Broadway tries to attract non-Yalies

New Haven’s Broadway District, a busy retail area sandwiched between an assortment of Yale-owned dorms and classrooms, is unabashedly Bulldog-centric.

Of the more than 20 stores that line Broadway’s main drag, three, including the Yale Bookstore, specialize in merchandise stamped with Yale logos. Broadway’s J. Crew dubs itself “J. Crew at Yale,” and many of the district’s stores, such as Ivy Noodle and Bulldog Burrito, have Yale-influenced names.

But Thursday night, Yale University Properties, which owns much of the district, held an event that specifically targeted non-Yale college students. “College Night” — which featured a fashion show with participants from local colleges, sizable discounts at local stores and restaurants, and an aggressive marketing campaign including student liaisons at local colleges — is part of a push to expand Broadway’s market beyond the bounds of the Yale campus, University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider ’00 said.

Schneider said Yale is a vital part of Broadway’s market, but she said the symbiotic relationship can be a mixed blessing. Although there are five other higher education institutions within a five-minute drive from Broadway, the district has not drawn as much business as it could from schools such as Albertus Magnus College or Quinnipiac University, she said.

Thursday’s College Night was one of University Properties’ most aggressive pushes to attract non-Yale business, but promotions and marketing may not be enough to dispel what some said is the biggest factor keeping local college students away from Broadway — the anxiety some local college students said they feel about venturing into “Yale territory.”

Southern Connecticut State University student Kaitlyn Victory said that though students enjoy coming to Broadway, the experience can be intimidating for non-Yalies because Yale has such a strong presence in the area.

“Your first impression [is] that it’s a Yale zone with the Yale Bookstore being on Broadway and always seeing people with Yale outfits on,” said Victory, who coordinated marketing for College Night at SCSU. “Because Yale [is] in the vicinity, people do feel intimidated to go down to Broadway.”

And although some stores on Broadway — such as J. Crew and Urban Outfitters — do attract large numbers of students from other colleges, those customers sometimes feel out of place, J. Crew store manager Steven Plewa said.

“We have students from all over that visit, and sometimes they’re like, ‘I don’t go to Yale,'” he said. “And we’re like, ‘So? You’re still welcome.'”

This perception is not an isolated one. A November University Properties survey of local college students found that many students see appeal in the stores on Broadway but consider them part of an insular Yale community — a perception that has hurts the area economically, Schneider said.

“It’s great to have Yale,” she said. “[But] in order for stores to blossom and grow, they need to be supported by the entire area.”

Director of University Properties David Newton said events such as College Night try to combat this stigma and focus on expanding awareness of the district.

“We are trying to make people realize that it’s an area that is fun and attractive for everyone,” Newton said.

Especially with students from local colleges participating in marketing and producing College Night, Schneider said, students from other colleges should start to see Broadway as their own.

But some Broadway merchants and local college students said the district’s problems extend beyond its Yale-focused image. Broadway Merchants Association Treasurer Paul Cuticello said Broadway suffers from competition with suburban shopping centers such as the Milford Mall and stores along Boston Post Road. Broadway stores — which are mainly small, independently-owned operations — often cannot match the prices of larger retailers, he said.

“We keep promoting the area, but you can only promote it so much,” said Cuticello, the owner of Paul Richards at the corner York and Elm streets. “You can bring them down here at night on buses, but you can’t make them shop. People are on fixed income. It’s hard sometimes.”

New Haven’s grid system plays a role in isolating business districts from potential customers, Bulldog Burrito owner Jason Congdon said.

“For a small restaurant like mine, you rely on your neighborhood,” Congdon said. “In a quadrant-setup city, people stay within their block. A lot of the areas in New Haven are self-sufficient, and because of that, I’m definitely relying on the dorms around me.”

Broadway’s relative lack of popular chain stores compared to malls also hurts the district’s ability to draw customers, Quinnipiac student Ben Oser said. Although there are a few venues on Broadway that are popular with non-Yale crowds — such as Toad’s Place and the national chain stores — the district as a whole does not offer enough to compete with suburban malls.

“J. Crew and Urban Outfitters would be popular venues for students,” Oser said. “Beyond that, and beyond the social scene, there’s not as much of a draw. [For instance], you’ve got the Yale Bookstore. There would be no point for a Quinnipiac student to go there.”

But others said Broadway has a unique atmosphere and appeal which has great potential if proper attention is brought to the area. One of the district’s greatest selling points is its urban streetscape, University of New Haven student Jackie Senno said.

“Boston Post Road is more commercial,” she said. “Those can get boring, so people go downtown because it’s not huge businesses and most people aren’t from an area where they have that sort of downtown to go to — they’re from the suburbs, so it’s a good alternative.”

The Yale aura can also act as an attraction for many people, Broadway Merchants Association President Joe Bender said. Broadway’s Yale-oriented focus has never been a problem for the Yale Bookstore, which attracts both Yalies and non-Yalies, he said. The only thing that really needs to be addressed, Bender said, is parking. Students on many local college campuses have cars, and the major thing that prevents them from shopping on Broadway is insufficient parking, he said.

Broadway’s current problems are just short-term trends, said Tyco Copy owner Michael Ianuzzi, who has operated in the district for 35 years. Even if the district’s Yale focus has some unwanted effects, Ianuzzi said, Broadway is much better off than it was a decade ago.

“It was an area that needed some serious renovation, some uplifting, some energy brought to it,” Ianuzzi said. “There’s no question that Yale up and did that. If you saw the area 10 years ago, you can’t look at it now and see a downside.”

All that it will take Broadway to widen its appeal is time and a little ingenuity, Congdon said.

“In general it’s just a matter of time,” Congdon said. “It’s really on our shoulders to come up with [how to market] it. I think the people are out there … They just need to be aware of it.”

Comments