L’Occitane en Provence, at Warner Hall

L’OCCITANE opens on Chapel St., by Pooja Salhotra

International retailer L’Occitane en Provence opened its newest boutique on Chapel Street just in time for the holiday shopping rush.

“After several weeks of renovating and refurbishing, L’Occitane opened its doors at 1042 Chapel St. on Nov. 23 — the same day of the Yale-Harvard game. Since the grand opening, the site has seen a steady flow of customers, ranging from Yale students and faculty to doctors from Yale-New Haven Hospital, said store manager Doreene King.

‘L’Occitane has actually been looking to open up in college towns across the country because they tend to be a good environment … they bring in people from a lot of different cultures,’ King said. ‘I honestly haven’t seen one particular type of person coming in since we opened.’

Originally founded in 1976 in Provence, France, the beauty product company specializes in skin care, fragrances and body care and offers holiday gift packages ranging from 18 to over 100 dollars. The company first opened in the United States in 1996 and has since been expanding rapidly.

Over the past two years the company has opened up 20 new locations per year and has also worked to renovate existing locations, said L’Occitane Communications Director Rachael Szporne.

In choosing new sites, the company seeks ‘unique communities’ that support small businesses, Szporne said. She added that New Haven’s history and engaging community attracted the company.

‘We just fell in love with the Chapel Street location and loved Yale’s sense of community,’ Szporne said.

King added that being next to a French restaurant — Union League Café — added to the location’s appeal.

The company signed a lease with Yale University Properties in early October and has spent the last several weeks refurbishing the building, which now features a wired glass and metal structure that is supposed to mimic a traditional greenhouse, according to a L’Occitane press release.

Since its establishment in 1996 as a branch of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, University Properties has sought to reinvigorate New Haven’s downtown shopping district by bringing in new restaurants and retailers to Broadway and Chapel streets.

University Properties Spokesperson Carin Keane said that the new natural beauty product store will enhance the downtown shopping experience by drawing in local residents and by bringing in shoppers from the greater New Haven area.

Szporne said that because the store offers products in such a wide price range, the company is confident that the products will appeal to many people in New Haven. In particular, though, the company will focus on building connections with local residents, including Yale students.

‘If students are going home for the holidays and need to buy gifts or have guests coming in, we want them to come to us,’ Szporne said. ‘We want to establish ourselves as the go-to and build those relationships.’

In addition to selling beauty products such as soaps and lotions, the store offers complimentary mini facials and hand massages, a feature Szporn said would appeal to Yale students who are stressed about final exams.

L’Occitane has five other locations in Conn., in Westport, Danbury, Greenwich, Evergreen Walk and Stamford Town Center.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Issuu, Yale University, Yale Daily News, “L’OCCITANE opens on Chapel St.,” by Pooja Salhotra, Friday, December 6, 2013. (top) Image credit TBD

Price of Immortality: $106 A Bottle, by Thomas MacMillan

“A new chain outlet on Chapel Street fills an empty storefront, creates four new jobs, brings color to the block, and offers immortality in a bottle. 

A top seller at L’Occitane En Provence, which officially opened on Thursday, is the global beauty product company’s ‘Creme Divine: A L’Immortelle Bioloque.’ It’s $106 for a 1.7-ounce bottle.

L’Occitane held an official ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning, featuring city and Yale officials. The bright orange store is located at 1042 Chapel St. the former home of Tracy B, the boutique that moved to Branford last February.

Mayor Toni Harp said she is ‘so pleased to welcome a new store.’

‘Thank you for coming to New Haven,’ she said. ‘I look forward to shopping here.’

Teresa Gefter, L’Occitane’s vice president of retail said the company is ‘thrilled to be part of the New Haven and Yale community.’

After snipping the ceremonial ribbon, Mayor Harp picked up a manicure set for herself.

Steve Kovel, who own’s Hulls Art Supplies and heads a business association of Yale property stores, hailed the store and ‘the brightness it brings to the street.’

‘The color is just beautiful,’ he said.

Gefter said L’Occitane started in the south of France and is now a global company, with about 200 locations in the United States, including five others in Connecticut. She said the company renovated the interior to create an ‘authentic store design from the south of France.’ The store sports a new intricately tiled floor.

Fragrance fills the air. By the front door, ‘favorite’ products include not only divine cream, but also almond shower oil ($24), shea butter ($28), and ‘Pivoine Flora Eau de Toilette’ ($47).”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Independent, Business/ Economic Development, “Price of Immortality: $106 A Bottle,” by Thomas MacMillan, January 17, 2014

New Haven, New Retail, by Scott Reid and Randall Shearin

Opinion: Yale’s Malling New Haven, by Joel Schiavone

Developer Joel Schiavone built the College/Chapel residential/commercial district in the 1980s by restoring largely vacant and underused historic buildings. He currently serves on the city’s Redevelopment Authority. He wrote the following opinion article.

“Several months ago Yale’s representative to New Haven, Bruce Alexander, retired.  Despite all the time that passed under his reign and his notoriety, there have been a number of articles written about him and his accomplishments, all of which lauded him, going so far as to give him credit for the renaissance of downtown New Haven.

As they are going to have a substantial impact on the city, I think it’s appropriate to discuss what he proposed, what he did, and how this will impact us over the next 25 years. 

My comments are solely directed at Alexander’s attempts to build a mall in downtown New Haven. He had a large number of other responsibilities, which I will leave to others to analyze.  However, the improved perception of New Haven over the past 10 years is entirely the result of the improvements made in the downtown in the early 1980s and 1990s.  Much of this is being eroded by his implementation of a mall-based retail strategy in downtown.

As the perception of the city’s downtown shapes everybody’s opinion of New Haven, some lengthy comments on what we have been trying to do since WWII and the opinions of myself and others about what should be done, follow. Hopefully this article and the accompanying materials will return Yale to a downtown neighborhood retail philosophy so the downtown can continue to prosper. 

