Woog's World: Give local businesses a little love this Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s Day! And yes, there’s still time to get your loved one a present.

Aarti Khosla, our town’s premier chocolatier, is busy cranking out holiday hearts by the hundreds.

She’s one of the underappreciated gems of this town. After earning post-grad degrees in economics and finance, Aarti started a company representing international buyers. She raised two children and lived around the world: India, Hong Kong, Minnesota, Weston. But six years ago she pivoted, learning all she could about chocolates. Now she uses her worldly background to handcraft incredible chocolates, incorporating Szechuan pepper, wasabi ginger, apple pie truffle saffron and pistachio (no preservatives or additives) in her small Le Rouge by Aarti shop on Main Street.

It’s clear I love Aarti. So for this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending a little bit back to the woman who has brought so much love and joy (and calories) to Westport.

That’s not hyperbole. Aarti is as creative with her generosity as she is with her creations. Her “Give a Little Love” promotions are one example. The idea is simple: Buy special chocolates, and Aarti donates some of the proceeds to charity. She’s helped first responders, women in need and animal welfare groups. Last year, she gave chocolate hearts to every Bridgeport high school graduate. It doesn’t get sweeter than that.

Another valentine goes to Annette Norton. Actually, you can buy one at her store: Savvy + Grace, just a few doors down from Le Rouge on Main Street, opposite Rye Ridge Deli. You can buy lots of other things there too: Westport-themed masks and pillows, clothes, jewelry, accessories — you name it. Her gift baskets are legendary; so beautiful, recipients may not want to open them.

But like Aarti, Annette does more than make shopping a joy. She’s the biggest booster of Main Street in town. She’s organized (and spent her own money) to bring craftspeople and food trucks to downtown. She constantly looks for ways to create positive energy and engage Westporters. Like Robert Kennedy, she does not look at empty storefronts and say, “Why?” She imagines possibilities for her beloved street (and everywhere else in the area), and asks, “Why not?”

Around the corner, I’ll drop a valentine on the counter of Jeera Thai. In a town filled with interesting restaurants, this tiny, eat-in-or-takeout place — opposite Design Within Reach — stands flavorfully above all the rest. This is Thai food like you usually get only in Thailand. It is fresh, healthy, light, tasty and spiced in ways you usually only dream about.

The owner cares deeply about Westport. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to sustain a restaurant here — especially in these pandemic times — but she does it, always with a smile (and a slight Thai bow of respect). I should mention here that her name is Pook Love. And if that’s not a great Valentine’s Day connection, you’ve got a heart of steel.

Speaking of steel, where do you go when you need, say, a lock? Or anything else for your home, patio, garden or fire pit? When a winter storm nears, where do you race at the last minute after realizing you are plum out of ice melt, snow shovels and a tarp for your log pile?

Westport Hardware, of course. They’ve been a lifesaver at one point or another for every Westport homeowner. And if you don’t even know what you need, just tell them your problem. They’ve got a solution; they’ve got it in stock, and they won’t charge you the absurd amount you’re willing to pay for any of it.

They open early and stay late during emergencies (blizzards, wind storms, power outages, you name it). Westport Hardware is as basic, and community minded, as their name. They’re also more loved than any much more glamorous, though far less necessary, store.

No valentine to Westport business owners would be complete without a mention of Mitchells. Sure, they’re bigger than a chocolate shop, restaurant or hardware store. Their prices are higher too. But you get things there you won’t find at any other men’s and women’s wear retailer: a true commitment to the customer, and an equally strong sense of community.

The Mitchells response to any request - from an emergency alteration right after they’ve closed, to a venue for your fundraiser - is always: “We want to help. Let’s figure something out.” Mitchells has come a long way from the mom-and-pop-with-a-coffee-pot at what is now a bank branch near Compo Shopping Center. But the family vibe is still there. And the coffee, and bagels, are still free.

Those are just a tiny fraction of the valentines that Westport merchants and restaurateurs deserve. On this weekend when we celebrate love, we are so fortunate there’s more than enough to go around.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.