From the sushi candles at the Wave Gallery to the sushi candles at Arti di Bottega Giuliana, Yale students are privy to a tchotchke vista virtually unseen outside the confines of a synagogue yard sale or a holiday special at Filene’s basement.
A walk down Chapel Street is like a stroll through the fuschia-highlighted strip mall of kitsch. And as they dusted off the brightly colored, hand-painted, oven-safe, French-countryside themed ceramic serving dishes in their front windows early Thursday morning, the merchants of New Haven affirmed their commitment to a wide selection of “unique crafts.”
The key word “unique” is not the only thing the Chapel Street shops have in common. In fact, their selections of unusual knick-knacks are almost identical.
Le Jardin, the closest Chapel Street vendor to the modern paradigm of individuality, the Gap, offers a wide selection of flowers, pottery and bath products. Particularly notable is owner Nicole Grey’s selection of cookware imported from Italy and France and her almost exclusive Vera Bradley bag contract.
“With this many stores on the street,” Grey said, “there’s bound to be some crossovers, but each store is unique in its own way.”
The white ceramic tray painted with an eggplant is cook-n-serve: “Made in Italy, from the oven to your table.” And it could be the motto of the street.
In the back corner of Grey’s L-shaped boutique that could easily be mistaken for a craft-shop in the heart of Provence is a white, $250 birdhouse made by Patricia Leek, part of the American birdhouse and feeder collection, a project that benefits rural Minnesotans.
At the opposite end of Chapel is Ten Thousand Villages, a non-profit merchant that boasts a collection of batiked scarves from the Sundarban Village Industrial Society, “an organization for the development of rural women through activities of skvis” for $19.95 a piece.
Yalies whose hearts have a soft spot for fair wages and rural workers have ample opportunity to fill their gift lists while simultaneously giving something back.
Ten Thousand Villages also has a wide variety of multi-colored candles including a half-dozen paraffin eggs in a carton that sell for $14.95. Down the street at the Wave, similarly themed candles sell for $17.
“I don’t think the pieces here are unique,” said Wave store manager Liz Rider, “I know they are.”
The store has only two paid staff members and so can afford to charge lower prices, Rider added.
A few men’s clothing stores down from Ten Thousand Villages is the Wave Gallery, home to a selection of crafts priced from three dollars to $10,000 according to its owner, Phylis Satin.
“There are thousands of things to choose from in the world of crafts,” Satin said, “and I think at the Wave we have a unique vision.”
The Wave is particularly notable for its vast collections of both hand-painted pottery and tremendous variety of body products. Covered with an impressive collection of ceramic Judaica, the inner wall of this L-shaped store stands as a testament to diversity in modern American crafts.
Painted like a Barbie dreamhouse, the matching Western Wall menorahs are not to be missed, nor is the Noah’s Ark ladle shaped like a giraffe with a matching butter tray.
A shopper not gearing up for Yom Kippur might prefer the left room of the store where he could purchase soap and bath products made by Total Bitch, Queen, Primal Elements, Dirty and Thornbury. Sushi candles sell for three to five dollars per piece of raw, plastic fish.
The Wave has been in New Haven since October 1994, and store manager Bev Moore said Satin was the first to bring American arts and crafts to this area.
“When she got here, many of the shops were boarded up,” she said. “This is a very unique store.”
Debbie Cairo is one of the owners of Arti di Bottega Giuliana whose sushi candles are nine dollars a piece.
The basement of the store is like a bomb shelter prepared in the event of the destruction of all other oven-safe pottery imported from Italy. The three owners started a year ago with the intent to bring a new dimension to the market on Chapel Street.
“This is a really good location since no one is really selling any ceramics from Italy locally,” Cairo said. “We add another flavor to New Haven gift shops.”
A lemon-yellow rooster salt-shaker set with matching tray made by the Parrucca Collection in Italy will set any shopper in search of the perfect housewarming gift back 40 dollars. The store also carries handmade Indian gift wrap for around four dollars a sheet.
“There’s no overlap here between the different gift stores,” Cairo added. “There’s enough room for growth in New Haven that everyone is pretty much unique.”
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