Chapel Street evolves

Ren­dezvous and Sassy stores to close

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Esteban L. Her­nan­dez

NEW HAVEN — Jay Y. Lee spent a re­cent week­day clean­ing up his shop on Chapel Street, gaz­ing at nar­row aisles and shelves that nearly reach the ceil­ing inside the store.

The tidy­ing up at his store, Sassy Beauty Sup­ply, on 800 Chapel St., was prepa­ra­tion for a big sale — his last, as Lee pre­pared to sell off the re­main­der of his mer­chan­dise.

Af­ter 20 years of do­ing busi­ness in New Haven, Lee is clos­ing Sassy for good.

The de­ci­sion was in­flu­enced by his neigh­bor, Lee said. Next door, Ren­dezvous owner Chang H. Kim said he’s clos­ing his shop this month af­ter 21 years.

Both store­fronts had sim­i­lar “Go­ing Out of Busi­ness” signs plas­tered on their win­dow fronts. They were mar­ket­ing an ev­ery­thing-must-go bo­nanza.

Kim said his busi­ness was clos­ing af­ter his lease ex­pired and re­newal was not an op­tion. His shops spe­cial­ize in ur­ban cloth­ing. The clo­sure of his Chapel Street store will re­sult in four em­ploy­ees los­ing jobs.

Lee’s de­ci­sion was trig­gered by Kim’s choice to shut down. Yet, Lee said he had been con­tem­plat­ing clos­ing his store for some time. He said he doesn’t have any plans to re­open any­where else.

“I’ve been los­ing money for the last 12 months,” Lee said. “A lot of it is be­cause Dol­lar Tree and Fam­ily Dol­lar be­ing here. They didn’t eat all my busi­ness away, but they ate away at the profit mar­gin where I needed to sur­vive.”

Lee’s shop spe­cial­ized in what the in­dus­try refers to as eth­nic hair­care. His prod­ucts in­cluded wigs, hair ex­ten­sion and hair care prod­ucts.

The clos­ing of the two stores is em­blem­atic of a loom­ing change com­ing to lower Chapel Street. It’s what city Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tor Matthew Ne­mer­son said is the, “evo­lu­tion” of the block.

“Peo­ple don’t al­ways like change,” Ne­mer­son said. “Those blocks will look more like the rest of Chapel Street.”

The city was aware that both Ren­dezvous and Sassy’s were planning to close, Ne­mer­son said. Last year, an­other sim­i­lar busi­ness on the street, Sports-Park, closed. Foot Locker, a re­tail brand with a lo­ca­tion on Chapel Street, is es­sen­tially op­er­at­ing on a month-to-month ba­sis, Ne­mer­son said.

Such changes, how­ever, are more re­flec­tive of a na­tional trend for down­towns rather than a New Haven shift, Ne­mer­son said.

“We need to start chang­ing the role Chapel Street plays in down­town,” Ne­mer­son said.

More dra­matic, sweep­ing changes re­vis­ing this strip are still about five years away, though. Ne­mer­son said in­com­ing hous­ing de­vel­op­ments will bring 400 to 500 mar­ket-rate hous­ing units on Olive Street. The even­tual de­vel­op­ment of the for­mer New Haven Coli­seum site will also bring new clien­tele to shops along Chapel Street.

This will mean adding a res­tau­rant or per­haps shops sim­i­lar to the vin­tage shop English Build­ing Mar­ket on Chapel Street, which re­cently ex­panded. He said stores such as CVS phar­macy, which has a lo­ca­tion down­town, are “mini depart­ment stores,” be­cause they pro­vide nu­mer­ous prod­ucts in one place.

Ne­mer­son pointed out that it’s great the city can have a place for an “$8 ice cream cone,” but it’s im­por­tant to have a va­ri­ety of other op­tions for res­i­dents and vis­i­tors. That’s where stores such as Dol­lar Tree come in, pro­vid­ing low-cost prod­ucts.

The large com­pa­nies are also an ad­van­tage be­cause they can scope out po­ten­tial lo­ca­tions and de­ter­mine their vi­a­bil­ity with ad­di­tional re­sources, in­clud­ing look­ing at pur­chas­ing pat­terns and de­mo­graph­ics be­fore choos­ing a site.

