I am a child who has just been told that New Haven was once Never-Never Land. Sort of. Almost. For the purposes of this article, anyway. If you take the second star on the right and fly straight on to morning, you will arrive at a faraway, simpler time. A time when the stores on Broadway were family businesses, and their names sounded like things out of German fairy tales: Whimsels, Krauszer’s, Doodle, David’s Cookies and Boola Boola. Cutler’s Records is still around, of course — Cutler himself is reminiscent of Captain Hook, I suppose, if Captain Hook were a friendly, third-generation owner of a record store.
As I have this revelation, I am standing in J. Crew, the eerily-clean, oh-so-American chain that currently features jean jackets with strategic patches of wear and different varieties of sequined sweaters. Michael Bublé plays sickeningly in the background, and I chat with Jezrie Marcano-Courtney, who has lived all 27 years of her life in New Haven and now works at J. Crew.
Jezrie is reminiscing about the confection shop of her childhood, an old New Haven classic — David’s Cookies.
“I was a small girl when I went, so the cookies were huge, bigger than my hands. They had enormous chocolate morsels in them,” she rhapsodized. When she went to David’s with her father, he would get her cookies, and he would get himself a knish. (Jezrie and I debated the spelling of the word ‘knish’ for a little while before moving on.) “If you can write a story to get those cookies back, do it,” said Jezrie. “Start a petition.” I make a note.
Jezrie also tells me that the Yale Bookstore was once called “Boola Boola,” and it was much more kitschy. I am intrigued. Kitsch has always had this effect on me. And “Boola Boola” is a name with much more heart than you hear these days — rhythm, repetition and a kind of primitive school spirit.
I thank Jezrie, and take off to do some more research on old Broadway, or what I have begun to refer to privately as ‘Wonderland.’ Sure enough, other gems emerge from the street’s luminous past. There was once a creperie called “Whimsels,” where they made crepes with ice cream. Apparently the idea didn’t really catch on, and it closed in 2002. I wipe away a single tear. I love crepes with ice cream.
I read on. The Doodle — a classic diner founded in 1950 — closed its doors in 2008. I learn from one fond senior reflection in the News that they sold 15-cent cherry sodas on their 50th anniversary. If only they had made it to 60. The only thing I like better than crepes with ice cream is cherry soda.
The old Gourmet Heaven convenience-type store on Broadway was called Krauszer’s, and it was seedier and edgier and probably sold almost the exact same items at lower prices, and with a much cooler store name.
It turns out that many of the stores currently on Broadway are in spaces rented by University Properties, the department of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs that manages Yale-owned real estate. University Properties is essentially the landlord for most of Broadway’s stores, including Gourmet Heaven, and it stays in touch with the store managers to ensure that the retailers stay open at hours that are convenient for students.
Established by President Richard Levin in 1996, University Properties now has over 85 retail tenants, including Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Origins.
Despondent, with the mystery of these ancient stores’ disappearances solved, I return to Broadway. It is getting dark, and I feel myself drawn to the warm neon lights in the window of A1 Pizza. Once inside, realizing I don’t actually want any pizza (only David’s cookies, Whimsels’ crepes, and the Doodle’s cherry soda), I pull out my reporter’s notebook and interview the pizza makers. Meet Sel and Mehmet. They work the night shift at A1, and they are both from Istanbul.
I consider the two Turkish bros in front of me, basking in the heat from pizza ovens. They aren’t related, they tell me, but Mehmet’s uncle started the pizzeria 10 years ago with a partner, so it’s a family affair. ‘Uncle and nephew,’ if not exactly ‘mom and pop.’ In fact, most of the local pizza places like Alpha Delta Pizza are run by Turkish people, Sel and Mehmet inform me. I don’t know what to make of this, but thank them for their help, and walk on. That’s pretty exotic, I concede. Not Grimm’s fairy tales, maybe, but almost as magical. Maybe they sell flying carpets in the back.
I pass Cutler’s Records, Tapes & Compact Discs, (“Connecticut’s Largest” record store) which has been family-owned and operated since 1948, and perk up slightly. Yale students back in the day would buy records here to play on those old-fashioned phonograph devices — how classic. Resisting the vinyl allure of the past, I walk on.
At Thom Brown, the shiny shoe store next door, I meet the sales associate McKenzie Olp. Her name sounds like it could be in a Dr. Seuss book, at least, if not Roald Dahl or Lewis Carroll.
But McKenzie has nothing new to share about the neighborhood. She just moved here from Seattle, she tells me, because her husband is in the Coast Guard, and he’s recently become stationed on the East Coast. She doesn’t really know any of the other storeowners, or the history of the area. I give her a sympathetic smile, curse the downfall of Broadway and the rise of University Properties and head to American Apparel to buy a pair of leggings.