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Friday, November 4, 2011

Silver Celebrates Grand Reopening a Few Doors Down

Silver Celebrates Grand Reopening 
a Few Doors Down
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – “Welcome to the new old,” said Susan Silver, flashing a grin at patrons wandering into the retail establishment that she co-owns with her brother Stephen.

It was a good term to describe the familiar anchor, Silver of Westport, that has shuttled back and forth just a couple hundred yards three times since 1951. Saturday, the store celebrated its grand reopening in the original spot it first called home in Westport in 1951, 390 Post Road East.

“Grandad Sam started the business in Bridgeport, on Main Street, in 1904,” said Stephen, “with canes and umbrellas, then luggage. In 1951, he opened a second store in Westport, at 386 State Street East, which became 390 Post Road East without moving.”

Stephen added, “The Bridgeport store was huge in its day, and my grandfather’s two brothers, Bennett and Marty, took it over. But then Marty died in a plane crash, Bennett opened another store in Milford and closed Bridgeport in 1963.”

Silver of Westport moved from 390 to 404 in 1992. Now, 19 years later, it has moved back. Trader Joe’s had interest in the former space, terms were agreed upon and the grocery will expand into it in January 2012.

The store’s loyal customers are one secret of Silver’s success. “What’s great about this opening today is all the community friends that have come out to show their support,” said patron Mimi Greenlee, “just like the Silvers have supported the community for so many years. Silver’s has always been a place to go for birthday, graduation and holiday occasions. And you can’t get any better luggage.”

Westporter Tom Smith agreed with Greenlee’s sentiment. “Silver’s is the most consistent and loyal retail store in Westport, with long-standing customer relations and broadening categories of product,” he said. “It’s comforting that their move is an up-tick and they are not in any way obsolete.” 

WHS Conjures Up Spooky Activities for Columbus Day Halloween Workshop

WHS Conjures Up Spooky Activities 
for Columbus Day Halloween Workshop
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Fluttering ghosts, cobwebs, gravestones and skeletons. Not exactly the kinds of things you would associate with Columbus Day. But the workshop session held Monday at the Westport Historical Society was a fun way for coordinators to use a day off from Westport Public Schools to look ahead to and get kids excited about the popular holiday.

“This is the first year WHS has done a Halloween craft day,” said program leader Elizabeth DeVoll. “And it’s because I love Halloween. I had been doing this kind of thing out of my home for a long time. It’s a great alternative to the typical Halloween associations of store-bought costumes and candy.”

Held primarily in the finished basement area of the facility at 25 Avery Place, the day’s activities included cutting out and making hinged paper skeletons and owls, haunted house dioramas, interactive themed drama led by Jen Devine, ghosts made from Styrofoam peanuts and Q-tips, a spooky treasure hunt, trick-or-treat bag making, fun with a black cat piñata and pipecleaner spiders. 

Setting the mood in the activity rooms – which also included the Sheffer Gallery – was themed décor that had been carefully placed all about: “Enter if you dare” caution tape, knitted pumpkin and black cat figures, strings of blinking eyes, chalk drawings of jack o’lanterns and even a white rubber mouse.

About two dozen children participated, taking turns standing around three long tables covered with yellow paper. Scraps of paper, pipecleaners, glue and cobweb materials flew everywhere as the kids busily worked at their crafts.

“I went to one of these workshops before, during Easter, and it was really fun,” said Olivia Valante, 8, of Westport, “so I knew I would have a good time today. I’m going to use what I make to decorate my house and given some other things to my family.”

You could say everyone had a spooktacular time, with more treats than tricks enjoyed by all.

Pumpkin Fest Offers Family Fun New England Style

Pumpkin Fest Offers Family Fun 
New England Style
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – There were no lack of activities for kids of all ages at Greenfield Farm Saturday when the Greenfield Hill Village Improvement Society hosted its 13th annual Pumpkin Fest.

Located at 3763 Congress Street, the site, which began life as Haydu Farm but is now an open space operated under a lease agreement with the Town of Fairfield, offered a pumpkin patch, pumpkin painting, scarecrow making, hayrides and seasonal-oriented refreshments like apple cider. About 25 neighbors from the Greenfield Hill area served as volunteer staff, guiding families to activities. Linnea McHenry from the Connecticut Audubon Society was also onsite with Millie the barn owl and reptiles that are facility residents.

With election time around the corner, it was no surprise to see several politicos on hand, including First Selectman Mike Tetreau, who sported a GHVIS t-shirt and was serving cider, RTM member Kristin McCarthy-Vahey, State Representative Kim Fawcett pumpkin painting with daughter Cassie, and State Representative Tony Hwang.

