The Chapel Street Gap closes its doors for the last time today, after 10 years of operation in the heart of the downtown area. While sad, the departure of the Gap is an opportunity to make the most of the downtown revitalization plan, and we urge Taft Realty to keep this in mind when selecting the clothing store’s replacement.
The Gap is certainly replacable. Indeed, its greatest asset is its replacability, and its very ubqiuity makes it popular. While stores like Urban Outfitters and Archetype cater to narrower markets, the Gap seems to be able to attract students ranging from the bohemian to the preppy. There are few students on campus who don’t ever need jeans, or plain T-shirts, or brown belts. The Gap’s nearly universal appeal is evident in the brisk sales the store has been conducting since its opening a decade ago. Even recent sales figures reveal that the store was not struggling, and its closing is likely part of the Gap’s national sales plan — which is concentrating stores in malls instead of on streets — rather than faltering business in this location.
It came as a surprise then, when the store’s closing was announced this fall, and there were few students with whom it did not resonate. And yet, there were few students whose reaction was stronger than a passing sense of regret. In a community where the departure of Krauszer’s was met with veritable outrage, the closing of the Gap is remarkable for being what the Gap is known best for — utterly ordinary. Indeed, in a city putting a premium on economic development, such a revolving door of storefronts has become expected. This year has seen the opening of Sound Runner and Gourmet Heaven II, and new stores are constantly appearing and disappearing.
While we’ll have to go elsewhere for our khakis (and not far, with J.Crew practically around the corner) and will likely complain about the higher prices, the Gap’s departure could actually be a sign of promise. Taft Realty, which owns the space, says there have been several interested bidders. With the substantial renovation of the Chapel Square Mall just down the street, Taft has the opportunity to truly integrate itself with the city’s grand revitalization plans. We encourage Taft to keep not only its own interests, but the interests of the entire city in mind.
We wonder why the city’s attempt at revitalization has been governed by the drive toward specialization — typified by stores for running shoes or ill-fated attempts at serving New Haven’s crepe-eating population. While we recognize the initial appeal of filling New Haven with high-end boutiques, in making such choices, the city seems to be getting ahead of itself. Before there is a market to wander in and out of these small shops, Taft and other realtors should concentrate on bringing in the masses with other anchor stores like the Gap. As appealing as tiny, locally-owned stores are, Taft should be looking for one with broad appeal.
The prime location of the Gap makes it great real estate for catering to the needs of both students and local residents; too often, we find, the stores moving into the city are marketed to neither. We hope that in searching for a new tenant, Taft looks for a store that is truly an asset not only for itself, but for all of New Haven.