phase, as the free market corrects and prices come down to allow the more innovative, accessible and smaller merchants to seize the day. And you never know if some star of retail and technology might see the opportunity to be a part of our community and set up shop.

Our strength lies in our physical presence, a walkable inviting historic streetscape and river front that offer an oasis from the same old same old we see in other towns and especially malls. Our thriving restaurant scene and especially our arts institutions are the basis for what will be experiential offerings and not just a quick “buy-and-go” scenario. Creating new and exciting events to draw both residents and visitors to Westport and our center has already proven to be successful and will only expand to ensure a stronger and encompassing sense of place.

In addition to our wonderful downtown, and helping to bolster it, is a vibrant Saugatuck section with its own unique character with mom-and-pop shops, and myriad stores and markets all up and down the Post Road offering everything else a family could need. The combination of all these aspects will have our town continue to thrive and remain a destination to shop, dine and be entertained. So I say, “Don’t fear the mall; it’s the mall that should fear us.”

Matthew Mandell is a long- time Westport resident and president of the Westport/Weston Chamber of Commerce. He is in his fifth two-year term on Westport's Representative Town Meeting representing District 1. He chairs the RTM Planning and Zoning Committee, and serves on five others. He has been a trustee at Earthplace, the NatureDiscoveryCenter, since 2007.