Since the “Store Moving Sales” signs appeared in the glass windows at 994 Chapel St. four weeks ago, it has been a poorly kept secret on campus that outdoor-lifestyle store Trailblazer was planning a move back to Broadway.
But the store’s ambitious relocation plan, which involves the opening of a Trailblazer location along with two other “concept” stores, was still in the works until Thursday, when University Properties announced the deal. Trailblazer plans to reopen its flagship store at its original location — 296 Elm St. — as soon as possible and will begin work on Traffic and Denali — the latter set to open as early as March.
“We clearly see [Trailblazer] as a great tenant, and they are clearly committed to New Haven,” University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider ’00 said. “For us it was exciting because we’re able to keep a really good entrepreneur and business owner here in New Haven. We think they’ll be a great addition to Broadway.”
The move represents a homecoming of sorts for the New Haven-based retailer. The store had occupied the 296 Elm St. location for 10 years after its opening in 1994. Looking for a larger space, Trailblazer moved to its current location in 2004. Now, with the promise of three separate storefronts, Trailblazer is returning to Broadway.
Trailblazer is moving in part because New Jersey-based Commerce Bank, which expressed interest in renting the store’s current space, made an offer that it “would’ve been silly to turn down,” store manager Craig Aaker said. But after evaluating the vacant storefronts on Yale’s premier shopping drag, Trailblazer owners changed their plans from a simple relocation to a significant expansion, he said.
Opening at 13 Broadway — currently home to Elm City Artists, which will relocate to 284 York St., next to Ashley’s Ice Cream — will be Denali, a concept store vending primarily North Face brand apparel and outdoors gear.
“North Face is our No. 1 vendor,” Aaker said. “But that popularity is really driven by one or two pieces — their fleece, and their down jacket. In our current store, we have to spread the love around between North Face, Marmot, Mountain Hardware and a bunch of these other brands.
Denali will give us a chance to showcase some of North Face’s other lines, so they don’t get lost in the mix.”
Two doors down, Trailblazer plans to open Traffic — a surf and skate lifestyle shop featuring apparel from Quiksilver and Element, among others vendors. That has Phil Cutler, next-door neighbor at 25 Broadway, excited.
“More stores bring more people to the area and that will certainly benefit Cutler’s as well as all the retailers in the district,” Cutler, the owner of Cutler’s Records, Tapes & Compact Discs, said in a press release. “There’s a lot of synergy between our products and the clothing lines that Traffic will be offering. We’re delighted to be their new neighbor.”
Trendiness aside, however, complaints about overpricing have sometimes steered Elis away from the store, leaving students like Eli Bildner ’10 — active in Yale Outdoors — to use Trailblazer as a merchant of last resort. But Bildner admits, “They’ve got some pretty decent stuff there.”
“I don’t know many people in the active outdoor community who go there much,” Bildner said. “The prices are pretty high relative to what you can get online or even in some smaller stores back home.”
Aaker said he has heard the complaint but thinks Trailblazer’s prices are a reflection of the “high-end” merchandise the store vends rather than any specific pricing mechanism. The store — “a name brand in New Haven,” Aaker said — also enjoys the fruits of its large customer base, the greater New Haven area.
“If you’re buying a three-layer Goretex jacket — I don’t care who you’re getting it from — you’re going to pay over $300,” Aaker said.
Traffic — with its clothing lines of somewhat “less technical” apparel — could offer a comparably cheaper selection, Aaker added.