Chris Howe, a co-owner of Trailblazer, along with business partners David Venables and Todd Raskin, founded the New Haven-based outdoor specialty retailer in 1994. Since then, Howe and his partners have opened locations in Branford and the Mohegan Sun Casino. The News spoke with Howe about Denali, the first of three proposed new storefronts — Denali, Trailblazer and Traffic — set to open along Broadway and Elm streets this spring.
Q: How have the opening weeks been at Denali?
A: Sales have been really good, exceeding even our most optimistic expectations. Right now, we’re doing about 50 percent better than anticipated in terms of sales.
Q: Where has most of Denali’s business come from?
A: Most of our business has come from the greater New Haven area, mostly from locals. However, there are surprisingly few Yale students; I would say that Yale students make up only about 30 percent of our business.
Q: What progress are you making on opening the other stores?
A: So we opened Denali, which features mostly on North Face products, several weeks ago, and we’re planning to open Trailblazer in May and Traffic, which will be a surf and skate shop, sometime early in June. We were planning to open Trailblazer right about now, but a couple of difficulties with the building department forced us to push our plans back a little.
Q: How has your relationship with Yale been going?
A: I have to say extremely well. In fact, they recommended our previous location on 994 Chapel St. [at the intersection of Chapel and College streets] when our lease ran out several years ago and while they were doing some construction work on the parking lot next to us. So when we wanted to come back to our original location on 296 Elm St., University Properties proposed to give us three store locations, which was a great situation that made a lot of sense to us and fit very well with our plans to expand.
Q: Do you think your stores may compete with each other because of their proximity?
A: Most definitely, so we’re trying to segment our products to avoid as much overlap as possible. Each store will have a different focus for different customers.
Q: With the slowing economy and the upcoming summer season, how will business be affected?
A: Since we’ve been in New Haven for about 15 years and are pretty familiar with business cycles in the area, I would say that the summer season usually brings very little change in sales. However, the slowing economy may or may not have an effect on business. So far at Denali, we haven’t seen anything yet, but for the other two stores, it’s really hard to tell right now. To be honest, we’ve been so surprised — positively — by how business at Denali has gone so far, and we can’t wait for the other two locations to open.