Campus Customs, transformed

For Campus Customs, a small move meant a big change.

Though the new space is only three storefronts from its old location, Campus Customs owner Barry Cobden said the increased square footage of the new location enables him to centralize production and retail facilities. The new space, which staged a soft opening the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, has been met with positive reviews from many customers, and Cobden said he is confident in his business despite the slumping sales reported by others.

Campus Customs’ renovation finished recently, and the store opened in its new location several weeks ago. The owners are pleased with the change.
Ginger Jiang
Campus Customs’ renovation finished recently, and the store opened in its new location several weeks ago. The owners are pleased with the change.

Inside the store, there are six flat-screen televisions broadcasting news and information about Yale athletics and graduate schools to the customers. Decorating the store are bulldogs with Santa hats scattered throughout merchandise and photographs of Yale’s campus hanging on the walls. A life-size replica of the door of Mory’s stands near the registers.

“The more we can tie ourselves to the students, the better,” said store Manager Jeremy Cobden, the store owner’s son, who has been working at the store for the past 15 years.

His father, Barry Cobden, has been working on Broadway Avenue for the past 40 years. The building of the former York Square Cinema, which closed in 2005, is now part of Cobden’s business; it serves as the production hub for all the embroidery and silk-screen printing that he used to conduct in a separate facility in Hamden.

Although the renovation took nearly two years to complete, the retail and production aspects of his business are now closer together, he said.

“It’s great to have everything all under one roof, and we are transitioning quickly,” Cobden said.

As a company, Campus Customs has connections with more than 150 schools across the country and generates revenue by also catering to campus groups.

Cobden said Campus Customs has a strong T-shirt business, but he also feels his ideas for Yale memorabilia — such as a Yale Rubik’s cube or reusable shopping bags with the bulldog logo — help keep his company strong during the economic downturn.

“I haven’t noticed a drop in sales, but I feel that people are being more cautious in their buying,” he said. “But we offer Yale memorabilia that you can’t find other places.”

Jeremy Cobden compared the family-owned and operated store to other local business such as TYCO Copy Center and Fine Stationers, The Educated Burgher and Yorkside Pizza & Restaurant.

“These businesses have been around for a long time and we are all trying to perfect our customer service,” he said.

One aspect of the new store, the larger retail space, has allowed employees to interact with customers more, Jeremy said. Because the store is roomier, he said, employees can assist customers one-on-one without having to dodge displays and racks of clothing. He said he has noticed that customers are spending more time looking around.

The handful of customers in the store Tuesday afternoon all said they thought the store was welcoming and easy to shop in.

“The store has better lighting and it looks like it can compete better with [Yale Bookstore] Barnes & Noble now,” Alexsis Johnson ’12 said.

A few customers said they were on their way to the Yale Bookstore and stopped by Campus Customs to see what it had to offer. Pooja Shethji ’12, who was shopping Tuesday, said she was out looking for Christmas presents for her family.

Said Joe Michelangelo FES ’10: “I’d rather shop here at Campus Customs, which is owned by locals, than at the corporate Barnes & Noble.”

Having vacated its old premises, Campus Customs has made way for a new American Apparel store to begin construction.

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