Thursday, January 24, 2013
By James Lomuscio
Sidney Kramer, Westport’s de facto elder statesman, had a momentous week, and his 98th birthday on Monday was only part of it.
The 177 Main St. site of the former Remarkable Book Shop (seen in 1987 photo) sold for $4.2 million. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow/WestportNow.com file photo
The big news is that his family’s iconic pink building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza—one that for 30 years housed The Remarkable Bookshop and later Talbot’s for 15 years—has changed hands.
The new owner, 177 Main Street LLC, bought the 3,500-square-foot building for $4.2 million.
“I can’t complain about it,” Kramer quipped about the price for the 1700s structure still boasting original wooden beams in its basement. Real estate professionals marveled at the price and said it once again confirms Westport’s Main Street as one of the nation’s premier shopping districts.
But the sale is also bittersweet, “of course,” he says, filled with sentiment and nostalgia. His late wife Esther, who died at 93 in April of 2011, had managed the bookstore.
“That place was very close to Esther,” he said about he funky, rabbit warren of rooms with new releases and hard-to-find texts, a popular destination of book lovers before it closed in 1994 due to the rise of large chain bookstores.
More than a bookstore, The Remarkable was replete with Left Bank bookstalls and whole rooms of cookbooks, poetry, gifts and books on sailing, It was a gathering place for the town’s writers, as well as readers, and patrons ranged from corporate titans to actors like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Kramer, an attorney, literary agent and co-founder of Bantam Books, as well as founder of the local preservation group Save Westport Now, recalled today that in 1978 the store made national headlines when he refused to sell Richard Nixon’s biography “because we thought he was a rascal.”
The Kramers said it was not a matter of freedom of speech since patrons wanting it could just walk down Main Street to Klein’s, now closed, to buy it.
Kramer and his wife had two children, Wendy Posner of Chicago, and Mark Kramer, a writer, of Boston, and four grandchildren.
“Actually, the building belongs to our family, and they live out of town, and it’s tough for them to manage it,” said Kramer.
A section of the building’s ground floor facing Parker Harding Plaza was always rented out and independent of the bookstore. Over the years, Kramer said, it was occupied by a barber, a chocolate shop and a jewelry store.
Today, that space is empty, just like the upper floors that Talbot’s vacated about three years ago, Kramer said.
Perhaps it is because the building sits diagonally across from Gorham Island that Kramer took such a strong interest in the island’s preservation during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
He and members of Save Westport Now fought a long, unsuccessful battle to save the island that had just one, historic Italianate Victorian on it from becoming a corporate office park. The construction resulted in the razing of the Victorian, for years a landmark spied from the Post Road Bridge.
“I still hear from generations of people who remember Gorham Island,” said Kramer, a Westport resident since 1950.
And he still hears from those who remember The Remarkable Bookshop. He did not say what business is slated for the building nor the new owner’s plans for the building itself.
Posted 01/24/13 at 02:32 AM
Happy Birthday Sidney!!!!!
Let’s just hope that the new owners preserve it and the character of that section main street. Would hate to see it razed and another eyesoar like the new Gap building rise.
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