It has been a good year for Yale University Properties.
When Stop & Shop opened for business last Friday, it capped off a year of resurgence in business activity and heightened leasing interest in downtown New Haven and the city as a whole. Abigail Rider, the director of University Properties, said the recession led Yale’s holdings to feel a “bit of a dry spell,” but that new tenants will be coming in the next few months. New Haven
Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy said the city has seen a record level increase in its taxable property accompanied by significant migration and business activity.
Rider, like other city and University officials, praised the arrival of a “top-notch supermarket” like Stop & Shop, calling the grocer’s important role in creating an oasis in the city’s “food desert.”
When Shaw’s announced it would be closing its Connecticut stores last year, Stop & Shop moved in and purchased over half the stores, but initially passed over the vacated Dwight Place location.
“Getting them to come back and look at something they took a pass on was a pretty big deal,” Murphy said, highlighting the collaboration among University Properties, private sector volunteers and community, city governments in bringing the store to Dwight.
All 21 students interviewed voiced their enthusiasm for the new grocer.
“I couldn’t care less about the clothing stores [that have opened this year], but Stop & Shop is ridiculously clutch,” said Alexander Kayfetz-Gaum ’12 . “Especially for kids off campus in my hood, Stop & Shop is a serious alternative to Main Garden four times a week.”
Stop & Shop also will soon be joined by the Elm City Market food co-op at 360 State, which is slated to open in early summer, general manager Mark Regni said late last month. Murphy added that the co-op already has several hundred members signed up.
These new grocers will help to relieve the “under-retailing” that has become a common problem in urban areas across the country, Murphy said. Often, modern cities like New Haven do not have enough retail shops to meet consumer demand today because large companies focused their energies on developing in the suburbs before the recession. In the years after the recession, this trend has reversed, she noted.
“Bigger retailers are starting to look in urban areas because the suburbs are so over-retailed,” Murphy said.
Though all 21 students interviewed unanimously approved of Stop & Shop’s arrival, 18 of them said they were unsure why University Properties courted Gant and Jack Wills, two retailers known for their preppy style.
“Looking at the stores on Broadway, you’d think everyone at Yale grew up playing squash and taking weekend trips to London,” said Leland Whitehouse ’14. “Stores like these don’t cater to the way most Yale students dress, and they definitely don’t make life easy for college kids with slim wallets.”
Because University Properties must demonstrate both a high concentration of businesses and consumer demand to convince prospective stores to open up downtown, Rider said stores like J. Crew, Gant and Urban Outfitters play a critical role in attracting the volume of shoppers that stores need to be profitable.
“University Properties regularly conducts focus groups with students to learn which retail offerings they would most like to see in New Haven, and then we try to get them,” Rider said. “But of course, wanting them to locate here and convincing them to come are two different things.”
Rider explained that successful retailing depends on critical mass, which involves bringing a large number of retailers that attract high consumer activity.
Yale students, typically in the city for eight months of the year, only represent about a third of downtown shoppers even when school is in session, she added.
City Hall spokesperson Adam Joseph said the influx of businesses is “not an accident,” explaining that New Haven has experienced the largest population increase of any city in New England in recent times. And Murphy pointed out that for two years in a row, New Haven has seen its taxable property grow by 3 percent — the largest growth in taxable property in the state. And at least 100 businesses have opened throughout the city each year since 2009, she added.
When asked about what businesses Yalies might see downtown in the near future, Rider gave no hint to University Properties’ plans
“Over the next few months we will be announcing several wonderful new tenants,” she said. “You’re going to love them.”
Alon Harish contributed reporting.