Woog's World: Charting a world of change in Westport since 1985
The other day, Dick and Dottie Fincher were rummaging through old stuff. It's what every Westporter does when things pile up -- taking over garages, attics, basements and long-gone kids' rooms -- and the Finchers have been here long enough to have more piles than most.
They found a special Westport News edition from May 17, 1985. Our town was holding its sesquicentennial -- that's a fancy word for 150th anniversary -- and the paper went all out to celebrate. Dick and Dottie passed the relic on to me, so they could have less stuff and I could have more.
It's fun and instructive to look at the yellowing pages. There are stories about the evolution of our town government (and a pat on the back for our "new" Town Hall -- the recently converted Bedford Elementary School). There are features on Longshore, the Westport Country Playhouse, schools and churches, and the YMCA.
But I was equally intrigued by the ads. The reason for the supplement was as much to make money as to inform and entertain -- no surprise there -- and the Brooks Community Newspapers' ad reps sold plenty of them.
Westport --and the world -- have changed a lot in the past 29 years. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the advertisements.
Most were bought by local merchants. Many were for Main Street stores. The Sport Mart was "Fairfield County's headquarters for sports equipment." World of Cheese touted its 300 varieties. Touch of Europe offered down comforters and decorator pillows. Isabel Eland was "an exclusive lingerie shop dedicated to you," while Country Gal called itself "Westport's junior fashion center."
As Westport celebrated its 150th year, Klein's touted its 50th. The Main Street department store sold books, records, cameras, typewriters -- nearly everything that was non-women's-clothes related. Klein's anchored Main Street, and seemed like it would be there forever.
The rest of Westport was filled with locally owned shops too. Max's Art Supplies announced proudly that it had been in business for almost 30 years. The ad included (naturally) a pen-and-ink drawing. Next door was the outline of Schaefer's Sporting Goods, as much a mecca for Westport's young athletes as Max's was for artists.
Westport Bank & Trust was just 17 years younger than Westport. The ad did not include its long-running tagline -- "A home bank in a town of homes" -- nor did it show its iconic home building, occupied now by Patagonia at the triangle formed by Post Road East and Church Lane. Then again, the bank did not have to. Everyone knew what it did, and where it was.
There were ads for photo-developing places. Photozip offered one-hour color film processing, along with slides and movies. They were proud to use Kodak paper, "for a good look."
Westfair TV sold video recorders, color TVs and Walkmans, plus "a large, current selection of Beta and VHS movies." Minuteman Travel handled tasks like airline tickets and hotel reservations, for individuals, groups and corporations.
Baskin-Robbins boasted 30 all-natural flavors -- "and None With Chemicals." That was good to know.
Farther east, The Greens Farms Store -- nee the "Greens Farms Bookstore" -- in Fortuna's strip mall claimed, "There is no place else quite like it." Besides a great selection of books, you could buy stationery, gourmet cookware, games, toys -- and enjoy Joanne Hush's pastry, take-out food shop and catering business.
Some things seldom change. Mitchells of Westport -- known then as Ed Mitchell Inc. -- had recently moved to its current spot, having outgrown two previous locations. Already 26 years old, the ad boasted of its family-friendly philosophy, long hours, and always-hot coffee pot.
The supplement included ads for Silver's, Organic Market, Furs by Albe, Liberty Army Navy, Geiger's Garden Center, Achorn's Pharmacy, Izzo's Country Garden, Longshore Sailing School, Oscar's, Westport Pizzeria, Mario's and Sakura. Of course, L.H. Gault & Son bought an ad. After all, they'd been serving Westport since 1863 -- just 28 years after the town's founding.
Daybreak Nurseries -- over 40 years old in 1985 -- almost made it onto the list of businesses that were around for Westport's 150th, and are still here as we approach 180. Sadly, it closed just a few months ago. Klaff's -- another advertiser -- preceded it, a year earlier.
The centerfold of the special issue included a calendar of special sesquicentennial events. There would be a treasure hunt through town; the unveiling of Westport's new flag at the Memorial Day parade; the PAL fireworks; a town block party on July 4th, followed three days later by a birthday party at Longshore; the "Super Boat Race," and of course Festival Italiano.
As with local businesses, some of those events live on. Others are gone.
Twenty-one years from now -- when Westport celebrates its bicentennial -- we'll check back in again.
I put my money on Mitchells.