In late December of 2021, a few salty dogs (and longtime and life-time Compo Beach residents), Jim Hood, Ian Warburg, and Chris Tait, got together, worried about the future of Elvira’s Market. With a “for sale” sign out front for many months, and the store shuttered for the season, and knowing the owners had moved away, the trio feared the end of an era might be fast approaching.
They agreed on many things, and on one in particular: Regret. They regretted the disappearance of neighborhood joints, Alan’s Clam House, and Positano, and regretted that they – and the community – had not been able to preserve those two magical, waterside institutions. Further regret, they were clear, was not something any of them, or the community, could live with. The thought of possibly losing, forever, the historic market, built and first opened for business in 1919 at Old Mill Beach, was their call to action to “Save Elvira’s.”
They reached out to their friends and Elvira Mae’s owners, Hal and Betsy Kravitz, and asked what was happening with the market. Hal and Betsy, who arrived on the Westport scene in 2019 and quickly became beloved fixtures in the neighborhood, shared that a bunch had changed in their lives – happily, all good things – and that they weren’t planning to be in Westport any longer, instead spending more time in other parts of the country closer to their kids…and grand kids. The market, they said, had been a dream of theirs, and a joy to own, but it was time to move on. They explained that they had listed the property for sale hoping to find others, like themselves, who would continue to operate this local treasure. After 8 months, and more than 30 showings, not a single buyer emerged. Vexed, and depressed, and needing to free up the cash they had in the property for other purposes, they reluctantly considered entering into a partnership with a builder to build a spec house.
Jim, Ian, and Chris, inspired in part by fear of losing this important historic icon, and in part by their sense of a brewing opportunity, began thinking quickly and creatively. They reminded Hal and Betsy that they came into the town heroes, saving the old market from the wrecking ball when they bought it back in 2019. What if, they posited, they could help them to cement their legacy as heroes, preserving the market – forever – and get them the liquidity they needed? Hal and Betsy were intrigued…and still, they needed certainty. The three Musketeers, understanding that the clock was ticking, asked for a month to figure it all out. Hal and Betsy agreed.
Ideas began to swirl, and concepts began to form. Realizing this was going to be a big lift, they called for reinforcements. First on the scene was lifelong Westporter, Tommy Febbraio; real estate guy and restaurateur. On his heels came Emily Ashken Zobl, another Westport lifer who, after a stint in NY, had moved to back Westport with her husband, Tim.
The team immediately started sharing their story -- and that of preserving this important piece of local lore and history -- with the community. Support for the vision of forever preserving the historic property, and its historic use, resonated with virtually everyone they spoke with.
And so, too did their additional vision for serving good…not just good food for all, by creating opportunities for people with disabilities to gain job training in a real-world environment. We are committed to tapping the potential for these workers, combatting the lack of opportunity and isolation they face, while helping Westport to embrace and celebrate it’s diverse community.
Thanks to the enormously generous and enthusiastic support of the broad community, in a few short months, the team raised nearly $1.3 million dollars from more than 500 donors, secured a mortgage from Fairfield County Bank, and in May of 2022 closed on the purchase of the property.
In the summer of 2022 SEA entered into a lease with a first class retail food operator, The Granola Bar Hospitality Group, who are aligned with SEA’s mission of preserving history and serving good. Operations at the Old Mill Grocery & Deli recommenced in July of 2022.
As part of embracing all parts of the community, OMG&D will be home to a training program for individuals with disabilities – an underutilized resource of working ability that is often overlooked and too infrequently given the opportunity to participate.
Our Vision: OMG&D will be a “Third Place” in people’s lives – a place where locals, laborers, and visitors can walk, jog, ride, or drive, for coffee, delicious prepared foods, gifts, and those household items we all need in a pinch! It will remain an informal gathering place to meet others and enjoy being part of this great community.