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Friday, February 17, 2012

HamletHub Founder Speaks at UB Interactive Writing Class

HamletHub Founder Speaks at UB Interactive Writing Class
By Mike Lauterborn

Bridgeport, CT – What better way to show students the potential of a Blog than to introduce them to someone who has made a commercial success of her own?

That was Mike Lauterborn’s thinking when he invited Kerry Anne Ducey, the founder of HamletHub, to speak in his “Writing for Interactive Media” class on Tuesday, June 24. Lauterborn is also the Editor of Fairfield’s HamletHub, one of 11 town sites the HamletHub network now encompasses in Connecticut.

Ducey, as a long-time Ridgefield resident, has always been very plugged into the goings-on in her town and recognized a void in information flow from other local media. As such, and initially under the banner Talk of the Town, she started pushing out information online about events, school news, entertainment, retail offers and more, often while still in her pajamas and from a small computer in her bedroom.

The community really began to tune into her posts and she started to receive inquiries from businesses that wanted to advertise on her site. More clients came on board, which created more workload than she could effectively handle. The opportunity to broaden her scope also presented itself.

Ducey’s husband Ken, a mergers and acquisitions exec, stepped in to help her replicate the site’s template, change the name to HamletHub (to avoid any potential dispute with The New Yorker magazine and its Talk of the Town feature) and appoint other locally plugged-in people to serve as editors of its sister sites.

Now the initial Ridgefield site is a comprehensive business model that the other Hubs are eagerly mirroring, with respective editors dispensing local content, promoting the site through Twitter and Facebook, and attracting the interest of both advertisers and subscribers.

Lauterborn’s students – 16 undergraduates in all – have created their own Blog sites, themed around topics of their personal interest. The goal is that they gradually become experts in these topics, garner abundant followers and attract their own advertisers who want to align with content relevant to their businesses. 

WinterFest Celebrates GVI Initiatives & Partners in Bridgeport

WinterFest Celebrates GVI Initiatives & Partners in Bridgeport
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – While the day’s snowy weather created much last minute anxiety for organizers, there couldn’t have been a more perfect night for a winter-themed event, or better reason to gather together.

Saturday night at the annex space of Christ and Holy Trinity Church, 75 Church Lane, Westport, Green Village Initiative presented its WinterFest, celebrating the power of local action and the non-profit’s initiatives in Bridgeport. Initiatives include completing 10 of 30 edible gardens in Bridgeport public schools and establishing a 1.5-acre urban farm, at Reservoir Avenue, Bridgeport. The latter was facilitated by Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, one of several evening honorees along with Maura O’Malley (head of food services in Bridgeport), Arnie Foster and Jan Cohen (Bridgeport Lumber owners) and Adrienne Houel (president of Greater Bridgeport Commmunity Enterprise. GVI Board Member Sal Gilbertie was also recognized as the GVI’s Most Valuable Member.

Over 200 people attended the Fest, and a number of them purchased shares of the new urban farm. About one hundred 32 foot by 4 foot plots were initially available, at a cost of $500 for an individual to $1,000 for a corporate entity.

Finch was particularly happy to have Westport’s support for positive initiatives. “To get the talent of people of Westport is really important to my 2020 plan,” said Finch. “Environmental issues don’t know town boundaries. For us to work on efforts to remediate brownfields and give people better food is a great effort. I’m happy that this thing is so organic in its development.”

Finch added, “Local action to connect us with our literal roots makes all the difference. Kids are eating better and getting in touch with nature.”

GVI Committee Board Member Eileen Flug said this event helped solidify GVI’s foundation. “GVI was formed three years ago and is now operating in 5 towns. We’re going through an evaluation of rag tag activists. The hope is that we will be here in 30 years.” 

While the evening was focused on a cause, it was a fun Saturday night out for most, who dressed in glittery outfits, shuffled to Sinatra tunes and enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the high-ceilinged space. Jerry D’Agostino and his quartet provided the entertainment.

To donate a garden bed, call Carmela at 203-227-5320, or visit GVI’s website at and click on WinterFest in the top left corner.

Snow Drop Blankets Fairfield

Snow Drop Blankets Fairfield
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – The anticipated snow arrived on schedule, beginning in the early morning hours Saturday. Over two inches of the fluffy stuff was down by 9 a.m. and began to pick up in intensity and consistency.

Plows and sanders were out and about all over town, and had made major roadways passable. Side roads were still waiting their turn though it appeared few town residents were bothering to venture out in their cars. A combination of biting temperatures outside and toasty home interiors made the thought unappealing.

The National Weather Service maintained its forecast of up of up to seven inches of total snowfall for the area, a measure that seemed reachable.

Meanwhile, pedestrians, like dog walkers, were starting to step out, taking their pets for a romp at the beach and neighborhood parks.

Raise your mug of hot chocolate and make a toast. Winter had officially made its mark.

Bands Battle at Two Boots for WYFF Spotlight

Bands Battle at Two Boots 
for WYFF Spotlight
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Bridgeport, CT – When the smoke cleared – and the pizza was all eaten – it was Westport’s Clay Garner who was left standing as the winner of the Battle of the Bands competition and the music spotlight at the 2012 Westport Youth Film Festival, to be held June 2 at Bridgeport’s Bijou Theatre.