Three assaults have been made on our downtown since WWII.

First of course was the Mayor Dick Lee redevelopment program which was a disaster on every front — adopting what I call the ‘winter wheat’ approach to downtown development.  This is a theory similar to the agricultural policy of burning the winter wheat to promote the spring wheat’s arrival.  In New Haven’s case these policies tore down a large percentage of our historic downtown.  By 1980 downtown was basically closed, most buildings vacant, one or two restaurants remaining, streets deserted, particularly at night, the final statement on the Dick Lee redevelopment idea — a complete failure.  We are finally, 50 years later, seeing signs of a renaissance, but there are still large areas in ashes. 

Second, we have the Mayor John DeStefano approach, which also has never worked, namely building large buildings — schools, aquariums, basketball stadiums —  which are supposed to generate traffic and enthusiasm for downtown and all of which have failed.  This is what’s called ‘the edifice complex’; cities all over the United States show the disastrous signs of these desperate attempts.  The construction of Gateway Community College along with the arts magnet school have done nothing to impact positively downtown New Haven and have foreclosed any attempts for neighborhood development in three or four blocks of central downtown. The streets with the least retail activity and pedestrians are the blocks directly adjacent to the college. 

Third, we have the Bruce Alexander approach, similar to all the other failed downtown development policies put in place over the last 50 years, which is build a mall.

Despite the failures of the Chapel Square Mall, the Meriden Mall, the Stamford Mall and so on, Alexander, with the approval of Yale, recklessly decided that he had the answer and built what is euphemistically called The Stores at Yale In New Haven, namely a mall.

What should we be trying to do?  We should be trying to create a downtown replete with local stores, interesting restaurants, local owners who are invested in downtown New Haven, a culture of support for smaller stores and a refusal to lease to large chain stores and to include a large residential population.  Examples of these are Middletown, Connecticut, most of New York City, Georgetown, and the long-term neighborhoods in most large American cities. 

First, an article from the Hartford Courant way back in 2001 contains several thoughtful comments from a variety of Yale-related employees:  ‘… Too-strict leases can often damage longtime businesses, push them out and ultimately change the character of a region. And landlords should be conscientious of what those mom-and-pops offer in terms of local character.’  In the same article another said: ‘The vision for Broadway has now largely been realized.  The goal is a proven recipe:  an eclectic mix of local stores and big-name stores.’ Thus the demise of downtown malls and the fundamentals of successful downtown retail were anticipated in 2001 by Yale associates. 

Second,  my comments have been guided by a report by David Roth of the Yale Law School, who wrote in 2011 a major hundred-page document about Yale and its retail strategy.  The report gives concrete explanation for the vacancies that are plaguing the area.  It details specific examples of how Yale has systematically excluded small business owners.  This report also projects that harm will be done by Yale not only in the downtown area, but also to other parts of New Haven and adjacent communities as Yale continues to gentrify areas and increase its real estate footprint. 

Unfortunately the underlying philosophy of Yale’s real estate holdings in New Haven is entirely the opposite of all these tenets.

Yale’s goal is to make as much money as possible, with no concern for neighborhood retailers, heavily subsidized national mall stores, leases 95 pages long and only five-year terms with rents at the top of the market.  There is virtually no attempt by Yale to encourage and nurture local retailers. 

The Alexander managing team ignored these policies, removed most of the local stores in the downtown and left instead a substantial number of chain stores and increasing vacancies. 

We’re surrounded by Apple, Barnes and Noble, Chipotle, Dunkin’ Donuts, Hallal, J. Crew,  LL Bean, Patagonia, Shake Shack, Subway, Taco Bell, Urban Outfitters and two Starbucks with no emerging stars from New Haven.  Nobody left owns and operates his or her store.  Instead, like most mall stores, Yale stores are filled with inexperienced store managers who leave every five or six months. 

As a result, predictably, Yale has a significant number of vacancies.  Every mall or development abhors vacancies and does what it can to make sure there are no vacant stores.  Yale seems incapable of leasing spaces probably because of the size of their leases and the amount of money they are charging.  Vacancies at the moment: 172 York Street, the former Rhumba space off Sherman’s Alley, Tahli II behind the Yale Co-op, the Copper Kitchen on Chapel Street,  976 Chapel Street and 1010 Chapel Street, 224, 228, 230 and 260 College Street, 296 Broadway, space adjacent to LL Bean, and the space between Patagonia and the Good Nature Market.  These vacancies have been with us for at least a year or two and up to five years.  A charming New England university downtown has been converted to a struggling suburban mall with disastrous results.  Most chain stores are now moving away from retail locations to a vigorous on line presence. Apparently the winds of the Amazon revolution have not blown past Woodbridge Hall.

Based on these policies and the dilemmas of every single downtown shopping district, we’re in for a rough ride hopefully not bringing us back to the desperate days of the 1970s. 

What can we do about this?  As Yale owns all the buildings I’ve described and shows no signs of changing its retail philosophy, there’s nothing that the City of New Haven or any of us can do.  Hopefully, the new replacement for Bruce Alexander, John Callahan, will understand what a mess he has inherited and revert back to New Haven specialty neighborhood stores. That is the only retail option for success in New Haven.  One hopes that he will understand the precepts of neighborhood retailing, change the shopping-mall lease to an understandable user-friendly document that will operate in tandem with a new attitude that local stores will be encouraged and nurtured.  If Bruce Alexander’s retail aspirations and plans are followed, the downtown will deteriorate further.  Expect more vacancies, more Taco Bells, more LL Beans.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Independent, “Opinion: Yale’s Malling New Haven,” by Joel Schiavone, September 3, 2019

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