Nestled between vacant storefronts in New Haven’s struggling Audubon District, a “world of fashion and fun” has found a home.
About 40 guests noshed on cheese and crackers Thursday at the grand opening of the women’s accessories store Girlie Girl Shop at 97 Audubon St. Merieta Bayati, who co-owns the shop with her fiancé, Raymond Hannah, said she has high expectations for the store, despite the current recession and the Audubon District’s troubles.
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Bayati, who works in Yale’s human resources department, said she and Hannah began planning for the opening of the store last spring after they moved to New Haven from New York City. The Girlie Girl Shop is Bayati’s first business.
“I thought [Audubon Street] was such a cute street and I said, ‘Why aren’t there more stores here?’ ” Bayati said. “I had a vision.”
Still, the Audubon District remains a victim of the economic downturn, she said. Most of the street’s storefronts are empty, and though Girlie Girl’s bright pink facade packs a punch, the only other shop in the district is Koffee?, which is located directly across the street.
But the area is primed for a comeback, University Properties employee Brittney Lipsett said. Though in a speech at the event Thursday Bayati acknowledged it might seem odd to open a retail store in the middle of a recession, she said commercial property rent in New Haven has become more affordable than it was before the recession began.
Three University Properties employees interviewed said Girle Girl will help revitalize the district, and Hannah and Bayati said they hope the shop will be a force that inspires the opening of more small businesses in the area.
The shop is the first of several new establishments that will open in the Audubon District in the next year, Lipsett said.
And Bayati said University Properties is supporting her venture. The organization hosted the store’s grand opening and University Properties Director Abigail Rider emceed the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Tony Rescigno, the president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, also attended.
“We will all be working together to make you a success,” Rescigno said in a brief speech before the festivities began.
Rider echoed Rescigno in a press release for the store’s opening.
“There is renewed interest in the charming Audubon Arts & Retail District,” Rider wrote. The fact that local entrepreneurs are opening their doors before the economy has recovered from the recession is evidence that New Haven is one of the country’s top performing metropolitan economies, Rider said.
The shop targets Yale students and other college students in the greater New Haven area by offering a 15 percent discount to all patrons who show a college ID.
And though the economy may be stuck in a rut, Bayati said she is not worried about that keeping the store from succeeding.
“My faith in God leads me to believe that we will be successful,” Bayati said. “There is a lot that can happen — we’re not worried about the economy.”
Bayati explained that she and Hannah are currently developing a marketing plan and are also collaborating with Moe’s Southwest Grill, a restaurant just up the street on Whitney Avenue, to co-host “purse parties” at which Girlie Girl Shop will sell its handbags.
“We are also starting ‘Purses with a Purpose,’ where we have purse parties, and a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity you support,” Bayati said.
Girlie Girl Shop is expecting to be joined on Audubon Street by Salon Ivanova, a hair and beauty salon, in early 2010.