An “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude may help University Properties fill storefronts, but not necessarily with entirely novel tenants.
Within the last month, University Properties has announced the opening of eight new restaurants and stores, ranging from skater shops to southwest grills — three of which have previously existing primary locations within walking distance of campus, and one of which has a flagship in North Branford. Three others, which all offer outdoor apparel, share the same owner.
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Although officials at University Properties said they tend to welcome the expansion of businesses that have proven successful in New Haven, many students interviewed said they are excited about some of the new businesses. But they also expressed concern that the practice limits the degree of diversity in area shops and restaurants. Contracting a wider diversity of tenants should be a priority when selecting new businesses, those students said.
But University Properties, which manages Yale-owned commercial real estate, seeks to accommodate the market’s demand during a “difficult time for retail,” said University Properties Director for Marketing Shana Schneider ’00.
“We are attracted to people with a success record,” she said. “It’s useful to see how [potential tenants] have run a store before.”
Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs Associate Vice President Michael Morand agreed: “These are good additions precisely because they are proven entrepreneurs who know the market. They are investing their time and money based on knowledge.”
A demonstrated proficiency in financial management and an entrepreneurial background are positive attributes of potential tenants, Schneider said. She said University Properties does not specifically look for “second stores,” however.
But the trend is apparent in all three of the areas University Properties covers: Broadway Shopping District, Chapel Street Historic District and Audubon Arts & Retail District — and not just recently. Gourmet Heaven II and Sandra’s Place — which has since closed its doors to make way for newly contracted Moe’s Southwest Grill — opened as second storefronts on Whitney Avenue in the fall of 2002. The Bead Hive II and Yarn, LLC took root in fall 2005 in the Audubon district after successful flagship locations opened in Guilford and Westville, Conn., respectively.
Schneider said it is attractive for businesses whose primary locations exist outside of the walkable radius of Yale to consider expanding into properties more proximate to the student population. But some of the more recent additions have branched off primary locations relatively close to campus. Thali Too, for example, will be less than a mile’s walking distance from Thali on Orange Street and will become the seventh Indian restaurant in or around the central campus area.
Matt Feiner, the owner of The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, which will open a second location on 97 Audubon St. on Saturday, with its original store in Wooster Square, said that regardless of whether University Properties is looking for “second stores” or not, he is happy to be signing a contract with Yale.
“I didn’t really know their angles,” Feiner laughed. “I am just a bicyclist … [and] I have a limited budget, time constraints, staff concerns … [University Properties has] been very flexible.”
He calls The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop II a “glorified toolbox” compared to the original, which also sells bikes, and is marketed as a drop-off point for bikes needing larger repairs. The shop is a sign of the perceived shift from straight retail in the area to more service-based establishments, which will help draw customers from further outside the immediate neighborhood, Schneider said. Feiner said officials from University Properties had asked him directly to recommend potential service-geared tenants for the area.
Trailblazer, which is set to relocate to the Broadway district this semester, will branch into three separate stores — Trailblazer itself; Traffic, which features skateboarding clothing and gear; and Denali, which sells merchandise from The North Face brand.
Prasad Chirnomula, owner of Thali restaurant on Orange Street and Thali Too, which will open at 65 Broadway in early April, said he contacted University Properties directly about the expansion. He said the Office of New Haven and State Affairs board unanimously approved his proposition and decided to offer him the storefront between the Yale Bookstore and Ezra Stiles College.
“[The Broadway site] is known to be a tough location,” he said. “But I will try to make it a destination.”
Chirnomula said his new location will have a unique menu and atmosphere, featuring a lassi bar with yogurt-based drinks and a rice bar where customers can mix and match rices, sauces and vegetables. He is looking into tweaking the entire menu to make it Kosher, he said.
“I didn’t want to compete with myself in the same town,” he said, referring to the first Thali.
Jeremy Avins ’10 said he believes Thali Too will fill an new niche at Yale.
“It will be nice to have a totally kosher option other than Claire’s [Corner Copia] right by campus,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If it’s vegetarian and kosher, I think it has a good chance of being able to compete with the other Indian restaurants because it will attract a slightly different crowd.”
But many of those interviewed said they think University Properties should look for more dramatic forms of diversity among the merchants to whom it rents properties.
“We aren’t UC Berkeley,” Aniket Shah ’09 said. “We don’t need so many vegetarian restaurants.”
And several students raised similar concerns about how diverse a customer base Trailblazer, Denali and Traffic will be able to attract, even if the New Haven climate warrants a large demand for winter gear.
On Feb. 4, University Properties announced that Woodlands Coffee & Tea and Sushi on Chapel will also be moving into Yale properties in the Chapel district by early April. The cafe already has a location on Orange Street and the sushi restaurant in North Branford.