Rubbing her withered hand gently up and down a roll of fabric, 82-year-old Julia DiLullo mentally scrolled through her 42 years working as an employee at Horowitz Bros.
“I really am sad to see it go,” she said.
Horowitz Bros., which opened its doors on Chapel Street in 1939, plans to officially close for business by the beginning of October. The family-owned fabric store came to sell everything from discount clothing to as many household notions as one could imagine.
The store, which to many has become a staple of New Haven and which has remained authentic despite half a century of change, has nonetheless witnessed — and weathered — great changes in its downtown location.
Geraldine Marchitto, who has been an employee at Horowitz Bros. for 35 years, said that its location at 760 Chapel Street used to be “the place to shop,” home to large department stores such as Shartenberg’s just across the street.
Professor Douglas Rae, author of “City: Urbanism and Its End” and a professor in the School of Management, explained that the neighborhood has experienced great changes over the course of the store’s lifetime.
Horowitz Bros., Rae said, came “in mid-August of the downtown summer.”
When the store opened at its current location in ’39, the downtown area was still flourishing, but by the mid-fifties, Rae said, with the predominance of the automobile, the neighborhood began to shift in character. But New Haven residents continued to shop religiously at Horowitz Bros. even as the neighborhood changed.
“What’s great about the Horowitz achievement is that they were such great retailers that people would treat them as a destination rather than just stumble onto them in the process of shopping,” Rae said.
Nonetheless, in the past several decades, co-owner Arthur Horowitz admits that sales have decreased substantially. With high school students no longer making their own prom dresses and schools no longer teaching sewing classes, Horowitz said, the demand for fabrics had simply changed.
“Horowitz was victimized slowly by the deterioration of downtown but also by the decline in homemade clothing,” Rae said.
According to Horowitz, though, the fact that the store never did fully change to suit modern pressures may have worked to its advantage.
“Maybe we neglected to change with the times and before you knew it, it became chic,” Horowitz said.
Indeed, still featuring hand painted signs, an antique cash register, and a place to pay one’s utility bills, the store has kept a loyal customer base.
William Wilson, a New Haven native, has been shopping at the store for over 50 years and calls it a “generational thing.”
“My mother shopped here and brought me here as a youngster,” Wilson said. “It’s a sad day to see this store close. We’re losing something.”
Yale students, too, seem to reserve a special place in their hearts for the store.
“It’s the best store in New Haven,” said Denise Levitan ’06, a member of Yale’s Society of Domestic Arts.
She corrected herself: “It will have been the best store in New Haven.”
DiLullo said she has watched many of her customers grow up and even have their own children.
“One customer named their child after me,” she said.
Horowitz said his customers routinely display their emotion about the store closing.
“Hugs and tears happens every day. It really astounds me.”
He said that despite this outpouring of support, the time was simply right to close.
“The ownership is sort of fragmented, and real estate values are very high now — so there wasn’t much point in staying open when this is the ideal time to close it up,” he said. “Life goes on. I knew it would come some time. It’s the passing of an era.”