Some local eateries face tough times

With the recent closing of a short-lived crepe and ice cream shop, the chances for a new restaurant to make an impact in New Haven’s Broadway shopping district have grown smaller.

Whimsels, a creperie formerly located at 280 York St., closed last month after profits failed to meet the owner’s expectations, manager Kenneth Bush said. The shop’s closing could shift Yale University Properties’ focus away from restaurants as it completes its seven-year overhaul of the Broadway shopping district.

“There are just too many restaurants in the area,” Bush said. “Oversaturation is definitely a problem.”

Whimsels leased its 1,000-square-foot space from University Properties. Bruce Alexander, the director of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, did not respond to several telephone messages late last week. Andrea Pizziconi, a financial analyst for University Properties, declined to comment on the Whimsels closing.

Over the past decade, many national chains have attempted to enter the highly competitive Broadway market, where they have found local mom-and-pops more than able to compete.

“There have been at least 25 restaurants across the street over the last 10 years who have come in and are now gone,” said Rick Beckwith, the third-generation owner of Yankee Doodle, a 52-year Broadway staple.

Chains such as Subway and Bruegger’s met the same fate as homegrown shops like Broadway Pizza, The Daily Cafe, David’s Cookies and now Whimsels.

“It’s one of the most expensive operations to get into,” said Anthony Koutroumanis, who first opened Yorkside Pizza and Restaurant 32 years ago. “Everyone thinks they can make a ton of money, but it’s just not the case.”

Both Beckwith and Koutroumanis estimate the cost of opening a new Broadway restaurant at $250,000. And additional restaurants may not attract large numbers of new shoppers to the area, reducing each store’s business further.

“Yale has beautified the area,” Beckwith said. “But the new restaurants are not generating new business.”

Broadway restaurateurs said the summer months can kill many businesses when most students leave New Haven. Bush said Whimsels had weak summer sales and struggled to earn a mere $1,000 profit over the last three months. Whimsels owner John Robinson did not respond to telephone messages last week.

But Whimsels suffered from other problems, too. When Ashley’s ice cream parlor left Broadway in 1999, University Properties merged ice cream with Robinson’s vision of a crepe shop, forming Whimsels. The shop opened in late 2000 on the former Y Haircutters site.

But the product mix did not meet the needs of shoppers.

“We didn’t really sell any ice cream,” Bush said. “The combination of crepes and ice cream didn’t work too well.”

The specialized offerings at Whimsels also limited the creperie’s customer base.

“What they sold was not something people would go buy every day, like the sandwiches we sell,” said Laurie Kuhn, the general manager of Au Bon Pain. “They really limited themselves in terms of repeat business.”

Bush attributed Whimsels’ troubles to its location, saying Whimsels “definitely had the worst location on Broadway.”

But other stores thrive along the York Street boundary of the Broadway district.

“The problem with Whimsels was more the atmosphere than anything,” said Abigail Jackson, the manager of Koffee Too?, which abuts the former Whimsels site. “We’re really busy all the time, so location wasn’t the problem.”

In addition to Whimsels’ former site, three additional vacant storefronts owned by University Properties remain on Broadway: the former Krauszer’s site, a property adjacent to Ivy Noodle, and the space between J.Crew and Alexia Crawford.

Whimsels’ failure points to the tight restaurant market and, possibly, the need for additional non-food stores to lure suburban shoppers to Broadway.

“They could bring other things that don’t exist around here,” Koutroumanis said. “Restaurants are not going to do it.”

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