On Broadway, past must be lesson

The ballots are in: Alexia Crawford jokes are officially passe. Like WMD, Gigli or the Governator — or Monica Lewinsky, dimpled chads, or Enron in an earlier era — the Alexia Crawford punch line has simply exhausted its laugh potential. October’s Yale Herald cartoon was the end of the line. The Alexia Crawford joke has entered the realm of comedic purgatory. It has lost its mojo, and needs to be retired.

Of course, it would be hard to argue that Alexia Crawford is anything other than a giant mishap. It’s been plagued by bad press almost since opening day. “Students give low marks to high Broadway prices” (4/4/2001), the headlines blared. “With the new Broadway, people vote with their feet” (9/6/2001). “New store choices add little to downtown” (10/2).

The consensus is that Alexia Crawford has failed. Miserably. Although I was not able to obtain exact sales figures, empirical evidence is proof enough — on any given day, Broadway’s only women’s accessories store has all the hustle and bustle of a morgue.

So it is with sweet irony that we look back at the statements made by John Maturo, director of real estate for University Properties, when in January 2001, he proudly informed the community that UP had found a “hip” new tenant to fill the retail space at 37 Broadway. Quoth Maturo, “Alexia Crawford is hip. It appeals to college students and the general under-40 young professional set we want to attract to Broadway.” (“Hip retailer to join Broadway roster,” 1/23/01). Exactly which “college students” was Maturo referring to, I wonder? No Yalie I’ve met.

But I will spare UP the humiliation of a full rebuke. Everyone’s allowed to make a mistake once in a while. And that’s all this was: a mistake. A mishap. A misjudgment of demand, combined with a Pollyanna fantasy of an upscale target market which, like the Yeti, may or may not actually exist. I can forgive UP for that much.

What I can’t forgive, however, is the fact that University Properties is committing the same error again. What latest folly has UP cooked up for the Yale community? What’s its newest gift to Broadway’s retail scene? Sound Runner — a store selling (ahem) running shoes.

Perhaps I am being ungrateful. UP deserves deserve some credit for its restraint: Sound Runner is at least a better choice than a Louis Vuitton boutique. Furthermore, I’ll concede that Sound Runner is a step in the right direction for University Properties, in that, while fulfilling the gentrification quotient, it is at least slightly more appealing to the college audience than a high-end women’s accessories store.

But will Sound Runner ever have the excitement of Ashley’s, the popularity of Ivy Noodle, or the customer base of Campus Customs? No. Those stores sell in-demand products for reasonable prices, which is the perfect business model for a college campus. You can go out for ice cream every night, for example, without breaking the bank or tiring of the Mocha Almond Fudge. But in all honesty, how many times per year is the average student going to pop in between classes to pick up a new pair of running shoes?

I conclude that, barring a sudden Asics fashion craze, Sound Runner is doomed to suffer the fate of Alexia Crawford. The store will benefit from a few weeks of buzz when it opens later this month. And then the initial curiosity will wear off. Sporty types will come in every so often to browse. Most students will walk by without giving the store a second thought. Business will taper off, and a retail space that could have housed a vibrant, energetic shop or restaurant will instead house a shoe store.

So, what am I asking for? Nothing terribly demanding. I ask only two things: that UP learn from its mistakes and that UP make good on its mission statement. On it Web site and on signs posted in vacant properties, UP promises: “We are committed to enhancing the quality of life at Yale and in downtown New Haven through the development of unique retail and office environments and the revitalization of surrounding neighborhoods.”

Really, UP? Then give us something we want. Give us a party store, for example, selling decorations, costumes, novelties, paper plates and napkins, chips, soda and nuts. Sell everything from inflatable palm trees to naughty nurse costumes to toga clips. Demand is high: as long as there are Yalies, there will be parties. Business will boom, and customers will bring a youthful energy to the Broadway district. Give us a smoothie bar, and make sure it accepts Flex Dollars. Give us a bagel shop–while TD and Silliman have Bruegger’s, the other 10 residential colleges and the Law School are conspicuously bagel-less.

So, in conclusion, enough with the Alexia Crawford jokes. Students need to propose and publicize vibrant retail alternatives for Broadway and environs. Students need to be agents for change. Until then, we’ll keep getting stuck with the likes of Alexia Crawford. And that, my friends, is not a funny punch line.



Daniel Weisfield is a freshman in Calhoun College.

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