Another downtown casualty

Cooper’s Dress Shop — a 47-year old establishment perhaps best known to students as the storefront next to College Wine and Liquor — is packing up and shipping out. Stephannie Furtak examines the future of the shop and other small businesses in New Haven.

In just a few short weeks, after 47 years of business, the door to Cooper’s Dress Shop will close one final time.

Cooper’s nearly five-decade reign on College Street is being drawn to a close by a developer planning to build a hotel on the site.
Cooper’s nearly five-decade reign on College Street is being drawn to a close by a developer planning to build a hotel on the site.

Along with the other store owners that line College Street between Crown and George streets, proprietor Evelyn Cooper was ousted from her small one-room shop after private developers of Centerplan Development Company bought the land with plans to erect a hotel. While residents may consider Cooper’s storefront a decades-old establishment, city officials hold high hopes for the new project, which is part of a larger New Haven-wide effort to revitalize the downtown area.

And Cooper’s is not gone for good.

Cooper’s Dress Shop was founded in 1942 on Chapel Street by the parents of Evelyn Cooper’s husband, Ted. Evelyn Cooper and her husband acquired the business a few years later, and in 1962 they moved the shop to its current location. After Ted Cooper died in 1975, Evelyn Cooper continued to run the store on her own while simultaneously raising two children. Today, 33 years later, Evelyn still works in the shop daily, alongside one of her daughters.

“I’ve been here forever,” she said. “It’s my home away from home.”

The only other business left on the strip of storefronts is College Wine, which will be relocated by the end of December, owner Sanjay Patil said. He too, expressed mixed feelings about the situation.

“It’s good for New Haven,” he acknowledged, “but small stores are going out of business.”

Kerry Wood, director of marketing at Centerplan Development, said Centerplan worked with the store owners to produce as smooth a transition as possible. She said that all leasing parties were informed of the developers’ plans a year and a half ago when the land was purchased.

“All agreements were amicable,” Wood said. “There was no tossing-anyone-out feeling.”

Indeed, city officials were careful to ensure that the individual businesses displaced by the Centerplan development would not be left out in the cold. Kelly Murphy, New Haven’s economic development administrator, said many of her staff worked with Cooper and other shop owners to find suitable property in New Haven for relocation.

While Cooper expressed regret at leaving New Haven, she looked eagerly to the dress shop’s future at a “bigger and better location” in Orange, Conn., as a sign on the front window read.

“You lose some, you gain some,” Cooper noted. “I was very sad, but we had no choice.”

Executive director of New Haven’s City Plan Department Karyn Gilvarg ARC ’71 said she thinks the new development will be beneficial to the city.

“It’s too bad about the individual businesses,” she said. “But hopefully this will move us in a positive direction.”

Originally, the development, College Square, was planned to be a hotel and residential complex, Wood said. The recent downturn in the economy, however, has forced the developers to scale their design down to just a hotel.

In an urban environment with a limited amount of space, the current two-story building is not a wise use of the land, according to Murphy. But she hopes College Square will generate jobs and taxes that benefit the entire city.

Despite the move, Cooper remains optimistic.

“Girls will always need prom dresses,” she said simply.

There is one thing, however, the new project will not be able to provide New Haven, Cooper added.

“When people think of Cooper’s, they think New Haven,” she said. “They won’t be able to think that anymore.”

Comments

  • Disgruntled Alum

    Downtown New Haven's old, small buildings which house small businesses are what make it interesting.

    Anyone who knows the area can see that huge "redevelopment" projects destroy what's good about the area, and replace it with stuff that doesn't make New Haven worth visiting or spending time in.