A particularly critical foursome among the crowd was GHVIS President Tom Bremer and his wife Sandy and John Jones and his wife Beth. They were the chief coordinators of the event and knowledgeable about its background. “The Fest was created in 1998 by Ann Carter and Didi Brandt,” said Tom. “This site was originally Haydu Farm and there was a stand at the end of the driveway. The Fest is the biggest event conducted by the GHVIS, which was founded by Elizabeth Bronson 114 years ago. It has always been free and operating and advertising costs are covered by member fees.”

For families gathered, there was no limit to the fun, and adults and kids collaborated on many projects. The Lamastos of Fairfield sat on the ground putting together a scarecrow. Four-year-old Penny decided “Scary Harry” would be an appropriate name for it. Little Iris was just looking ahead to her second birthday, which falls on Halloween.

Two-year-old Lili Jayne worked with her mom Callie to stuff hay into their scarecrow, held by dad Steve. For them, the event provided the perfect family activity on the bright sunny day.

Robert Hayes and his one-year-old son Aidyn picked their way through a cornfield. Doug Melson and his four-year-old daughter Elle pulled along a wagon carrying their pumpkin selections.

Perhaps the most memorable site, though, was Ramsey Goodrich strolling from the pumpkin patch with a large pumpkin balanced on each shoulder. To his kids, Carter, 6, and Halley, 9, he was a true Fall hero.

Collection Provides Safe Solution for Hazardous Waste Disposal

Collection Provides Safe Solution 
for Hazardous Waste Disposal
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – As they rolled up to the men in white, locals reporting to Veteran’s Park were glad to have a safe solution for disposing their hazardous household items.

Receiving all sorts of materials from sealants, polish and anti-freeze to paint thinner, propane tanks and used car batteries, a team of 18 workers from Clean Harbors Environmental Services of Braintree, MA, were onsite at the Reef Road Park facilitating a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day Saturday.

With two tractor trailer trucks serving as bookends, the collection site include two lanes for cars to pull through, “ground poly” plastic duct-taped to the asphalt to protect against spillage accidents, and a sorting station with long tables at which the workers, in their Tyvek white jumpsuits sorted and disposed of items. Flex bins, black steel drums and reinforced wrapped boxes served as the disposal containers and a palette of all-purpose absorbent was close at hand to address any accident.

On the perimeter of the site, two Fairfield firefighters accepted car batteries and propane tanks and separated them into two ten-yard red dumpsters.

The collection was an obvious help for many, like Fairfielder Adriana Tsorvas. “We were wondering what to do with some gas that was just lying around,” she said. “It can be a big problem.”

Melissa Speight, who pulled up in an SUV with her husband, agreed. “We received the mailer and were really glad to hear about it,” she said. “We had a lot of oil-based paint and inherited a lot of chemicals from when we moved in six years ago. We were holding onto these things and have wanted to dispose of them.”

Homeowners were asked to keep hazardous wastes separate and in their original containers if possible. Those with old paint containing mercury or lead were asked to mark the cans and bring them to the site or a secondary HazWaste Central site at 90 Sargent Drive in New Haven. Officials advised that latex paint that does not contain mercury or lead could be disposed of in the regular trash.

Homeowners with other items like hearing aids, cameras, watches and electronics were directed to the Fairfield Transfer Station on One Rod Highway.

Hill Farm Fall Fest Flogged by Rainy Weather but Presses On

Hill Farm Fall Fest Flogged by 
Rainy Weather but Presses On
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Mother Nature is wily and that’s o.k., except when it comes to fundraisers. Parishioners of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, who hoped for a full turnout Saturday for their Hill Farm Fall Festival, were disappointed when less than a third of planned exhibitors showed due to consecutive days of rain and a gusty and wet Fest morning.

Of 30 arts and crafts vendors that were expected to exhibit, only seven appeared at the grassy 160 Hill Farm Road site for the 2nd annual event. While that gathering was disappointing, vendors, parishioners and attendees alike made the best of things, bonded and shared recollections. And all was for a good cause, with proceeds benefiting Fairfield’s Operation Hope.

“We did our first fest at the same time last year and it was beautiful,” shared Fairfielder Jeff Cronin, a parishioner for the past 10 years and this year playing the role of master hot dog griller. “This year, the weather was iffy and it kept vendors away. We’re kind of high up here at the foot of Greenfield Hill and catch the wind, too.”

Fairfield native Carl Bjorklund, a parishioner for the past 30 years, took the opportunity to share his thoughts on the background of the church. “It was a Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church initially, located on Washington Avenue on the east side of Bridgeport,” he said. “It was established there about 120 years ago and moved to this current site in the mid-1960s when Route 25 went through. While the new structure was being built, the congregation met at Riverfield School.”

