Tuesday, March 05, 2024

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Virus Challenging Westport Food and Liquor Retailers

By Jarret Liotta

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit retail food and liquor businesses hard in Westport. But some are faring better than others.

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Marco Kian (l), and Rick Eadie, co-managers of the Greens Farms Spirit Shop, stay safe behind plexiglass windows that now surround the cash register area. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“The phone rings constantly,” said Rick Eadie, co-manager of Greens Farms Spirit Shop, 1250 Post Road East, likening it to the Christmastime rush.

“You don’t get quite the high end you get at Christmas,” he said of purchases, “but you get the volume.”

With restrictions on the number of people allowed into their store, along with a new makeshift plexiglass windows surrounding the cash register, store owners are finding ways to service customers in and out.

“I think we’re one of the only ones actually ‘open’ open,” Eadie said. He added they are seeing about 50 deliveries a day, as well as curbside business.

“If you’re not making deliveries and just doing curbside, you wouldn’t be saying business is good,” he explained.

Eadie said one factor in his businesses is that adult children have returned home to Westport to stay with their families and that is helping increase the market for adult beverages.

Over at Gold’s Delicatessen, 421 Post Road East, restrictions have not thwarted the preparation and a large number of orders for the Passover holiday this week.

“It’s almost the exact same number of orders,” owner Jim Eckl said, as previous years, “but they’re much smaller.”

This is because, logically, given the COVID-19 restrictions, residents are having much smaller seders without guests.

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Rob Sheftic (l) and Derek Gipson, co-managers of Westport Wine & Spirits, have been kept busy with steady customers at curbside. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

Still, car upon car lined up outside the deli Tuesday afternoon, with all the standard holiday fare still being created and sold — briskets, matzo ball soup, and a terrific overflow selection of Passover candies and sweets.

The 47-year-old deli, in fact, is such a beloved part of the community that various customers have volunteered their services to help keep the business open.

One customer, owner Nancy Eckl said, “actually designed an online ordering system for us because we were having trouble keeping up with the phones,” while others have also been lending a hand with some of the deliveries as well.

“We’re very grateful to the community,” she said.

Over at Angelina’s Trattoria, 1092 Post Road East, which has a 44-year history at its location, a loyal customer base has helped make a difference.

“It’s going okay,” owner Macio Sales said. “I have great support from the community. “People are thanking us for being open, but I have to thank them,”

He said the regular popular delivery continues, and the new curbside pickup helps compensate for a closed dining room currently being renovated for when the crisis finally passes.

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Nancy and Jim Eckl, co-owners of Gold’s Deli, work curbside to meet orders for the Passover holiday. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“I can’t complain,” Sales said. “I lost the dining room … but it’s been okay.”

“Like many restaurants and kitchens, our business model has changed dramatically,” said Bill Taibe, chef and owner of three Westport restaurants, including Jesup Hall, Kawa Ni, and The Whelk.

“We had to make the difficult decision to furlough the majority of our employees,” he said, “many of whom have been with us for a number of years.”

For safety reasons they chose to close the dining room and go to curbside and delivery even before it was mandated, adjusting the menu to better accommodate home dining.

The creation of new food items — and new streamlined methods of execution in some areas — constitute some of the positives that have come out of this and, he hopes, will help his businesses evolve in the long run.

Like others, he has been surprised and appreciative regarding the great amount of community support they have received.

“The resiliency of our staff and community support are, without a doubt, positives I can take out of this,” Taibe said. “Without those two things, we wouldn’t be open.”

“Over the past couple of weeks we’ve gotten busier,” said Vasili Tziolis, co-owner of the Sherwood Diner, 901 Post Road East, another veteran of Westport’s food industry with a 43-year history.

New use of Instagram and their website are helping to get word out that they are not only still in business for limited hours, but making available many of their favorite foods for curbside pickup, including breakfast fare and chicken souvlaki.

“We’ve been staying in touch more than we used to,” he said, with the diner continuing a seven-day schedule, but with reduced hours.

“It’s very different,” Zach Ginzburg, owner of the Westport Wine & Spirits, 877 Post Road East, who likewise is adjusting to a new way of doing business.

Promoting daily specials on Instagram is one thing that’s helping give people a “taste” of what’s new, especially as the opportunity to literally taste — both for customers and staff — is unavailable.

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Macio Sales, owner of Angelina’s Trattoria, is thankful to many longtime customers who keep his delivery and curbside business happening. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

“This way people can just see what’s out there,” he said, with many breweries especially creating new products on a weekly basis.

Otherwise, he said, people are tending to buy what they already know — brand names they are familiar with.

“Two weeks ago when the whole thing was just starting, I think people were panicking a little and really stocking up,” he said, but now the market has leveled off more.

Still, Ginzburg said, people continue to keep him busy and for that he — and the others who are striving to remain open — are very appreciative.

“Everyone is being supportive,” he said.

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