Yale and New Haven’s downtown redevelopment project has moved forward in fits and spurts for the better part of a decade, slowly but successfully improving the city by replacing old stores and restaurants with new, student-pleasing, tourist-drawing ones. As a less desirable by-product of renovation, the Broadway and Chapel Street areas are now dotted with empty storefronts, waiting for new tenants and their fancy retail wares. Last week, we saw one of the unlikelier of establishments announce it is the latest to go under, though not by the hand of the University or the city.
Now, by the grace of an ironic economic twist, New Haven’s marathon downtown gentrification will now involve the replacement of a cash-strapped and soon-to-be defunct Gap.
The Gap is not Barrie Booters Ltd. It is not Krauszer’s or T.J. Tuckers or any other not-quite-landmark that hasn’t been around all that long but whose departure makes us feel nevertheless as if some great tradition has been lost. We will not miss the Gap’s cotton cardigans like we miss Naples’ liquor license, and just as there is College Wine and Liquors down the street, there is J.Crew to fill the sweater void, on Broadway. It is not sentimental or irreplaceable or even in any way quintessentially Yale. But it does make for another set of empty window displays at the center of a city mid-overhaul, where it seems restaurants and retail outlets are leaving much faster than they come. We hope the space finds a new tenant quickly.
For all practical and symbolic purposes, the Gap was a nearly perfect business to stand at the corner of New Haven and Yale. It is the champion of khaki, a college-town staple, the definition of casual, mainstream and unassuming. Everyone wears Gap clothes, and wears them anonymously, unlike the cowboy hats and big belt buckles that are so identifiably from Urban Outfitters, the new New Haven fashion source. The Gap is preppy, sure, but strictly unpretentious by design. We have difficulty thinking of anything that would so fittingly take its place.
We can imagine countless aesthetically dismal potential candidates, though, the worst among them being a massive, two-story Abercrombie and Fitch — much as it would sync with a redevelopment scheme that has seen downtown New Haven over the last decade come to look more and more like Harvard Square. Other models, based on past commercial success, might involve a California-based furniture chain, as seems to be the most popular answer to the Chapel Square Mall problem, or perhaps an ill-advised new caffeine station, say a Koffee Three?
Today, officials will announce, at long last, a replacement for the long empty space on York Street that used to be home to a beloved Krauszer’s convenience store. We hope the city and Yale will have more announcements soon — for around the city and for the vacant storefronts all along Chapel Street in particular. Ideally, the replacements will be affordable, independent retailers that fit New Haven especially, not Cambridge or a strip mall. But while finding the right vendors is of clear importance, the higher priority should be filling the spaces with more efficiency than with Krauszer’s, making the redevelopment tangible and the center of the city less of a pregentrified ghost town.