Mayor Toni Harp joined representatives from the city’s economic development administration and chamber of commerce on Thursday afternoon in welcoming a new tenant to Chapel Street.

Civvies — a vintage clothing, jewelry and accessories shop — hosted its grand opening at 845 Chapel St. on Oct. 19. Civvies’ owner, Carol Orr, also owns and operates EBM Vintage, an antique shop on the same block filled with old-fashioned wares such as typewriters, analogue telephones and folding cameras. The 845 Chapel St. storefront was originally used to store overflow clothing for EBM Vintage until customers expressed interest in Orr expanding her clothing selection, which led Orr to breathe new life into the storage area.“We just did some renovations to brighten up the place, and here we are,” Orr said.

Harp, one of the first speakers at the ribbon cutting, said Orr’s stores have helped shape the character of the neighborhood. While Harp lauded Orr and her husband for their business acumen, she also noted City Hall’s contributions to the store’s success.

Steve Fontana, deputy director of the city’s economic development department, told the News that his department plays a critical role in ensuring the success of New Haven’s small businesses. Navigating the entrepreneurial process can be difficult, Fontana noted, so the department provides as much guidance as it can, connecting business owners with resources and considering long-term plans.

“Small businesses are important to New Haven because we’ve found that they hire locally and source materials locally to a greater extent than normal, so it’s important for us to make sure small business owners find success here,” Harp told the News before the ribbon cutting.

Win Davis, executive director of the Town Green Special Services District, echoed Harp’s appreciation for small business owners like Orr, saying in his speech that the hard work of the entrepreneurs is instrumental to the success of New Haven’s economy.

Civvies occupies a valuable niche in the New Haven retail market, which has led to the weeks of successful business leading up to the ceremony, Orr said.

“Around here, if you want socks, you can either go to [Gant] and buy a $100 pair of socks or go to the Dollar Tree and buy a $1 pair of socks. We offer an alternative,” Orr told the News.

Although Civvies does not market to young adults specifically, Orr said Yale affiliates frequent the store nonetheless as a place that sells classic, clean-cut styles from the 1950s and ’60s — merchandise that appeals to a growing subset of the student body.

Yet it is not just the fashionably inclined Yalies who shop at Civvies, Orr said, noting a recent influx of Halloween shoppers.

The store’s name is a play on the word “civvy,” an informal term for civilian clothing.

Josh Purtell |