No Holy Grail gleamed in the windows of the Manhattan grocery store, but the two wandering retail recruiters knew they had reached the end of their pilgrimage.
“When we found Gourmet Heaven, it was like a vision,” said Andrea Pizziconi ’01, recalling her first successful mission as a student recruiter for University Properties.
Sitting in Koffee Too? after a full day of meetings, she described the search she and fellow recruiter Andrea Wenner ’00 undertook last year for the ideal grocery store to install on the Yale-owned portion of Broadway.
The two had spent weekend after weekend walking the streets of Manhattan, searching for a store that matched their vision, until they finally happened upon their retail tabernacle.
“It was just so perfect. It was bright and clean and had wood everywhere and flowers up front and a full salad bar,” — her voice rises and slows for emphasis — “hot and cold, full deli,” she said.
“And it was not expensive,” she added.
Their efforts will come to fruition when the New Haven branch of Gourmet Heaven opens its doors later this week. Pizziconi, the only undergraduate on the University Properties staff, has worked for nearly two years as an advocate for student interests and arbiter of cool for the office.
Pizziconi inspired a Wall Street Journal story this fall with a campaign of promotional gift baskets designed to introduce Yale freshmen to local retailers. Her admiring boss, University Properties Director John Maturo, termed the initiative a “watershed” in relations between the University and area businesses.
Her demeanor is a disarming mix of the peppy, the trendy and the coolly professional as she sips her coffee — a house blend, taken light and sweet. Today’s power outfit comprises black slacks and jacket, garnished with an understated string of pearls, surrounding a shirt which Pizziconi hastens to describe as “butt pink.”
Having a meeting with Andrea “is almost sensory overload,” Maturo said. “She generates so many ideas, and her level of energy is so high. Her vivacious personality makes her ideal for work with the public, coupled with the fact that she has a strong entrepreneurial character.”
Talking with Pizziconi often resembles watching an a cappella performance being delivered inches from the the end of your nose — she is, after all, the pitch of Whim ‘n Rhythm. Nor does the conversation lack for choreography. Her hands shoot out to both sides before coming together over her chest as she leans in, radiating ebullient affection for her co-workers, a cappella comrades or her favorite stores.
She adopts a near-parental tone of affection when talking about an establishment she loves, such as the Italian restaurant she frequented while interning for the New York City Mayor’s Office two summers ago.
“I went there every day for dinner,” Pizziconi said. “It became like an emotional attachment.”
Upon her return to New Haven, she e-mailed University Properties about the possibility of luring the restaurant to New Haven. While that idea never came to fruition, it did bring her a newly designed position as a student recruiter and the attention of Office of New Haven and State Affairs director Bruce Alexander, who subsequently became her mentor.
Pizziconi credits Alexander with transforming her understanding of the power of the private sector to improve urban life. She now hopes to continue working in some aspect of real estate in New Haven before going to law or business school.
Pizziconi’s task was to find ideal retailers for the Broadway area by traveling from Boston’s Harbor Front to New York’s Soho, and then induce them to come to New Haven.
“People have this perception that I put on my pleather — which I don’t wear — and just spend money, and that when I decide that I can spend enough money at a store, that’s when I recruit,” Pizziconi said. “That’s not true at all.”
She’s earned her good humor the hard way after a New Haven Advocate gossip columnist published a scathing characterization of her work with Wenner, who has since graduated, describing the two as representatives of a University “more interested in picking the pockets of uptight parents in penny loafers,” than in local business.
“Seeing that article, I realized that to really justify the decisions of recruitment that I am making. I need to make sure that I know the inside community as well as the outside community,” Pizziconi said.
She responded to that criticism by becoming a member of the United Merchants Association and joining a variety of business associations, city subcommittees and urban improvement initiatives.
“Now I can’t walk into a restaurant in New Haven without knowing the owners,” she said.
Although she presents herself with considerable good humor, “the entrepreneurial character” which Alexander praises is clearly on display.
“I think that you have to take yourself seriously,” she said. “When I go into a store, I don’t go in as a drooling student –well, maybe the first time we did — but I learned quickly.”
Instead, she waits until she is in mid-conversation with a potential tenant before revealing that she is herself a student.
“I use the fact that I’m a student not to apologize for the way I come across but to justify my knowledge of the market,” she said.
Pizziconi said she can now discern a merchant’s potential as a client in the space of a five-minute conversation.
Pizziconi credits the members of her singing group, Whym ‘n Rhythm, with keeping her aware of the variety of tastes and spending abilities in the Yale and New Haven community.
“I have an internal ratio that says that if I will buy or wear 20 or 30 percent of something in a store, it has some potential to not be too far out there for Yalies,” Pizziconi said.
While her salary in no way compares to that of brokers who do similar work, Pizziconi insists she’s not in it for the money right now.
“Brokers get commissions; I get the satisfaction of knowing that a good store is going to come so that I can spend money at it, and my friends will be happy,” she said.
“It’s very much the intention of our office to make that quality of life for students as high as possible and as enjoyable as possible. And as a student, of course I want to have fun. And shop.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20698″ ]