Neighborhoods change. It always happens. And people often don’t like it because memory has a way of shifting so that the old days evolve into a gleaming empire where virtue once ruled and the streets were just strips of heaven.
Connecticut neighborhoods are not supposed to change fast, so the slightest tremor, the vaguest adjustment to the scenery, gets people in a royal snit. There are people who look at the transformation of Westport with such alarm, you’d think that a volcano had just erupted on the Post Road and covered our town with unstoppable commercial lava.
Well, of course Westport has changed.
So has Greenwich Village and so has Georgetown and so has any “cool part of town” in America. Anyone with a long memory is going to get rankled, too. I have been in plenty of conversations with Westport veterans who recall the days — it was only twenty years ago — when Main Street storeowners would close up the shops on summer Friday afternoons and go play softball. Can you imagine it? Many people still remember it.
Plunging into our story in this issue about changing downtown, we did not want to turn this into a fulsome sentimental debauch. Which would have been very easy to do, of course. Just sitting with Barbara Raymond in her Westport Historical Society office and going through old photographs, we just about wanted to bust out in tears looking at the glorious old images. But our concern here is to address where we’re headed.
Let us contemplate the shifting downtown landscape in Wilton and Fairfield. Wilton gets a movie theater and a couple of terrific coffeehouses, they rebuild the library, and voilà, Wilton is bustling. Even with all the signs warning teenagers not to loiter, it’s now a pleasant place to hang.
In Fairfield, a revived Community Theatre and a new Borders bookstore bring in street traffic, and suddenly there are these interesting boites and hangouts and its Post Road is now a cooking place.
While all this was happening, downtown Westport loses its bookstores and theaters. Some are concerned that losing the Y to the Mahackeno site will further hurt our town. My interest is in seeing the Y go to a modern facility that doesn’t require a million a year to maintain (yes, really) and that the famous old building be turned into something else that might attract folks. I know there is room in that building for a theater or two.
Our reporter Bill Slocum returned from his research with more hopeful reports than we expected. There are local business people who echo that inventor in The Magnificent Ambersons: There are no old times or new times, there is just right now.
Who knows? Perhaps someday, the cool towns will be Bridgeport, Ansonia and Derby. Plenty of artists have already moved to Shelton and points north. Westport, alas, is no funky, bohemian backwater anymore. We all miss some of the tatty old places. But even with all the new shine, its classic energy remains.
In twenty years we’ll probably look back and swear that these were the good old days.