With Yale’s investment in the retail scene on Broadway generating much fanfare, the University’s efforts in the Whitney Avenue and Audubon Street area has received considerably less student attention.
In recent years, three stores in the district — Clinton Piano, Foundry Bookstore and Arethusa Book Shop — have closed, and there are still many empty storefronts. But with this summer’s opening of an Audubon Street toy store and the proposed opening of Gourmet Heaven II on Whitney Avenue, retailers hope the arts-centered district will emerge as a favorite Elm City destination.
“One of the problems for many years renting out spaces there has been to get things with storefronts,” said Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League. “The objective is to find as many active places as possible.”
The Whitney-Audubon district is home to many of the city’s arts schools and organizations, including a centuries-old music school, the New Haven Ballet and the Education Center for the Arts, a performing arts center for local high school students.
These institutions attract many families to the retail area, said Richard Stack, owner of The Toy Store on Audubon. He estimated that as many as 3,000 children visit the district each week.
“The first issue for Yale was clearly to have child-friendly businesses,” Stack said. “This little block here has already been colonized by children — this is their place.”
University Properties, Yale’s leasing department, owns 20,000 square feet on the first floor of a five-story Whitney Avenue office building — enough space for 13 retail tenants. Once University Properties purchased the building, the department developed a plan to attract family-friendly retail outlets to the area, Farwell said.
The toy store, which was previously located on Chapel Street, rents a 1,000-square-foot storefront in the office building for about $1,500 per month, Stack said.
The atmosphere creates the vivid and lively presence at the street level that urbanist Jane Jacobs advocated, Stack said. Recalling the work of Jacobs, widely considered the “mother of city planning,” Stack said small merchants are the “eyes and ears of the streets.”
While urbanists question the development advances in the area, Yale continues to try to turn the arts district into a thriving retail center. Pointing to the success of Sandra’s Place, a popular soul food restaurant on Whitney Avenue, David Newton, director of University Properties, said this is an exciting time for the area.
Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno said the Whitney-Audubon area has a good mix of different businesses.
“The city is red hot in terms of appeal at the moment,” he said.