Woog's World: Show local businesses some love

I would not want to be a Westport merchant.

Once upon a time, that was a revered title. From Stanley Klein selling typewriters, Sally White’s amazing records, and the Shilepskys and Greenbergs offering coats, gloves and thread, to Mac McCarthy handing out bologna to kids and blarney to the ladies, Paul Zabin with his children’s clothes and Esther Kramer’s remarkable books, Westport teemed with men and women who knew their wares, knew their customers, and were totally in tune with the town.

Plenty of merchants are here still. But they’re buffeted by strong retail winds, both local and national: Onerous rents, huge chains and big-box stores, the ease of e-commerce, increasing demands on shoppers’ time, and the perception that downtown is dead with no local businesses left in town.

The holiday season is huge. It’s make-or-break time for the hundreds of merchants who still call Westport home (all professionally, many personally). The next couple of weeks can determine whether some of them are around next year.

So why not give a little “Local Love”?

That’s the name of a campaign, now in its second year. Developed by Melissa Post and Megan Rutstein — the women behind “Westport Moms,” a multiplatform site filled with resources and tips — the goal is to “keep our town vibrant, keep businesses alive, keep people connected, and celebrate everything this community has to offer.”

From Dec. 7 through Dec. 15, over 100 local retailers, restaurants and fitness centers offer discounts via a $40 coupon book. Though it seems counterintuitive to cut prices during this crucial shopping season, it’s a way to ensure shopping gets done on Main Street, the Post Road and Saugatuck, not Amazon, eBay and Etsy.

Plus, a portion of the proceeds go toward construction of a playground at Bedford Square. You know — right downtown.

I can’t list all the participating businesses. You can find them and a link to purchase the “Local Love” discount card at WestportMoms.com.

But I can offer my personal favorites. This is my list alone. I don’t get compensation or kickbacks — I don’t know whether these places are Westport News advertisers or not.

I do know that they are locally owned by people who care intensely about our town. They’re filled with wonderful products, staffed by people who truly want to help you find the best gift (no matter how little it costs). You won’t go wrong with any of the merchants participating in “Local Love.” But you really won’t go wrong with these.

My first “go-to” gifts-and-more spot is Savvy + Grace on Main Street. Tucked underneath Tavern on Main, owner Annette Norton crams cool, funky jewelry, clothing and whatever else strikes her fancy into a space that invites wandering and wonder. Annette is the unofficial “Mayor of Main Street,” doing all she can to unite merchants and bring fun back to downtown.

A similar store, though with very different funky merchandise, is Indulge by Mersene. Located across from the train station on Railroad Place, this is your spot for “06880”-themed gifts, and anything else that says “I care” rather than “I clicked.” If Mersene can’t help you find the perfect item, it does not exist.

Party Harty, across from Fresh Market, is another spot for “06880”-type items. They’ve weathered plenty of competition for years, but have always been here for Westport.

For toys, you can’t beat Age of Reason. Just over the Post Road bridge next to Winfield Deli, this is a throwback to old-time toy stores. But there’s a twist: They don’t sell junk. Their toys are educational and exciting — exactly what’s missing from most toy stores. And the staff asks actual questions to help you find items that kids will enjoy for more than 12 seconds.

Savannah Bee Company in Bedford Square is a small chain. But the goods — local honey, body care products made from hive ingredients, honeybee-inspired gifts — are unique and much loved.

Around the corner, Sconset Square is a great place to shop for a variety of items. Fleet Feet sounds like a chain (and it is) but owners Dave and Lynn Wright moved to Westport specifically for the community. They are dedicated to helping customers achieve healthy lives by running or walking. Their shoes are as superb as their service.

Another sports store that’s all about community is ASF. They give so much, so efficiently and happily, that it’s time we give back.

That’s true of all the stores I’ve mentioned and many more in the “Local Love” campaign. We spend so much time lamenting the loss of local merchants, here’s our chance to make sure they’re still here in 2020 and far beyond.

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.