How many shopkeepers in Westport know their customers by name? How many have years of history with their customers, sharing their pain through illness and work challenges; sharing in the joys of day to day life - every day. How many shopkeepers know our kids better than our co-workers, and know our co-workers better than our kids - because they care enough to talk to as friends day in and day out. Now how many do you think do this while barely making enough to pay the rent? There's only one I can think of, and his name is George. And if the town administration is not careful, they will drive out one of the most loved men in Westport.
George sells coffee and papers to commuters at Greens Farms train station. In the holiday classic, Scrooge says to Marley "But you were such a good man of business" and Marley retorts "Business! Mankind should have been my business!" For all the Greens Farms commuter, business men and women, there is someone we see on a daily basis who reminds us that 'mankind' is his business, we are his business. And not just business, but friends. Your kids have a fundraiser and want to use the station? No problem, George sets them up with a choice spot, and makes sure everyone knows that they are there. Did you leave your gloves or bag on the bench, George will run up to the platform after you to give them to you. You see, George is humble and caring. He lives at home with his mom, and cared for his dad until he passed away recently. He'll spend the day golfing with you if you ask, and knows all the sports news. He's got a green thumb, growing tomatoes in the summer to stew and consume in the winter. He's worked for the guy who had the concession from the town for many years, but since the place wasn't making any money, his boss let him take the place over. Every commuter at the station has been rooting and praying for him, giving him advice and encouragement, as he has given us, day in and day out.
Monday, George found out the town has a plan to pull the concesssion from him, and they've been holding back on giving him a lease for some time. Apparently they think the place is so profitable, that it can be a profit center for the town, and they want to bid the place out to the highest bidder - perhaps a franchise of some sort like Dunkin Donuts. I'll take a cup of George's coffee (which I've always said is the best cup of coffee in town) and a slice of George's mom's bundt cake, over franchise food any day. This is ridiculous. The town should be paying George to stay. Instead they are planning to charge him for his parking space, and force him to foot the bill for insurance that is really town and MTA responsibility. Like Scrooge squeezing every penny out of his humble worker Bob Cratchit. Renters insurance, sure. Liability for the whole station? Ridiculous.
George is so humble, he thinks he will not win the bid, and that whoever buys the place will fail. Then maybe he can get the place back. But this would be a tragic waste, and who knows, by then maybe George will have moved on. It will be a massive failure of public administration.
The whole thing is unacceptable, and everyone at Greens Farm's station is furious. We want the process stopped TODAY. We want the town to give George the same lease his boss had previously. And we want the town to recognize and value him, rather than trying to turn him out or shake him down. We've started a petition, and by 7 am, the petition had been signed by everyone who wasn't running for the train - 54 Westport commuters in just the first hour (which is a lot for this tiny station). By tomorrow, I'm sure it will have been signed by over 100. The message is loud and clear, "Get off George's back!" As in Dicken's classic, the 'spirits' have spoken.