By David Shieh
Hundreds of candles will soon light up the Elm City as part of what local business groups said is New Haven’s most organized holiday campaign ever.
Local business groups will line the New Haven Green with 1,000 luminarias, small candles that will be set on the sidewalk to foster a festive atmosphere in the downtown areas, Town Green Special Services District Executive Director Scott Healy ’97 said. The luminarias are just one of many special touches local business organizations will be applying to New Haven this year, Director of University Properties David Newton said.
“Each year, we get better at doing things that make downtown even more lively and festive than the year before,” Newton said. “I see … more focus from both our office and New Haven in getting the word out about not only about this holiday season, but also how interesting and lively New Haven’s downtown is.”
Spearheaded by local business organization Market New Haven, the campaign will include promotions for free beverages and movie tickets, a window decorating contest and a 50-foot Christmas tree. The effort will specifically target Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, when extended store hours, complimentary refreshments and street performers will be on hand to encourage people to come to New Haven, said Ali Parmelee, spokesperson for Think Creative Group, the public relations firm in charge of the campaign’s marketing. The focus on Thursday and Sunday is aimed at extending the weekend shopping period, Parmelee said.
Healy said special holiday promotions, combined with the recent revitalization of the city’s downtown, have brought increased traffic from surrounding suburbs and towns during past holiday seasons.
“If businesses are to succeed, the best way to do that is [to increase] the radius from which people are willing to drive,” Healy said. “What New Haven has to offer is much more compelling of a package … so that people from the Hartford area or Fairfield County would be willing to drive to experience it.”
Although New Haven loses a large percentage of the Yale population during the holiday season, retail sales during the period have historically been strong, Healy said. The arrival of some speciality stores, which sell merchandise that is hard to find elsewhere in the state, has contributed to an increase in New Haven’s downtown holiday sales in the last few years, Healy said.
“Yale [student] departures have had less of an effect on stores and restaurants in the last few years because those shopping districts have become a lot more sustainable when Yale’s out of session than they used to be,” Healy said.
An influx of college-age New Haven residents who return home for the holidays also counterbalances the absence of Yalies, Parmelee said.
Despite that, Healy said, some businesses that draw much of their revenue from students may experience decreased foot traffic, although the drop-off in business has become less dramatic in recent years.
“The economy’s gotten a little better,” said Marla Kelly, a waitress at A1 Pizza on Broadway. “People are shopping in the area [during the holidays] and stop in.”
But Sammy Lee, manager of Gourmet Heaven, a 24-hour deli popular among Yale students, said the lull in business over the holidays has worsened in recent years.
“Business has actually gone down a little bit,” Lee said. “People are complaining and blaming it on the economics.”
Isaiah Bond, assistant manager of Thom Brown, a shoe store on Broadway, said he felt holiday business has gotten better. Although the store draws a majority of its customers from the Yale population, Bond said, sales remain high during the holiday season.
“Especially around the holidays, a lot of shoppers from surrounding areas come in,” Bond said. “It kind of compensates for the loss of Yale students.”
Downtown revitalization has also improved sales, Bond said, since customers can spend an entire day shopping in New Haven.
“They stop at J. Crew, they stop here, they stop at Lila Brown, they stop at Urban Outfitters,” Bond said. “And then they get something to eat. Everything’s on the strip.”
The lighting of the Christmas Tree on the New Haven Green Nov. 30 will mark the official beginning of New Haven’s holiday season. The event will include a carousel, a hay ride and live performances from local performing arts groups.