New site lists, promotes Westport businesses
WESTPORT — A new website aims to provide a free centralized and easily accessible location for information on local businesses around town.
Betsy Pollak, creator of Our Town Crier, said with the help of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, the Westport Downtown Merchants Association and more than 70 interns, she was able to launch the town’s own virtual phone book titled the Westport Marketplace.
“I’ve been in the business of helping to promote small businesses since 2007,” Pollak said. “The town of Westport didn’t have a way to reach out or let people know what businesses existed ... there was no master document to find out what businesses were in this town.”
Through social media and word of mouth, Pollak said she was able to recruit 72 volunteers to assist in canvassing the town and documenting all of its businesses.
“Just to get the canvassing done was two weeks,” she said.
Selectwoman Melissa Kane assisted Pollak in recruiting interns by reaching out to the Staples intern program.
Residents can visit https://www.ourtowncrier.com/westportmarketplace.html for more information.
“It was amazing the response that we had,” she said.
Interns emailed, called and visited businesses, working as liaisons between merchants and the site. The free service provides links and up-to-date information about all business categories from local retailers to restaurants to professional services and more.
Jasmine Kitahara, a 22-year-old Greenwich native, said she saw Pollak’s call for interns on Westport News columnist Dan Woog’s “06880” blog as she was finishing up her last semester at Cornell University. She applied looking to contribute positively to the town, she said.
“I wanted to spend my summer before I start my job in August doing something that I had never done and that I may never get the chance to do,” Kitahara said. “I felt helping with this project was a good way to do that.”
Kitahara, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, said her college experience helped in her role as lead web developer for the site.
“I designed and implemented the home page as well as the ‘meet the interns’ and ‘about us’ sub-pages,” she said.
Building the site took a collaborative effort. Staples High School student Nate Kolek designed all of the art viewed on the site. Local officials said they supported the herculean effort to start the site, including Selectwomen Jennifer Tooker and Kane.
“There was a demand,” Kane said. “People really wanted to be helping our local businesses, and we really wanted to think of a good way to do it. I think that was the impetus of everyone’s involvement in the project.”
She said developing relationships was also a crucial part of the internship for the kids.
“To us, that was very important because it was about these kids really doing something helpful and tangible at a time when people really felt helpless,” Kane said. “I think it also helped the businesses feel supported.”
Sanna Ten Cate, a Georgetown University student, said she was already at home because of the pandemic, but became an intern to contribute to the community.
“I wanted the opportunity to give back to my town and community,” the 20-year-old Westport resident said.
Ten Cate worked as co-director with Pollak to help manage the various parts of the site and in making sure information was up to date.
“I got to see more of the project come together and the different parts come together to make this marketplace,” she said.
Ten Cate said she was proud to work with the interns who brought a diverse array of skills.
“It was so exciting to see interns of so many different ages, and I was so surprised of the different skill sets of all these interns,” she said. “It was cool to see that so many people wanted to give back and help.”
Although the site started in the midst of a crisis, Kane said it can continue to be an invaluable resource moving forward.
“This is not something that’s temporary,” she said. “This was an idea started out of necessity, but it’s something we realize is very, very helpful to our businesses, our town and our residents. The intention is to keep it going, up-to-date and accurate.”