The Insider's Guide
Eight locals share favorite Stamford shops, eateries, Ways to Give, must-do’s, bars and fun facts totalling 125+ personal picks
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Though the skyline, population and prominence of her native city have reached new heights, Lynne Colatrella says Stamford has always been anchored by a sense of community and civic life. “My grandparents came from Italy and at that time, people helped each other,” recalls Lynne, who is vice president of events and marketing for Stamford Downtown. “In those days, it was [neighbors helping neighbors.] In this city now, we are involved in every neighborhood.”
A 1974 Rippowam High grad who cofounded Curtain Call, Lynne lives in the Vine Road home of her childhood and is active in arts, philanthropy, education and politics. To her, Stamford’s master plan was created so that the city “doesn’t become a big-box corridor. I think it’s allowed the community to stay more intimate.”
As an example, Lynne points to the first block of Bedford Street north of Broad—a retail hub in her childhood that lost business after the mall opened but has recently launched a comeback. “It’s the restaurants and bars that really brought the street back to life, and now there’s some beautiful retail,” including Russ Hollander Master Goldsmith (“He has a workshop and makes gorgeous handmade jewelry”), Fleet Feet Sports and Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery. “If you go out on any warm afternoon or evening, it’s really an incredible feeling out there, with all the nightlife and young people that come here,” she says.
Neighboring mom-and-pops, including Lynne’s go-to amenity, the venerable Wolfe’s Cleaners, reinforces the street fair atmosphere. At the mall is Hakky Instant Shoe Repair, which she has been known to use for a quick fix. Lynne stays downtown to get her hair done at Salon Shahin, and although she’s driving a new Volvo now, she depends on the A&K Gulf on Newfield for auto repairs.
Asked for a single snapshot in the city that captures the spirit of Stamford, Lynne points to the crowd at the Parade Spectacular; because strong winds grounded the balloons last year, those who lined the streets found new appreciation for the talent on the ground, including the Locust Performing Arts Center and Center Stage Dance Studio dancers, and Stamford's high school bands.
The parade route passes Summer Street mainstay Dairy Queen, and Lynne remembers when fall and spring were defined by DQ’s opening and closing. Due west is another Stamford fixture and Colatrella family favorite, Pellicci’s, where she will order the Gorgonzola and cheese pizza on a Friday night. “You see everybody you grew up with. You see Anthony, and he’s been there forever.”
Stamford Family YMCA
After arriving in Stamford from Haiti when he was eight, Ernest Lamour recalls, his father allowed him to go to just three places in the city: church, school and the YMCA. “My Creole is still good but my French is comme ci, comme ça,” says Ernest, now thirty-four and the CEO of that same Y (officially the Stamford Family YMCA.)
Or maybe not quite the same. Since taking the reins in 2010, Ernest has led an effort to take the Stamford institution, then deeply in debt and facing closure or relocation, and refocus its mission on programming and making it a safe haven for Stamford youth.
The change represents a giving back for Ernest, whose path in Stamford—from Davenport Ridge, Turn of River and Westhill High (class of ’98), to Southern Connecticut State University and the University of West Virginia—has been lighted by caring, vigilant adults. “I’ve had some impactful people in my life, people who really saw the best in me and pushed me to do better in life, not just on a ball field or court,” he recalls.
Ernest’s strategy at the Y focuses in part on partnerships, such as a new initiative with Stamford Hospital, in which a nutritionist meets with Y children twice a week to discuss healthy eating, while a Y personal trainer covers fitness and exercise.
According to Ernest, it’s one of several program-specific options for Stamford youth. There’s also the Locust Performing Arts Center. Owner Jimmy Locust’s “love of music and how he treats children of all ages that come through his studio is amazing,” says Ernest, who also points to the Boys & Girls Club of Stamford and Chester Addison Community Center, the latter now run by Domus and overseen by Mike Duggan. “He is one of my mentors and someone I can talk to about anything,” Ernest says. “What Domus does is beyond anything else that the Stamford community can offer. They pretty much get the kids that the Stamford Public schools [can’t help] and educate them, at times feed them and clothe them.”
One program that Ernest calls a gem is the Stamford Peace Basketball Club. “It’s an in-house basketball training program that is just terrific. The emphasis is not on basketball itself—playing is a privilege—it’s on how you treat your peers and family.”
The city’s Recreation Department brings varied sports offerings too, he adds. Programs such as Orcas Swimming at the Italian Center or Sharks Swimming at Westhill—or tennis lessons at Chelsea Piers—bring together Stamford’s public and private school children in an atmosphere that strengthens bonds.
One long-term goal of Ernest’s is to help prepare all Stamford kids for the Young Mariners Foundation sailing program by teaching them how to swim at the Y. “That’s my next mission, to make sure that we’re doing it individually and working with partners to teach each public-school child how to swim.”