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Sunday, May 26 News

Woog’s World / The way Westport works is changing

Five years ago, Ryan Meserole opened a high-quality, hand-crafted men’s suit store on Railroad Place.

Suited.co seemed well-suited to the times and the spot. Commuters headed to or from work could stop in for a perfect fit, or they’d book a weekend appointment.

Either way, they’d look great on the train and at work in the city.

Suited.co has since been rebranded as Quentin Row. Later this month, Meserole will close his shop. He’s shifting his focus to online sales, and also buying a 22-foot mobile trailer, for local festivals and events.

There are several reasons for his move, some specific to Railroad Place. But others — including a dwindling number of commuters, and Goldman Sachs’ recent decision to loosen its dress code — speak to the changing nature of work.

Since the 1940s — when World War II ended, suburbia boomed, and the railroad became an important morning-and-evening link between Westport and New York — this has been a commuting town. Advertising and publishing executives, stockbrokers and Wall Street financiers, IBM and Procter & Gamble men and many more moved to the rhythm of the rails.

The railroad remained vital to Westport for decades. Beginning in the 1970s, women joined men on the daily trek to and from the city. They, too, worked in advertising and publishing, on Wall Street and in big business. The hourlong commute was not easy, but it was part of the price that was paid to live and raise a family in Westport.

Changes in the way we work have accelerated lately. Metro-North’s new timetable — increasing the length of a Grand Central trip by up to 15 minutes — is one reason for the drop in commuters that led Meserole to leave Railroad Place, but shifts have been taking place for years.

Starting in the 1980s, Westport became a place to come to work, not just leave from. Office buildings sprouted all along the Post Road and Riverside Avenue, as well as less likely spots: Wright Street, Gorham Island, Weston Road, the Sherwood Island Connector and Greens Farms Road.

For a while, thanks to Procter & Gamble spin-offs like the Marketing Corporation of America, we were “the marketing capital of the world.”

Those firms have moved on, but new businesses sprang up. New tenants moved in. I saw a statistic that more people now commute into Westport each day than commute out. I don’t know if it’s true, but anyone who drives on Long Lots, Greens Farms or the Post Road at 8:30 on a weekday morning would not argue.

Plenty of Westporters leave town for work, of course, but the destination is not always New York. More and more it’s Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk or other Fairfield County towns. Big office complexes have been built there too. Although in theory some are reachable by train, the reality is that most employees drive there. Anyone using I-95 or the Merritt any weekday morning knows what I mean.

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The good news is plenty of Westporters no longer work five days a week in one location. Technology has untethered many of today’s workers from an office and desk. A home office — once limited to a few doctors and lawyers — is now just as much a part of a Realtor’s pitch as a killer kitchen or four-car garage. His-and-her offices are even better.

Yet working at home is not always the answer. Men (and women) are social animals. So — although we are perfectly capable of brewing our own coffee — we spend hours working at various Starbucks establishments, the tables at Mystic Market, Garelick & Herbs and Aux Delices, or dozens of other places.

If we want someplace more like a real office (including the coffee pot), we can choose from a variety of co-working spaces. B:Hive, in the old mill building on the Southport line, is the funkiest and most fun. Symphony on Greens Farms Road and Innovation Hub on Ketchum Street are the oldest. Another great shared space — though for writers only — is the Fairfield County Story Lab, at 21 Charles St. in Saugatuck.

There’s one more recent “working” trend: From restaurants like Granola Bar to stores like Savvy + Grace and Indulge by Mersene, Westport has seen a surge in women-owned businesses.

Some of those factors — as well as, of course, the rise of online shopping — contributed to Meserole’s decision to close his Quentin Row store. Some are simply indicative of the way Westport is changing.

But one thing is clear: The days of Gregory Peck filming “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” — the longtime symbol of Westport at work — on the train station platform across from Railroad Place are gone forever.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.

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