It is 10:15 in the morning, and Priti Patel sits alone at one of her store’s few tables looking glum. And with good reason — there’s not a customer in her shop.
At this time of day, Breadstar Bakery on Wall Street should be bustling, full of caffeine-seekers en route to class and late risers looking to catch a meal. At least, Patel said, that is how it was last year when her store first opened. But with Silliman College now undergoing a yearlong renovation, Patel’s clientele has been displaced by a maze of scaffolding and hard hats.
Wall St. is ablaze with construction, and Patel and her fellow business owners said they are feeling the heat.
Yale University Properties, which owns many of the buildings on Wall St., said they warned their tenants of the construction and have tried to minimize the impact on the neighborhood’s economy. But with Silliman emptied of students for the year and one side of the street blocked off for the renovation, some tenants of this small commercial district said they are running into hard times.
The retail district, which runs from Naples Pizza on the corner of College Street down to Ciao Bella Café, also includes Phil’s Hair Styles salon and, until it closed earlier this year, Rosey’s Cleaners, a dry-cleaning and tailoring store. It is a motley blend of shops, but this year they are all suffering from a dearth of customers.
Yale officials recognize that Silliman’s renovation may have detrimental effects on local businesses and have tried to minimize the construction’s sting, Director of University Properties David Newton said. According to Patel, in her case, University Properties lowered her rent slightly.
Newton said that Yale, among other things, successfully petitioned the city government to supplement Wall Street parking by moving meters from the Silliman side of the street across to the retail side. He also said Yale was up-front with local business owners about the construction plans.
“We made it very clear that Silliman College renovation was on the books, and that they needed to be aware that this was happening,” he said.
Newton also said the lack of parking should not strongly affect the business district’s clientele.
“A good deal of the traffic for those stores is not vehicular but pedestrian and street traffic,” he said. “So there’s still the ebb and flow of students walking through that thoroughfare.”
But some Wall Street business owners said they have noticed a decrease in walk-in sales.
“It’s difficult for people to get down to the street,” Ciao Bella owner Russ Chinnici said. “Our retail traffic [has been] impeded.”
He also said that roughly half of his business came from Silliman last year, and that the displacement of Silliman students, coupled with the lack of parking, has restricted his flow of customers.
A hairdresser at Phil’s, Stacey Shanks, said she is only doing a fraction of last year’s business.
“It’s 11:00 now,” she said. “I’ve been here since 8:00 and this is the second haircut I’ve done today. Two haircuts in three hours. I used to do four in one hour.”
Shanks also said the salon had to let one of its hairdressers go because of the slowdown, which she attributed to both the absence of Silliman students and the loss of parking spaces on the blocked-off side of the street.
“We’ve got older customers who have been coming here for 65 years and who can’t walk four blocks,” she said. “They call and say, ‘I can’t come this week because I can’t park,’ and then they come next week and they’re driving around and around again.”
Besides the issue of parking, some business owners said that the general atmosphere of the street has changed, and that the dust and clangs of machinery and debris have kept pedestrians at bay.
“My place looks clean now,” Patel said. “But when it rains, the dust from the building turns to mud, and my floors get covered.”
Even some of the construction workers employed at the Silliman site said they noticed that students seem to bypass Wall Street during work hours.
“It’s dangerous, there’s dust and debris flying everywhere,” said one of the workers, who asked not to be identified because he was on duty. “And while we don’t say anything, of course, I can imagine that some of the female students don’t feel comfortable walking down the street with tons of construction workers sitting around.”
Though most Wall St. business owners said they are not angry at Yale for ordering the construction, they said they are anxious about the future.
“We have a lot invested in the store,” Chinnici said. “We want to see it succeed.”
Renovations on Silliman College are expected to be completed by fall 2007.