Conducted Friday evening at Two Boots Pizza, 281 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, the Battle featured four local bands – Garner, Cheeky, Borrowed Glory and Chillingsworth – each performing a 10 to 15 minute set. The four were initially chosen by professional musician Nick Abraham, after he reviewed a number of digitally recorded submissions. The full house gathered at Two Boots was charged with determining the ultimate winner via ballot votes, upon conclusion of the performances.

“This downtown area is so up and coming and wonderful,” said Evan Neidich, the 2012 WYFF’s coordinator. “Many people don’t know about it. We’re glad to be exposing people who may have prejudged this area and opening their eyes to it.”

Lynn Julian, one of three partners at Bijou Theatre, was equally excited about the opportunity. “I feel exuberant about having the Fest here,” she said. “I'm excited to capture the ideas and ideals of a youthful society and to harness that and bring it here. It offers great possibility for generational wealth. That’s social currency to us, to link the past to the present as one of the oldest movie houses in the country still operating as a movie house.”

According to Julian, the Bijou was built in 1909, by Lillian Ashmun, and opened in 1910 as a silent movie house, with a piano player accompaniment. It operated until 1996. “My partners and I launched the business in July,” said Julian. “Phil Kuchma is the developer, revitalizing Bijou Square, of which the theatre is a part. We’re excited to have people in the region revisit and see this as a city that’s undergoing a human evolution through the arts.”

Garner was the first performer of the evening, followed by Chillingsworth, about which Andrea Yakovich, a friend of the band, was particularly excited. “They’re really talented, and sound different. Kind of Indie rock,” she said. “They started playing about three years ago. All are sophomores at Weston High School. I think they deserve to win.”

Sara Braunstein, the chairman of the WYFF Committee, was excited about the evening overall, a first segment of the actual Fest. “Evan has done an incredible job in harnessing the talent of teens in producing this successful event for WYFF and the Westport Arts Center,” she said. “WYFF is a Westport Arts Center program, now nine years old. The Fest originally started in Dan Bernstein’s basement in Weston. We’re excited to be in Bridgeport this year, as WYFF should not be based in one town, but represent surrounding towns.”

Pete Finch, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s son and an independent TV, song and video producer, was thrilled to attend the Battle, particularly as he had a role in the Fest – helping write and produce a song, “Get a WYFF of This”, which will be used promotionally and to introduce the Fest. “I was excited when Evan asked me to do the project,” he said. “And I was impressed with WYFF. The song is fun and funny at the same time.”

Historic Robinson Cottage: A Southport Gem

Historic Robinson Cottage: 
A Southport Gem
Southport Village property dates back before 1796
By Mike Lauterborn

Southport, CT – Cozy. Great vibe. Wide plank floors. Big yard. Descriptors that could easily comprise a real estate listing were in fact how the tenants of the historic Southport Village-based Robinson Cottage refer to the three-century old structure they call home.

The Shugrue family – Jamie, Karen and one-year-old Grey – moved in at the beginning of November 2011 and have enjoyed the homestead, at 33 Main Street, greatly. “We’ve always liked old houses,” said Jamie. “We lived in a Victorian in New Haven, and in older homes in Black Rock and Easton.”

Karen’s occupation as a Westport teacher spurred their decision to investigate Southport properties. The Cottage availability was a tip from a friend. “He had seen a For Rent sign,” Jamie said. “We came and saw it right away and knew we’d love to have it. It’s got a great vibe and we loved the floors. The fireplaces (of which there are two) drew us in. And the yard is huge. I can’t wait for the summer, or even snow, as there’s a little hill we can sled down. We had Grey’s first birthday here, a nice brunch.”

The namesake and builder of the Cottage, John Robinson, Jr. (1762-1834), was a veteran of the American Revolution, ship builder and ship captain. He was born and raised in Black Rock, the son of a shipwright and carpenter and, while in the militia on guard along the seacoast helped defend against British General Tryon in 1779 when Tryon and his men landed to burn Fairfield.

In 1786, Robinson purchased a three-quarter acre plot, at the join with Pequot Avenue, and it was believed he had erected the house there by the time he was married on December 18, 1788, though there is no positive proof of a construction date prior to 1795. He added another acre in 1793, for a total of two acres.

Robinson’s wife was Sarah Thorp, daughter of Revolutionary War Captain Stephen Thorp. They had seven children together, including two sons – though one boy died as an infant and the other drowned at sea, at age 11. As such, there was no male to carry on the family name.

By the 1830s, as the couple’s daughters married and moved away, land was sold off, reducing the property to one and a half acres. Robinson was then killed in an accident in 1834, crushed by falling gravel. Sarah died 11 years later.

The homestead changed hands a number of times through subsequent years until the Sasquanaug Association acquired it in the spring of 1929. After the last of its occupants passed in 1931, the house was not lived in again until after it was renovated by the Association in the 1950s.

The Association’s mission has been to preserve the structure as a two-floor, modest saltbox, with two rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second level accessed by a steep stairway. The house itself stands on one large rock, and there is a center chimney stack.

At Christmastime, the Association opened the home as an attraction during the Southport Christmas Walk. A roaring fire, cider and cookies welcomed visitors and gave a brief glimpse at what life in the old Village charmer is like.