Despite declines in national retail levels, sales in downtown New Haven remained strong during the critical holiday season.

Although most shops did not match the successes of last year’s tremendous holiday season, retailers said holiday sales met expectations. Some store managers said sales remained strong following the holidays, offering hope that the economy is rebounding.

“Last year was generally way up for all retailers,” said Chip Croft, president of the United Merchants Association, which represents about 100 downtown retailers. “This year was mixed depending on the store.”

But following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing economic downturn, most downtown businessmen were more than satisfied with end-of-year sales.

“In general, it seems that both retailers and consumers were quite pleased with the holiday season downtown,” said John Maturo, director of Yale University Properties.

Many downtown shops that opened within the last year felt the impact of the Sept. 11 attacks but acquired firmer footing through strong holiday sales.

“For many retailers who were expecting soft sales, particularly new retailers, they were pleasantly surprised,” said Andrea Pizziconi, a University Properties financial analyst.

Maxine’s, a women’s clothing store that opened seven months ago on Chapel Street, had a busy December.

“We had a great holiday season,” store manager Mary Johnston said. “And in the last two weeks since the holidays, sales have continued at the same strong level.”

Denise Miller, manager of Alexia Crawford’s Broadway store that opened almost a year ago, said sales met her expectations.

Even with much of the Yale community away, Gourmet Heaven remained open 24 hours a day during winter break, Maturo said. Krauszer’s, which Gourmet Heaven replaced last spring, used to reduce hours during Yale vacations.

Retailers also said good weather helped to attract shoppers downtown.

“People didn’t need the protection of the roof of a mall,” said Ashley Sheridan, co-owner of both the Irish pub Anna Liffey’s and Irish gift shop Celtica.

Security concerns following Sept. 11 also may have kept shoppers away from suburban malls.

“A lot of people said they were staying away from the malls,” Miller said.

Not all city businesses fared well during December. New Haven’s traditionally bustling pubs were among the few dark spots of the season.

“The bar owners that I’ve spoken to haven’t been running excitedly to the bank,” Sheridan said.

But the success of the Holly and Ivy Market, held every weekend of the holiday season in the former site of the Yale Co-op, demonstrates the potential for even further retail growth downtown. The market brought about 60 holiday boutique vendors to New Haven following the cancellation of similar shows in New York after Sept. 11.

Pizziconi said some market vendors sold over $2,000 worth of goods each day. These sales would be considered good sales for some permanent downtown tenants.

The market also hinted at which retailers could fare best in a renovated Chapel Square Mall, currently in the planning stages.

“Those vendors who sold quality high-end products had stronger sales compared to other vendors,” Pizziconi said.

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