New site keeps Westport community, local shops connected amid virus closures
WESTPORT — With businesses asked to close or change their services to fight the spread of the coronavirus, a new community website looks to provide them with extra support.
Concerns about the impact closures would have on local shops, Westport resident and Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Danielle Dobin said, spurred friends and others into action.
“We started brainstorming and we came up with the idea of helping to drive local sales online so people could continue to patronize all their favorite stores and buy things,” Dobin said.
The solution came in the form of a website showcasing all the town has to offer. Dobin’s family, alongside the Fantegrossi-Weilgus, Kamo, Post, Rutstein and Cammeyer families then spearheaded a community effort to compile a list of dozens of restaurants and local stores.
“We wanted to create something to allow people to easily find whatever they’re looking for in one place,” Dobin said, adding it was a group effort consisting of calling restaurants, and finding out what services they’re providing.
Once the information was collected, the families handed it all to Dobin’s son, James Dobin-Smith.
The Staples High School freshman then went to work building a website titled OneWestport that would be easy for residents to navigate.
“We’re updating the website everyday with new businesses,” the 14-year-old said.
On the site, which launched on Tuesday, businesses are divided into six categories: Clothing/jewlrey, restaurants, fitness, salons, nail/spa and miscellaneous.
Photography on the site provided by John Videler also shows how Westporters have come together for the initiative.
Dobin-Smith said he put in 30 new businesses just on Tuesday. Local shops have also reached out, expressing gratitude and sharing their stories in these challenging times, he said.
“It’s really touching,” Dobin-Smith said of the reception.
The cancellations have impacted Dobin-Smith as well. As an active member of the Staples Players Theatre Group, he said he was saddened when he found out the high school’s theater production has been postponed and could likely be canceled.
“I just felt if I’m able to stop other people from feeling this way, the way I felt when my theater production was canceled, I’m going to do that,” Dobin-Smith said. “I love our town and the fact local businesses are able to thrive here ... I feel in a time of crisis we need to give back to the community and make sure these local businesses we love are able to survive.”
The site’s early success has already garnered some attention outside of the state. Dobin said a resident of New Hope, Pa., contacted her son hoping to create her own web version titled “OneNewHope.” Now, he’s working to draft instructions to help other communities.
“He’s trying to create a system for people to replicate what he did for small towns across the country,” Dobin said, adding she was proud of her son. “... He could be playing video games or watching movies, but instead he’s staying up really late to revise all the links and add more people.”
Dobin is now asking Westporters to support local merchants by visiting store links on the site and buying gift cards.
“I’m just asking friends why not go to five different stores every week online and buy five different gift cards,” she said. “It just seems like a great way to support our local merchants to buy at least five different gift cards every week moving forward.”
Similar to the communitywide momentum that fueled and inspired the site, its name was also a group effort.
“My dad said ‘OneWestport’ and we all knew that was perfect,” Dobin-Smith said, recalling a discussion of website names with his family. “I just feel like it goes with what we’re trying to achieve. We’re trying to bring Westport together to help Westporters.”