“These huge, na­tional or in­ter­na­tional chains have the abil­ity to lower prices, buy things from sup­pli­ers and have big lo­gis­ti­cal cen­ters and it’s very, very hard to com­pete,” Ne­mer­son said.

Lee said these stores, the mini-depart­ment style stores Ne­mer­son ref­er­enced, also can “de­prive peo­ple of the ex­tra in­come they have … their dis­pos­able in­come is re­duced, there­fore they have less money to spend.”

Con­sumer changes in New Haven

While there may be less money in the pock­ets, there seems to be fewer pock­ets them­selves.

Be­fore it closed in 2002, the Chapel Square Mall pro­vided sev­eral down­town shop­ping op­tions for thou­sands of vis­i­tors and nearby work­ers. Ne­mer­son said the mall had 60-odd shops and catered to down­town em­ploy­ees work­ing at banks, util­ity com­pa­nies and ac­count­ing firms.

“I think they were ca­ter­ing to a clien­tel of of­fice work­ers and women who work down­town, and so there was just a very strong pres­ence,” Ne­mer­son said.

United Il­lu­mi­nat­ing’s con­sol­i­da­tion in Or­ange, down­siz­ing of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion com­pa­nies and shrink­ing banks meant fewer peo­ple were work­ing — and spend­ing — in down­town New Haven, Ne­mer­son said. The “tra­di­tional of­fice worker,” pres­ence has sim­ply changed, Ne­mer­son said.

“We’re be­com­ing much more of an en­ter­tain­ment and res­tau­rant fo­cused down­town as shop­ping has moved to the sub­urbs and shop­pers have moved to the sub­urbs,” Ne­mer­son said.

Again, Ne­mer­son said this is sim­i­lar to a na­tion­wide trend. What is unique in New Haven is Yale Univer­sity Prop­er­ties and their sup­port of “high-end re­tail along Chapel Street,” Ne­mer­son said. Work­ing with the city and mer­chants, Yale prop­er­ties wants to cre­ate re­tail at­mos­pheres like those in Prince­ton or Har­vard Square, Ne­mer­son said.

“We be­come the bene­fac­tors of that,” Ne­mer­son said. “Peo­ple for­get how lucky we are that Yale is op­er­at­ing in a very dif­fer­ent kind of at­mos­phere in terms of Broad­way and Chapel Street.”

Pos­si­ble re­place­ments for the Ren­dezvous and Sassy sites could in­clude an­other large-scale ur­ban re­tailer, Ne­mer­son said, or per­haps a large res­tau­rant.

He also sug­gested a smaller-scale Best Buy, or per­haps an “Ama­zon store,” since he said he be­lieves the in­ter­net gi­ant may be in­ter­ested in a re­tail pres­ence.

What about a com­edy club? That’s an­other sug­ges­tion Ne­mer­son said could fit on the street. There used to be a jazz club on that block, too; why not bring that back?

“I think we have to look at Or­ange Street as sort of lead­ing the way and lower Chapel Street will fol­low,” Ne­mer­son said, point­ing out how Or­ange Street was once a vir­tu­ally re­tail-only area.

Nei­ther Or­ange Street nor Chapel Street seem like a vi­able op­tion for Kim. At least, that’s not re­ally where he’s look­ing.

Kim said he plans on re­open­ing the shop some­where in the city, with the Dixwell neigh­bor­hood a pos­si­bil­ity for relocation. The Kim fam­ily also owns busi­nesses in Hart­ford, New Bri­tain and Water­bury, Kim said.

Kim opened a sec­ond Ren­dezvous lo­ca­tion on Grand Av­enue about six months ago, he said. That lo­ca­tion is not af­fected.

Both shops are sell­ing off mer­chan­dise at dis­counted prices. Ren­dezvous’ last day will be Nov. 30, Kim said, while Lee said Sassy Beauty Sup­ply will close on Nov. 17.

Esteban L. Her­nan­dez / Hearst Connecticut Me­dia

Jay Y. Lee inside his store, Sassy Beauty Sup­ply, on Wed­nes­day in New Haven. Lee said com­pe­ti­tion from larger re­tail stores have cut into his profit.

Ren­dezvous and Sassy Beauty Sup­ply in New Haven on Wed­nes­day. Both stores are shut­ting down this month.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.