Three and a half years ago, when Liza Clayson wanted to start a business, she moved to Branford to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams instead of staying in her native New Haven. But now, with New Haven’s downtown cultural scene booming, women like Clayson are coming to the Elm City to open arts-oriented stores, attracted to what they say is an increasingly female-friendly business environment.
Yale University Properties held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for its newest tenant on Elm St., Clayson’s new shop Metaphore, which sells a variety of European home accessories. University Properties officials and business owners said Clayson’s move indicates a growing trend of female entrepreneurs opening stores in downtown New Haven.
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About a dozen women have opened stores on University Properties’ land in New Haven since 1975, but business owners said six of those have opened in the past three years. Owners said this trend is due to an increasingly strong informal network of female entrepreneurs, which has been fostered by the small size of the downtown business community.
University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider said women have gender-specific obstacles to overcome when starting businesses, such as greater difficulty in balancing family and work. Though the retail market in New Haven has improved for women over the past decade, she said, it is still not completely agreeable to them.
“Men and women have different kinds of challenges in opening businesses,” Schneider said. “But lots of women are teaming up to support each other.”
Some female business owners said their success depends greatly on teamwork and private networking in order to overcome some of the challenges associated with women-owned private enterprises.
Sogno Boutique of Dreams owner Krista Camputaro said New Haven is an attractive place for women because of the small-town atmosphere it provides, which is conducive to networking and cross-promotions between businesses.
“There’s a nice camaraderie between women here,” Camputaro said. “I belong to a few different networking groups that get together on a monthly or weekly basis. It’s just word of mouth, privatized networking.”
Barbara Lynch, New Haven native and co-owner of the Bead Hive II, a Guilford store which opened its second location in the Elm City last year, said New Haven does not have a formal female-entrepreneur network like that in Hartford but that New Haven’s informal network “certainly helps.” She said has seen an increase in the number of female business owners in the area since she has lived here.
“The reception to female entrepreneurs is different than it used to be,” Lynch said. “It was practically unheard of when I was young. But we’re not oddities anymore.”
University Properties officials and New Haven business owners said the high number of female entrepreneurs in recent years is due to the revitalization of culture in downtown New Haven, and that the development of the arts and theater have had an impact on tourism and retail. Many women who previously left the area in search of booming business opportunities are now returning to reopen their shops in the Elm City, they said.
Schneider said a decade ago New Haven hit a low point in commerce and was a very unattractive place for retailers. But with the current abundance of arts, theater and dining, women see downtown as a burgeoning cultural market, she said.
“In general, there are a lot more women in the workforce now looking to do creative things,” Schneider said. “New Haven lets them. There’s a renaissance here, a revitalization, and people are attracted to that.”
But Schneider said the increase in female-owned businesses also corresponds with a general boom in New Haven commerce.