More than five decades ago, Larry Johnston ’64 lived in Vanderbilt Hall and avoided Chapel Street. Now, he owns a boutique just steps from his old dorm, and despite speculation to the contrary, it will stay open, he said.
Therapy, a women’s clothing store at 1022 Chapel St. that has been open for five years, was suffering from lack of sales, he said. When Therapy entered the New Haven marketplace in 2012, high-end products lined the store’s clothing racks. But the boutique has slowly been replacing those clothes with “more wearable, informal” items in hopes of increasing sales.
“One of the things we’ve discovered is that an awful lot of women’s clothing stores are going out of business,” Johnston said. “But we’re turning [Therapy] around now, so we’re optimistic about the future.”
In order to make up for the lack of revenue over the years, Johnston poured tens of thousands of dollars from his own savings to keep the boutique afloat, he said.
Kimberly Pedrick, who owns Idiom, a competing boutique just steps from Therapy, declined to comment on the state of sales and merchandise adjustments at her store to preserve the confidentiality of Idiom’s business model. The owner of Hello Boutique, another clothing store nearby, did not respond to request for comment.
Idiom has been open for 11 years, and Hello Boutique for more than three decades.
The success of the downtown boutiques originally encouraged Johnston to open Therapy in New Haven, rather than in New York, where he lived, he said. Johnston cited several other factors for setting up shop in the Elm City: Rent was at least 10 times less expensive than in New York, and he wanted to return to Yale.
With his business partner, Thang Dao, who would run style selection, Johnston relocated to New Haven. Dao later left the business, and Johnston was left without someone to select clothes. That period was the worst for business, Johnston said. But since then, he has hired experienced people to run the front of the house and sales have seen better performance.
“I didn’t want to lose the store, so I just persevered,” he said.
Longtime New Haven resident Elaine Harris said downtown New Haven has become a better place to shop in recent years. When she was younger, Harris would shop at Chapel Square Mall, she said. In 2002, the city sold the mall to be redeveloped as housing and retail, and she stopped going downtown. But now, Harris frequents Ann Taylor at 968 Chapel St.
However, the boutiques in the city’s heart tend to repel younger shoppers because of the shops’ clothing selections and high price points. Ari Riggins, a first-time Elm City tourist, said she likes shopping for clothes, but the items on window display seemed “boring” and for older clientele.
And with the boutiques’ tees costing hundreds of dollars and other items costing more, Johnston said most younger shoppers cannot afford to shop at the stores.
“Though the parents are well off, the [students] aren’t,” he said.