Parishioner Bobbie Trahnstrom chimed in to say that she became a parishioner the year the church was relocated, in 1965. “The pastor was Dr. Albert Schilke,” she said. “He confirmed by two eldest kids. The current pastor is Rev. Mark Christoffersen.” She confirmed the Danish origins adding, “These days, it’s very mixed, though there’s still a strong following of Scandinavians.”

Dale Thomas, like Trahnstrom, a parishioner since 1965, jumped in to add his contribution. “When you talk to people on the rare occasion about churches, they often say, ‘That’s the prettiest little church. It’s very New Englandy.”

While his affiliation with the church only spanned two years, Bob Roy had assumed the role of Fest organizer. “My old church, St. Mark’s Lutheran in Bridgeport, closed for lack of supporters and for financial reasons,” he said. “This year we are supporting Operation Hope, on this their 25th anniversary. Last year, our mission was to support Haiti and help with earthquake relief. I have found a warm welcome here at Our Saviour’s.”

Irene Response Analysis Shows Emergency Management Has Come a Long Way in 20 Years

Irene Response Analysis Shows 
Emergency Management Has Come 
a Long Way in 20 Years
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Hurricane Irene, which barreled through Fairfield August 28, was the most recent weather emergency to strike the town. According to an analysis conducted by Fairfield officials and reported on by the Fire Department, increased planning, better tracking and information disbursement was much improved than nearly twenty years ago, when the last major memorable storm rattled the area.

“The beach can get very nasty,” said Fairfield Fire Chief Dick Felner, to mostly Beach Area residents gathered at Penfield Pavilion to attend an Emergency Management Informational Meeting Wednesday evening. “Back in ’93, we couldn’t even get equipment in. Since then, the Army Corps of Engineers made things better, but we’re still looking for your suggestions to make it even better. We welcome your comments – and you are welcome to some firehouse coffee.”

Felner’s comments prefaced Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid’s presentation on the town and state’s preparation, response, mitigation and recovery as related to Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm hours before local landfall.

With regard to preparation, Reid said officials heard about the storm at least a week in advance. “I’ve become a weather nut and track these events,” he admitted. “Five or six days before, it looked like a pretty classic East coast storm. We realized we needed to pay attention to it and started with discussions with the state and department heads, public works, health department and Board of Education. In fact, we discussed shelter plans early on with the latter. Fairfield Ludlowe is a prime shelter location. We also spoke to power companies, the Red Cross and C.E.R.T (Citizens Emergency Response Team).”

Reid reported that, at the height of the storm, the high school housed 85 people and 15 pets, and was second in the region for the amount of people sheltered. He also noted that community support was great, from businesses like the new ShopRite, which provided residents with ice. Communication, as well, was fluid. “Fire and police never worked so well,” he said, “and multiple notification systems, like Reverse 911, were used. We can geo code fairly easily. We used a web-based state EverBridge system, too.”

The deputy chief said that when the storm became imminent, volunteer firefighters went door to door in the Beach Area. “We wanted to cover as many bases as we could,” Reid said.

As to the response phase of the town’s emergency management process, Reid said, “By Thursday/Friday, it became obvious that the storm would hit us in some way and would rush right up the East coast, like the hurricane of 1938 and the one in the 50s, with catastrophic damage. We erred on the side of caution,” he said.

Reid explained that the department heads got together to discuss their specific roles, and multiple calls were made to the state. “My Blackberry was so active with calls,” Reid said, “that I couldn’t keep a charge for a full day. By Friday, we were discussing mandatory evacuation and opening shelters. A state of emergency was declared by the governor. We figured the storm was going to be along the magnitude of the ’92 storm. The margin between bad and catastrophic was very narrow. Our predictions were pretty close, a little less actually than expected, thankfully.”

The deputy chief commended the Medical Reserve Corps, which coordinated the shelter. “It was a complete success, and we kept it open for 48 hours,” he said. “We bought a lot of pizzas to feed everyone.”

Reid spoke to the mandatory evacuation order. “We don’t have complete authority to order people from their homes, but we wanted to impress upon them the urgency of the storm. Some people stayed and were fine, but if the wind had been 10 to 15 miles stronger, we could have been looking at a very different situation. Though it was a tropical storm by the time it got here, it stlll did quite a bit of damage.”

Reid detailed that the eye of the storm hit at 26 m.p.h., after Long Island slowed it down. “We only had 3.5” of rain and it moved through in two hours,” he said. “The wind was the worst foe – blocking over 300 roads with trees and bringing down 300 wires. UI went out, assessed the damage and cut wires to start, to let Public Works cut trees. After they made things safe, UI identified major areas with outages, senior housing units and medical centers without power.”

