Project Storefronts promotes economic development

New Haven’s downtown Ninth Square area is now a thriving economic center due to a City Hall initiative called Project Storefronts, say local business owners. Project Storefronts is a pilot program of New Haven’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Economic Development Corporation that has filled the previously empty storefronts with four businesses which allows the arts and social entrepreneurship to stimulate economic development in the once economically depressed Ninth Square neighborhood.

As a part of Project Storefronts, new stores Detritus, The Grove, UpCycle Arts and the Crosby Street Gallery have opened at 71 Orange St., a block southeast of the New Haven Green. The initiative has enabled these stores by allowing them to use vacant space in the downtown area at low- or no-cost.

“Project Storefronts allows the arts to be a partner in promoting economic development. It helps artists move beyond just producing something into developing a business that may grow, generate taxes and create jobs and wealth,” said Barbara Lamb, New Haven’s Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

The businesses also provide space for performances and poetry readings, Lamb added.

The goal of the project was to fill empty storefronts with a temporary business or activity. In May, City Hall began soliciting applications for the project from artists and business owners, which they began receiving and evaluating in late May.

Choosing ten of the fifty applications, the city gave each accepted applicant $500 to open and sustain their businesses. In an agreement with Related Companies, which owns 71 Orange St., the city allows the business owners to pay no rent on the lease. Margaret Bodell, the public art coordinator for the Department of Cultural Affairs, and Lamb said they sent a request yesterday to Related Companies to extend the lease for another three months.

The stores create new vibrancy and economic growth in Ninth Square, Bodell said. The square used to be dark and uninteresting when the United Way of Greater New Haven, a national non-profit charity, occupied the area, she said.

“Now when you go down there, you find interesting stuff in the windows and at night it looks alive,” Bodell said. “The stores at 71 Orange are open at least three nights a week, and when you go, you may find a meeting, a craft group, or people sewing or weaving,” she said.

The stores that the project have helped at Ninth Square cover a broad range of art, literature and business interests.

The owner of Detritus, New Haven resident Alexis Zanghi, said that the art gallery and bookstore manages to give exposure to a wide variety of artists and zany art forms, such as independently published books and zines (a small circulation of text or images). While writing for and editing her online literary journal “The Dirty Pond,” Zanghi came up with idea of starting her own business and opened Detritus on August 27.

“Detritus began as an off shoot of the Dirty Pond but has received so much support that the tail has become the head,” Zanghi said. Half of Zhangi’s inventory of art is from New Haven artists and writers and the remainder from artists who lack a retail outlet in New Haven, but are nationally or internationally known, she added.

Zanghi sells a variety of books such as two paperback books called “Faces 6 and 7,” to an an illustrated novella called “The Voidoid” by Richard Hell, which has a cigarette burn in a different place in each of its copies. Her store also includes a cassette box set, “Judges Cave,” from New Haven musician Stefan Christiansen and a chapbook, “The Mayan Texts: The Galatic Birth Canal” made specifically for Detritus by Edgar Garcia GRD ’12 who is majoring in English.

Since its opening Detritus has made about $7,000 from roughly 600 customers, mostly artists, Yale graduate students and faculty, and Yale art gallery staff. Detritus also hosts events for the community, such as the “Night for Onyx,” an evening of experimental and improvised performance and poetry and story reading this Thursday at 8 p.m., organized by Yale graduate students Garcia and Jeremy Kessler GRD ’16.

Another 71 Orange St. business, The Grove, opened Sept. 1, and is a workspace owned by Fairhaven resident Ken Janke. Customers pay a membership fee to work in the space and use the internet, printers, fax machines and drink coffee and tea said Janke, who also runs the New Haven non-profit Groundworks. On the first Friday of every month, The Grove invites an entrepreneur to speak about fund development and finances. Janke said the shared work environment helps stimulate economic and community development.

The third pop-up store is Upcycle Arts, which sells art made from recyled materials, such as a 1970s office chair destined for the trash that was refurnished, reupholstered in a funky color and sold as the “Yale Chair” to Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93.

The stores’ free rent lease ends on October 24.

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