Over the past two months, three businesses within 100 yards of each other on Broadway Ave. have closed down — sparking questions over the ideal composition of retail surrounding Yale.
During the summer, restaurants A-1 Pizza and Educated Burgher, in addition to mid-price range British clothing store Jack Wills, closed their doors. Just before classes started, Yale also announced that they will end their lease agreement with 24-hour grocery store Gourmet Heaven next year, opening up another Broadway spot.
Although University Properties has already committed the space that housed Jack Wills to a new merchant, they are still searching for a grocery store to replace Gourmet Heaven, according to Assistant Director for New Haven and State Affairs Lauren Zucker. The landlords of the two other vacant spaces, both not owned by University Properties, have not yet announced what new tenants will surface.
Even though Yalies now see many empty lots as they walk down Broadway, Elm City business owners and New Haven residents do not believe the changes on Broadway are particularly dramatic.
“It is not coincidental that there are several tenants turning over on Broadway, rather it is the normal state of retailing, where tenets go in and out of business as a function of what is in fashion,” said Yale’s Vice President and Director of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65. “This evolution happens in every mall and every retail district in the country, in fact in the world.”
BUSINESS AS USUAL?
Former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. similarly said that the shift in retailers reflects natural changes in consumer interests. A major real estate shift in the early 1990s catalyzed the new retail landscape currently on Broadway. It was then that Yale asserted its oversight over Broadway, treating it like a shopping district with a mix of stores and uniform hours.
In 1996, Yale created University Properties (UP) as part of its Office of New Haven and State Affairs to manage its retail and commercial portfolio. At the time, Broadway had several vacancies and Chapel Street was considered a run down area. UP has developed strict leasing guidelines, requiring stores to remain open for longer hours and to maintain a particular facade. Since its founding, University Properties has amassed several properties on Broadway and Chapel Street, becoming one of the largest taxpayers in the city.
“They have sought to make the area [Broadway Shopping District] something of a destination shopping area for people who don’t live right on campus,” said SOM Professor Douglas Rae. “And they have been very successful in implementing that strategy.”
But, while Rae considers Yale’s development of Broadway successful, New Haven developer Joel Schiavone ’58 thinks the University’s strategy is flawed.
Schiavone bought and renovated the property around campus on College and Chapel streets in the early 1980s, focusing development on specialty retail and apartment-style housing. He said the University should similarly create a neighborhood rather than mall type of environment on Broadway.
“To try to build a national mall in the Broadway area is just preposterous. This is a college town, it’s not a suburban mall,” he said.
Economic Development administrator Matt Nemerson SOM ’81 said that the collection of businesses on Broadway, between the Yale Bookstore and the York Street intersection, is functioning as a “high-end fashion center” meant to be comparable to shopping districts in major centers like Chicago or New York. He noted chain stores like Urban Outfitters, J. Crew and the Apple Store as typical of any major city in the world, adding that as New Haven becomes more international these retailers will be still more crucial.
Still, what makes small cities like New Haven unique, Nemerson said, are the small, indepently owned businesses like Claire’s Corner Copia and Atticus.
“Those are the experiences that make New Haven, New Haven,” he said.
BALANCING ACT BETWEEN CHAIN STORES AND INDEPENDENT BUSINESSES
Educated Burgher and A-1 Pizza were two such independent stores. Educated Burgher, owned by the Vastakis family, stayed in business for over three decades, outlasting other beloved neighborhood independent stores such as Yankee Doodle Eatery and Cutler’s Records.
While some residents have lamented Cutlers’ departure, Alexander said that he believes the turnover is generally a positive development, because it allows New Haven’s primary retail district to accommodate changing tastes — citing Apple replacing Cutlers’ as a prime example.
Some New Haven residents and business owners interviewed lamented the spike of chain stores in New Haven alongside the closure of independently run businesses A-1 and Educated Burgher.
Claire’s Corner Copia owner Claire Criscuolo said that she would like to see more of these family-owned businesses, but she admitted that chains are starting to use strong marketing strategies to push out smaller, independent businesses. She believes it is crucial that New Haven offers a balance of stores, but believes the push for larger, corporate stores has made the city develop a very “big city” character.
Yorkside Pizza owner George Koutroumanis noted that business for his family-owned restaurant has declined in the past two years, likely due to a combination of the effects of the recent economic downturn as well as growing competition. He said he was surprised when Educated Burgher and A-1 closed unexpectedly, but he reasoned that they too were likely hit by the growing competition.
He explained that even though new shops opening on Broadway attract new customers, opening new restaurants simultaneously splits customers among a number of eateries.
In the coming months, up to six new restaurants could enter the area surrounding Yale. The University is planning to lease 9 Dixwell to two restaurants, and they will also soon welcome Tarry’s Lodge and Scoozi’s to their retail mix. If the spaces once occupied by Educated Burger and A-1 Pizza reopen as restaurants, Koutroumanis will see six new competitors.
“I foresee a lot of hard work in the future,” he said. “I’m trying to compete and trying to make my price and value worthy of people coming in.”
THE BEST STRATEGY TO ATTRACT STUDENTS
Some students and Elm City residents have complained about the high number of chain restaurants. However, according to Alexander, well over half of University Property-owned spaces are leased to independent stores. Alexander added that UP prefers leasing to independent businesses as opposed to chains, as long as they have a strong track record and sufficient working capital.
In fact, DeStefano noted, many chain stores in New Haven — including Chipotle, Panera and Subway — are owned by independent landlords, not the University. He added that the University chose not to renew the lease of global brand Au Bon Pain last year, replacing it with smaller international retailers Kiko Milano and Emporium DNA. DeStefano believes that these additions to the University’s portfolio “are clearly Yale marketing to their principal constituency, which is undergraduates and graduates.”
Yale History Professor Jay Gitlin ’75 recognized the difficulties with creating an ideal retail mix in downtown New Haven. He said he sympathized with landlords who have to choose retailers who will both attract residents from outside New Haven and still appeal to students. But if the Broadway and Chapel Street landscapes were up to him, he would have predominantly small, independently owned stores, such as a used bookstore and family-run deli.
“Nobody is coming from the suburbs just so they can go to Panera,” Gitlin said.
Schiavone added that he believes Yalies should not frequent the chain stores, encouraging students instead to go to stores where they know the owner and can build a relationship.
He said that developing a mall-like shopping district on Broadway is not a sound business decision.
“The stores are not attractive for a University environment,” he said. “One Broadway being turned into a clothing store is ridiculous — that’s a place for a bar or restaurant or ABP — a place to do your homework or get a cup of coffee.”
Of 40 students previously interviewed by the News, only 18 had ever shopped at one of the University-owned properties in these areas. Many students voiced support for a pharmacy, general store, or diner to open in the district.
University Properties has over 85 property tenants.