The stumbling block, Reid said, is that , “UI didn’t communicate well what it was doing, so it seemed like they weren’t doing anything. They were operating on a different sheet of music. They gave us a representative that didn’t have any authority.”

Once the storm was over, the mitigation and recovery phases kicked in. “Emergency workers were burned out and there was a great demand for ice with people losing stuff in their refrigerators,” he said. “We depended on state and Red Cross support that, frankly, we didn’t get. But local business stepped up.”

Going forward, Reid said, “We need to work out better sharing numbers people need to call, and what numbers to reach people at. The public messages from the First Selectman were received well, though some thought they were annoying. Finally, there were a lot of extra equipment and personnel costs, which FEMA will be helping on. FEMA may also help pay for homeowners’ structural damage.”

Fairfield Cyclists Complete 60-day, 4,168-mile Trek from San Francisco

Fairfield Cyclists Complete 60-day, 
4,168-mile Trek from San Francisco
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – There were smiles all around – literally and figuratively – as Fairfielders Lucas Gubinski and Joe Ruscito came bicycling up the boat ramp at Penfield Beach into the welcoming arms of friends and family, completing a 60-day, 4,168-mile cross-country journey from San Francisco.

The 23-year-old graduates of Fairfield Ludlowe High School and lifelong Fairfield residents set off August 7 from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, briefly dipping the rear wheels of their Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycles in the Pacific Ocean. At about 1 p.m. Wednesday, they completed their journey, dipping their front wheels in Long Island Sound waters at Penfield Beach. The trek was not only a tremendous accomplishment for the young men but a way to showcase the efforts of and raise funds for Simply Smiles, a Westport-based charity organization that works to provide bright futures for impoverished children. During the journey, nearly $3,000 in contributions were made to the group through a link on a travel blog the cyclists maintained.

“This is overwhelming, and hard to imagine we’re home,” said Ruscito, grinning from ear to ear. As they approached familiar sights during the last stretch to Penfield Beach, their excitement built. “It started to hit home at Devil’s Den, then coming down Redding Road, seeing friends’ houses, Mercato Deli. Things were a blur from there.”

Added Gubinski, “We went by my house on Lalley Boulevard. My mom and sister were already here at the beach and my dad had met us in Danbury to join us for the ride down.”

Ruscito’s younger brother Paul met the cyclists in Redding, too, to support his sibling’s efforts.

Among the group receiving the boys at Penfield Beach was Ruscito’s mother Vicci. “I’m really excited and appreciate that they’re home safe,” she said. “I appreciate all the people they met, too – their generosity, putting them up at their homes, the resources they provided, warm meals, showers. This is a journey that will always stay with them. And it helped a great cause, which we’ve been a part of and experienced first hand in Mexico. We’re all helping give back to people that don’t have anything.”

Like any mom that wants the best for her children, Vicci added, “Now I’m concerned about them going forward. It was a fun situation, now they need a plan.”

There was no lack of family love on display at the finish line, and though the boys had met up with a few family members a couple times on the road, it didn’t measure up to seeing them back home. “It’s different seeing them here,” said Ruscito.

Tony Ruscito was sure glad to see his son safe and sound. “I hadn’t seen Joe since mid-July,” he said. “I was happy to find out they were skirting Death Valley. When they hit a desert area in Utah, it was so hot the little water they had left became too hot to drink. Some people riding by brought them a whole bunch of ice water. Towns were very hospitable and even opened up their bike trails to them.”

Gubinski’s dad Vic said Lucas has long been an outdoors type. “As a family, we always did outdoor activities – hiking, camping,” he said. “I got both Lucas and Joe kitesurfing and now Joe’s a pro. Regarding cycling, Lucas has been doing it for a couple of years, but Joe had just started a couple of weeks before their trip.”

To that, Joe said, “When Lucas thought of the idea, I rented a bike, to see if it was a good time. Then I flew out west, got hooked up with Bay Area Bikes in Oakland and rode around for two weeks getting used to it.”

Lucas explained that the duo averaged 80 miles a day and, over the entire trip, took only three rest days. In all, they had 15 tire changes combined and Lucas’ chain broke once. They had no injuries, fortunately, or health issues, and conducted one or two interviews with media on the road. He said his favorite experience was riding into Telluride. “The town is at 10,000 feet,” he said. “It felt like being on top of the world.”

For Ruscito, Utah was most impressive. “Amazing canyons and pillars, unlike anything else I’ve seen. Added Gubinski, “It was cool being so far from everything.”

Reflecting on the experience, Gubinksi said, “It was totally amazing. It gives you a new outlook on everything.” Ruscito figured, “I might bike a little more. It’s a cool way to see places.”

To see a day-to-day report on the journey, visit the cyclists’ blog:

To make a donation to Simply Smiles, visit: