Patagonia has come to New Haven. The new store — where you can buy high quality, ethically manufactured outdoor gear and apparel — will take over 1 Broadway, the former location of the puzzling DNA Emporium and the promising but slightly disappointing Peabody 2. The Patagonia store will complement Trailblazer and Denali, the new L.L. Bean outlet across the street and, of course, Barbour and the other luxury boutiques that are supposed to make Broadway a shopping destination for … parents? New Haven residents? Professors? Presumably the management knows.
As a California native and modest but enthusiastic outdoorsman, I like Patagonia as much as the next person. But the decision to anchor the Shops at Yale with this upscale lifestyle brand reflects poor judgment, limited imagination and, frankly, a disconnect from the needs of Yale students and New Haven residents.
For one, the Broadway area already has two vendors of outdoor clothing, literally across the street from one another. Trailblazer even carries Patagonia. I don’t imagine either of those businesses will do much better under the new arrangement (although both are owned by the same corporation, with other stores in Connecticut and Rhode Island).
But more importantly, we’re already glutted with luxury stores, and we just don’t need more. There’s Gant, Barbour, the Lou Lou Boutique, Origins and J. Crew — not to mention the whole strip of high-end stores on Chapel Street. I personally have only gone into a couple, and I don’t know anyone who regularly shops in any of them besides American Apparel. For many students, much of Broadway is just dead space, dominated by national chains — pretty useless and pretty soulless. And for many more, who can’t afford luxury clothing, it is yet another reminder of their socioeconomic status.
It seems pretty clear what the Shops at Yale are trying to communicate with these stores: wealth. Perhaps the powers that be worry about New Haven’s status and think that fancy stores mean a fancy town. But this self-fashioning doesn’t strike me as a particularly savvy development strategy, and, indeed, the high turnover rate of many of the businesses in this corridor proves that something isn’t right.
So here are three ideas for the Broadway shopping district that would make life better, for students and New Haveners alike.
First, a grocery store. Picture this: a retailer that, unlike Durfee’s or Good Nature Market, sells healthy food at affordable prices. A student could purchase food for her dorm room, or an off-campus resident could make the quick walk Downtown rather than the trek to Stop and Shop or to Elm City Market.
Second, an independent bookstore. Labyrinth Books used to be at 290 York Street, where Donut Crazy is now located. (I won’t get into the symbolism there.) If you never saw Labyrinth, take a second to Google it, and you’ll see what we’ve missed since it went out of business in 2011. Since then, the only place to go for new books in New Haven is Atticus or the Barnes and Noble, neither of which is a serious university bookstore like the Labyrinth at Princeton or the Seminary Co-op at Chicago or the Harvard Co-op.
Third, a used clothing store. This would probably be the hardest sell to a status-conscious developer, but I’m sure students would appreciate a clothing store in New Haven that isn’t expensive and where they could buy what they need upon arrival and sell what they no longer want after graduating.
I don’t claim that these are great ideas. Perhaps students at the Yale Entreprenurial Institute or Design for America or in the Urban Studies Program have better ones. Though none of these ideas promise to be a cash cow, and none will broadcast to the world — or at least to the parents of prospective students — that Yale is wealthy. But each, in slightly different ways, would communicate that New Haven is a city meant to be lived in. As it stands, Yale is developing a shopping district that is meant to be visited, not frequented — and one that only serves those among us privileged to shop at Barbour and Gant and now Patagonia.
The development of Broadway doesn’t communicate status. Instead, it reveals a desire for superficial improvements, a superficial engagement with New Haven and a superficial understanding of what students want, need and can afford to buy.
Max Norman is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .