Nu Haven leaves the Elm City

Business at 754 Chapel St. hasn’t been quite the same since Valentine’s Day.

The purple sign reading “Nu Haven Book & Video” which normally sits above the entrance of downtown New Haven’s only adult entertainment store was replaced by a “For Sale” poster last week after New Haven-based Olympia Properties bought Nu Haven’s building.

But though some Yalies still feeling the afterglow of Sex Week may be mourning the 13-year-old store’s passing, neither the company that owns Nu Haven nor local business owners said they are particularly surprised. Changes in the adult entertainment industry and the redevelopment of the blocks surrounding the Lower Chapel District have made it advantageous for both the city and Nu Haven’s owners to put 754 Chapel St. to other uses.

Rhode Island-based Capitol Video, which currently operates more than 40 adult entertainment stores in eight different states, sold the brick building to Olympia Properties earlier this month and agreed to close the store, Olympia Properties President Chris Nicotra said. Because Capitol was able to get a good price for the building, the decision to sell the property was easy, Vice President of Retail Operations at Capitol Video Bill Tucker said. The building is now on the market for lease, he said, and because the zoning laws governing the site are flexible, the building may host anything from a law firm to a restaurant or cafe.

Selling Nu Haven also fits into Capitol Video’s larger business plan, Tucker said. The adult entertainment industry has matured in the past few years, he said, and as companies such as Capitol Video start to diversify their target audiences to include couples and female clientele, “old, dirty bookstores” like Nu Haven, which lack the allure of a larger superstore, are gradually disappearing.

“The industry is changing, the business is changing, locations are changing,” Tucker said. “[Now] you have to build a store that is inviting. [In new stores,] you see the soft side of sensuality. You see aromatherapy and candles and nightwear.”

Since these more expansive adult entertainment stores usually require sites with at least 4,000 square feet of space and special zoning variances, it has become increasingly difficult to build adult entertainment stores in gentrifying downtowns such as New Haven’s, Tucker said.

Nu Haven is an anomaly in downtown New Haven business circles, Executive Director of Town Green Special Services District Scott Healy ’96 said. Partly because of its Puritan roots, the Elm City has never been a hospitable place for adult entertainment stores.

When a nightclub that specialized in adult entertainment wanted to move onto Crown Street four or five years ago, Healy said, it was blocked by the City Plan Department and local community leaders. Even now that Crown Street has developed a thriving club and bar scene, New Haven officials have ensured that nightclubs do not offer “adult entertainment nights,” Healy said.

A decade ago, however, it was easier for businesses like Nu Haven to get a foothold in the Elm City, Healy said. Lower Chapel went through a minor real estate depression in the early ’90s, he said, making it easier for adult entertainment to move in.

“A business like that … would be able to buy a distressed property and be able to insert into it whatever business it was trying to promote,” Healy said. “Today, that would be hard to carry out. The property values are too high.”

With Nu Haven gone, the city will now have an opportunity to fully redevelop the area, Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said.

“When you drive into any town and you see bookstores and video stores on the main street it automatically sends up red flags to people,” Bialecki said. “Those two blocks along Chapel really need changing, and having the bookstore gone will really help.”

Although New Haven never had a adult entertainment district on the scale of Boston’s Combat Zone, Healy said, there used to be more than there is now.

But in recent years, increased traffic coming through Lower Chapel via the recently redeveloped Ninth Square and Wooster Square has given the streets a new feel, Nicotra said.

“For a discreet business, it’s good for the streets to be quiet because a lot of people wouldn’t want to see them going into a store like that,” Nicotra said. “Nowadays with all the new developments … they probably couldn’t sustain their business.”

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