The former Remarkable Book Shop building on Main Street as it looks now, left, and the proposed renovation by Eleish Van Breems Home.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — A property with both historical and sentimental value for Westporters — 177 Main St., once home to the iconically pink Remarkable Book Shop — is in the process of being remodeled again, for new owners planning to expand their antique furniture business.

Rhonda Eleish and Edith Van Breems, the owners of Eleish Van Breems Home, an antiques store at 99 Franklin St. in Saugatuck, are the principals in The Remarkable LLC and the new owners of the downtown property.

The book store, still remembered by many Westporters even though it closed nearly three decades ago, has been succeeded by several other businesses, most recently Local to Market, which closed in April.

Current and proposed views of 177 Main St., from application filed with town.

The new owners plan to move their store, which specializes in Scandinavian furniture, from Saugatuck to Main Street, according to Lisa O’Brien, manager of the antiques store.

When the antiques stored relocates to 177 Main St., its current Franklin Street location primarily will serve as a trade show room, according to O’Brien. 

There is one other Eleish Van Breems Home store on Nantucket Island off the Massachusetts coast and two other Westport trade show rooms at 22 and 42 Railroad Place. 

The move from the Saugatuck neighborhood has nothing to do with the nearby proposed redevelopment project, known as “Hamlet at Saugatuck,” O’Brien said. The business’s three properties in Saugatuck all will be used as trade show rooms, with occasional retail customers, she said.

The original building at 177 Main St. was built in 1775 as the Ebenezer Coley Store, according to an application filed with the town for the remodeling project.

Planned renovations, with a goal of maintaining the building’s design reflect its original appearance, while incorporating several upgrades, were discussed last week at a joint meeting of the Architectural Review Board and Historic District Commission.

“They are paying homage to the Remarkable Book Shop,” O’Brien said of the new owners, who want to preserve the history of the building. The owners, currently traveling in Italy, both grew up in the Westport area and cherish memories of the book store, she said.

Except for access ramp, renovation plans well received

During last week’s meeting, architect Patricia Gill outlined the plans, including locating the doors and windows in their original locations and keeping the resemblance of the building close to the original saltbox design. 

The project would include removing some of what she called “heavy trim” added to the structure when it was part of the Talbot’s clothing store. 

Plans for the building’s exterior include restoring some outside landscaping as sidewalks, and adding window boxes and a small stone wall with a gate between the sidewalk and a gravel courtyard. 

A deteriorating exterior staircase will be replaced and enclosed, and a ramp for disabled access to comply with American with Disabilities Act requirements will be installed at the corner of the building where Main Street intersects with the entrance to Parker Harding Plaza, Gill said.

Although commission members said they like the remodeling plan and the efforts the owners are making to preserve the historic character of the building, several said they do not like the placement of the accessibility ramp on what they described as a significant historical corner in town.

“The basic quality of this design is going to be diluted by this ramp at the corner,” said ARB member Manuel Castedo. “I think it really lessens … the historical presence of this building here.” He said the access ramp belongs somewhere else on the property, such as in the courtyard leading to a different entrance. 

Vesna Herman and Ward French, also ARB members, agreed, and also suggested the ramp be moved somewhere else. “It’s an easily resolved issue,” French said.

“I agree 100 percent,” said Scott Springer, a member of the Historic District Commission. “Having the ramp at that corner kind of compromises the integrity of the building.”

The joint panels voted unanimously to ask the building owners to return with a revised plan that includes moving the ramp off the corner. 

Panel members otherwise agreed they like the rest of the plan.

The applicant is scheduled to return to the panels’ next joint set for Dec. 6.

Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist and journalism teacher for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman newspaper for 10 years and currently teaches journalism at Southern Connecticut State University.

An architect’s drawing of proposed renovations to 177 Main St., the former home of the Remarkable Book Shop.