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 max.norman@yale.edu .

  • Saph

    See Max, the wonderful thing about America is that these kind of decisions are made by those with skin in the game. I agree that a third outdoor store on Broadway doesn’t seem like a money-making venture, but then I’m not in the retailing business. If someone wants to try it, then by all means go for it. If it fails, it fails, and someone else can try their hand.

    The fact that you advocate a bookstore that already closed down due to a lack of demand suggests you don’t understand this. Companies need to make a profit to survive. Businesses that, in aggregate, aren’t useful to both tourists and New Haven residents will close down, and be replaced by ones that are.

    Unless you are willing to put your money where your mouth is, drop out of Yale and open a store on Broadway, your opinion about what “should” be there is worth very little.

    • Awal

      A couple of points related to your comment:

      1) Having “skin in the game” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to make the correct decision. Lots of businesses with “skin in the game” make bad decisions.

      2) In most of these spaces, Yale is the landlord, so I’d argue that it does give students a little more of a voice–both as the primary customer base and as interested parties.

      3) One of the things that real estate companies aren’t always good at is maintaining their retail spaces as shopping destinations. A large part of that reason is a disconnect between what makes a good shopping destination and what makes a good lessee. Shopping destinations are sought out when they have a good complement of unique, local stores. No one wants to shop at the same 12 national chains that are in every upscale strip center. The problem is that those 12 chains also provide the landlords with good credit. Yale, as the owner of most of those buildings is in a unique position to balance good credits with attractive new store concepts.

      So, long story short, the author may not have a great understanding of how capitalism really works, but he’s also not necessarily wrong.

  • wonder_woman

    Before Labyrinth it was Book Haven! (And I absolutely agree – while I love L.L. Bean, there is no need for four outdoor stores within a couple of blocks of each other.)

  • Swale Berm

    It’s up to the landlord who he wants to rent his space. They like fancy stores willing to pay high rent. If theyre jerks they like stores to fail, that was they can sue the tenants for the amount left on the lease. It’s not about what benefits the community, its about profit.

  • letsgoyankees

    Norman is stormin, per usual. I would have liked to see a more thorough etymological analysis of the word “Patagonia,” but one can’t have it all. An excellent op-ed that should be read by all — not tomorrow, but today.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    Labyrinth began in Princeton. The owners closed the New Haven store (which was excellent) because they couldn’t deal with the commute. The good news is that independent book stores are no longer declining. The bad news is that virtually no new stores have opened in the reporter’s lifetime.