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Wednesday, December 13 News

Reporter’s notebook: Testing out the Chamber of Commerce walking map

Editor’s note: After learning about the walking map created by the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, reporter Sophie Vaughan decided to take it for a test drive — or more accurately, a test walk.

WESTPORT — By what I deemed a cruel turn of the weather, the day I set aside to test the new Chamber of Commerce walking map was the first 30-degree day of the season.

I decided to do the self-guided tour anyway, and started my journey Nov. 10 by meeting with Matthew Mandell, executive director and president of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce.

Mandell said the chamber creates a membership visitor guide every two years and made this year’s guide extra user-friendly with an attached walking map of chamber organizations divided by neighborhood and commerce type. The map can be found in chamber member stores and some real estate offices in town.

I chose to explore the Saugatuck area due to the area’s plenitude of mom-and-pop shops. I first stopped in Tutti's Ristorante, an Italian restaurant on Riverside Avenue, and met Maria Funicello, the owner, at the counter.

A native Italian, Funicello opened Tutti's nearly 15 years ago with her husband, Pasquale, a chef and the previous owner of Angelina’s restaurant on the Post Road.

“We’re busier in the wintertime because it’s more hearty food, so people like the warmth — the lasagna, the pasta fagioli, the chicken scarpiello,” Funicello said. “It’s more of a family atmosphere. You come, you’re close together, you get to know your neighbors sitting next to you.”

It’s true Tutti's’ small and tightly packed tables may seem oppressive to space-obsessed Americans in the summer, but in colder weather, the restaurant’s Mediterranean-yellow walls and close proximity are welcome.

I asked Funicello what one could do after eating at Tutti's.

“You can walk down by the water now, grab a little ice cream afterwards,” she said.

Ice-cream? In winter? Was she serious?

Funicello insisted, so I walked to Saugatuck Sweets a block over and met its friendly owner, Chris Diguidio.

“People eat ice cream every day,” even in the winter, she said.

Diguide provided one caveat, however: “Now in the winter we’re closed on Monday, because people are still on their diets on Monday.”

When pressed, Diguido said it wasn’t a joke.

It was a Friday and the memories of Monday and healthier eating were long gone from my memory, so I ate my Peanut Butter Blizzard Ice Cream in peace and listened to Diguidio, also Italian, describe the history of downtown Saugatuck.

“In the old days, like in the early 1900s, a lot of Italian immigrants were coming here and because you had the river and the railroad, all the oil and all the work came in through the (Long Island) Sound,” Diguido said.

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“This was the poorer side of town where all the immigrants lived,” Diguido said. “All the streets before they built (Interstate) 95 were filled with Italian immigrants. They had all these big festivals and Italian cooking.”

Diguido said I could find a remnant of those immigrant days, an authentic Gault Bros. mule-pulled coal cart, if I walked down by the water below her shop.

I walked to the water, read the plaque about how the Gault Bros. wagons transported grain to rural Westport farms in the 1800s, and looked over at the Cribari Bridge decked out in holiday lights, thanks to Diguido’s husband, Al.

The crisp, cold air refreshed my lungs as I walked along the shore and ate my ice cream, which I felt lucky could be saved for later,because it didn’t melt.

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