Blazing a trail from Chapel to Broadway

Changes in downtown New Haven will increase chain-store presence in the neighborhood but may improve business.

Trailblazer, an outdoor apparel store located on the corner of College and Chapel streets, will move out on March 1, to make room for a Commerce Bank branch opening in November. Trailblazer hopes to open another New Haven location in the Broadway district sometime in March.

A new Dunkin Donuts is also slated to arrive farther down Chapel Street near the Subway, within several blocks of two other store locations.

Trailblazer store manager Craig Aaker said the move was not prompted by unhappiness with the current location but rather by the bank’s offer and the opportunity to expand his business.

“If all goes according to plan, we’ll be opening three stores in New Haven, one moved Trailblazer and two new spin-off concept stores,” Aaker said. Ideas for the new locations include stores that revolve around a specific brand, he added.

Aaker said the new options will better serve the New Haven community.

“If anything, when we move, the store’s location will be better and more convenient than [the] current one,” he said.

Some Yale students and local business owners expressed uncertainty about how the new additions would affect Chapel Street.

Raphael Magarik ’10, club coordinator for the Yale Outdoors Club, said while he thinks Trailblazer “sells a lot of overpriced junk,” the new Commerce Bank and Dunkin’ Donuts will be no better at drawing him to the area.

“It will change the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “Instead of mall yuppy boutique stores, it’s big cheap chain stores.”

Claire Criscuolo, owner of Claire’s Corner Copia, said that while she expects the additions to the neighborhood to bring in more customers and increase her business, she is disappointed to see more chain stores in the area.

“I really dislike chains,” she said. “Chains erase the landscape — you don’t know where you are anymore. The bottom line is money, and I’m not averse to money, but when that becomes your bottom line, it is impossible for people to be your bottom line.”

Claire’s Corner Copia is an all-vegan restaurant famous with Yalies for its cakes.

Aaker said while he understands concerns about the increased presence of chain stores, the new bank will be beneficial for the area.

“I think that it is great that someone is moving in — there are lots of vacant spots on Chapel,” he said. “A bank is a solid anchor for the neighborhood … and can help make downtown more vibrant.”

Students interviewed were generally apathetic about the change, saying they did not shop at any of the stores involved.

Yale Outdoors Club members Alexander Wilton ’09 and Neal Parikh ’08 said most club members use Trailblazer only as a last resort for outdoor gear.

“I’ve only been there twice for rush purchases,” Wilton said. “It’s a pretty pricey place to shop on the outdoors front.”

He usually purchases his goods online from wholesale dealers, and he said other Yale Outdoors Club members do the same.

The arrival of two high-profile chains does not worry Criscuolo.

“If we can compete with Starbucks, we can compete with anybody,” Criscuolo said.

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