Woog's World: New Westporters haven't yet seen town at its best

It’s old news by now: Newcomers fleeing Manhattan and Brooklyn, N.Y. during the pandemic have poured into the suburbs.

Confirmation of the trend came recently, with a special twist — Westport has gained more residents (672) since 2019 than any other place in Connecticut.

Some had expected to move, at some point, from apartments to larger homes. Some never imagined themselves leaving the hustle and bustle of New York for quieter lives in the land of leaves and lawns. But they all ended up here, by the hundreds. So speedy was the exodus, a few bought houses sight unseen.

In an unscientific survey, the consensus seems to be that our new neighbors love Westport.

I have yet to meet a recent arrival who has anything truly negative to say about the town we now share. Sure, there are surprises — traffic, lack of sidewalks, creatures in the attic — but the schools, recreational opportunities and restaurants all draw raves.

Even downtown, a perennial punching bag for residents’ wrath, delights the newcomers.

All of that is nice to hear. It’s an affirmation from fresh eyes that the place we call home is a pretty good place to be.

And here’s the surprising part — none of these New York ex-pats has seen Westport at anything close to its best. They came during a crisis. They’ve wandered, masked and socially distanced, into shops and markets. They’ve come to Compo Beach without picnic tables and grills. They’ve never seen a Memorial Day parade or Fourth of July fireworks.

I can’t help but think, that if they like Westport so much already, what will they think once normal life returns?

They’ll get a glimpse a couple of weeks from now. Memorial Day here is an event not to miss. It’s a long-time tradition that shows us that this sometimes pretentious suburb is just another small town after all — and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

This year’s event may be a bit scaled down, but the basics remain. Every group imaginable — police, firefighters, EMTs, youth soccer and baseball players, the Red Cross, Suzuki violinists — gathers at Saugatuck Elementary School. They march down Riverside Avenue, over the bridge, and turn left on Myrtle Avenue. Crowds cheer; kids take bows. It’s a scene that’s been repeated for decades, and, as hokey as it sounds, Westporters love it.

Be sure to stay for the ceremony on Veterans Green, across from Town Hall. Memorial Day is, after all, a tribute to the men and women who gave their lives so that we can have days like this.

This year’s grand marshal is former B-17 bomber, 98-year-old Nick Rossi. Give your kids a chance to hear perhaps the last World War II veteran they’ll ever meet. They’ll remember it for the rest of their lives.

Newcomers will not enjoy fireworks this summer, for the second year in a row. But they’ll be back in 2022, and this, too, is a don’t-miss event.

Westport celebrates Independence Day a couple of days early but no one cares. Folks arrive very early, claiming territory with chairs and tables. From late afternoon on, Compo Beach is packed with partiers.

Music plays; a drum corps struts up and down closed-off Soundview Avenue; young kids romp and older kids do what older kids do. The fireworks start at dark, and who doesn’t love pyrotechnics over the beach?

Recent arrivals have never enjoyed the Levitt Pavilion, either. The venue next to the library is the site each summer of more than 50 free concerts (and a couple of ticketed benefits from such artists as Willie Nelson, John Fogerty and Frankie Valli). The entertainment runs every conceivable gamut, from rock, jazz and acoustic to military bands and kids’ concerts.

Bring chairs, a picnic dinner and some wine. Spread a blanket on the grass. Watch the sun set over the river. It’s magical.

The Levitt is back this year, with some COVID precautions. Social distancing will be enforced, and the usual six-nights-a-week schedule will be pared down. But the Levitt Pavilion is one more “wow” that new Westporters don’t even know they’ve missed.

A few yards away, the library waits to be discovered. Reopened in September 2019 after a year-long “transformation” project, it closed just six months later. It’s coming back in stages. Soon it will be back in full swing. That means the giant pyramid “Forum” will be filled with people. The stage will host vibrant discussions and exciting music. The children’s library will buzz with activity.

I can’t wait to hear what our new neighbors think of the library, the Levitt, and town traditions — even something as simple as grilling on South Beach with a (non-glass) cup of wine, watching the sun set over Owenoke.

Welcome “home.”

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.