When they leave New Haven this May, Yale seniors will have witnessed the complete transformation of Yale’s Broadway shopping district.
Over the course of the last five years, Yale has used its University Properties office to acquire several lots on Broadway, York and Elm streets, with the ultimate goal of turning the once-blighted area into student-friendly retail space. By renovating several buildings and adding such well-known tenants as Urban Outfitters and Au Bon Pain, Yale has sought to attract more local shoppers as well an increased number from outside New Haven.
While many seniors said they were pleased with Yale’s version of progress, others — including some New Haven natives — questioned whether the improvements have benefited the city.
Yale’s hands-on development strategy hit home for many seniors in December 2000, when the University announced it would not renew the lease of Krauszer’s, a popular convenience store on York Street.
Yale began buying property in the area many years ago but has only recently made more drastic changes. The turning point came in 1997, when the University switched its primary textbook supplier from the independently-owned Yale Co-op to Barnes and Noble, a national chain. The Co-op had been in the location since 1885 and had been the chief supplier of books to Yale students. Since Barnes and Noble opened its doors, Yale has solicited other national chains such as Origins and J. Crew to fill other vacancies.
“The choices are not necessarily representative of what we need around here,” said Jonathan Garland ’02, a New Haven native. “There is a lot of overpriced, gimmicky stuff that I don’t find a lot of use for.”
Richard Carlson, an employee at the Barnes and Noble-owned Yale Bookstore, said he and several of his co-workers feel Yale has imposed its corporate vision on what was once a thriving local retail district.
“[Broadway] was more New Haven at one time and now it’s corporate Yale,” he said. “It is now a more closed kind of Broadway than it used to be.”
But Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said the renovations have increased foot traffic and sales in the area and have been successful in attracting both local customers and tourists.
“The project has come together very well,” Morand said. “Downtowns are always ongoing. New Haven’s downtown has achieved a very good level of activity.”
Yale manages its real estate holdings on Broadway, College and Chapel streets through University Properties, a division of its Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
Morand said 25 University Properties tenants were selected to appear in the New Haven Advocate’s annual “Best of New Haven” survey this year, an indication that local consumers like what they find in Yale-owned storefronts.
Once an outspoken opponent of Yale’s redevelopment strategy, Cutler’s Records owner Phil Cutler said he is pleased with the impact it has had on Broadway.
“I think that [Yale Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs] Bruce Alexander couldn’t have done a better job,” he said. “It has been handled in the most sensitive way possible.”
Jeremy Cobden, manager of Campus Customs, said that business has noticeably improved since Yale began its work in the area five years ago. His store now attracts customers “other than tourists visiting Yale,” he said.
But Cobden said that alumni and other visitors come back to the area looking for old favorites — like Krauszer’s — and are often disappointed when they find them gone.
“There is not as much commonality now [between the stores],” said Barrie Ltd. shoe store manager John Isaacs. “There are a few families missing now.”
While people tend to agree that the area has improved, some, like Isaacs, wonder how successful the Broadway effort will ultimately be.
“What is critical for the long range survival of Broadway is for Yale to make sure that unique businesses that have served the community for a long time remain,” he said.