Cities all over Connecticut suffer periodically from empty storefronts and high business turnover. But a new survey shows New Haven is managing to provide some stability in its downtown. Sarah Miner reports from the city’s Ninth Square.
I'm walking down a section of Orange Street that is part of the Ninth Square here in New Haven. On this particular evening, parts of the Ninth Square are closed to traffic to celebrate an event called Noise on 9. Within one city block, there are musical performances, art displays, dancing, and food and drink. Almost all of the merchants located in the Ninth Square are taking part in the festivities.
Noise on 9 is one of a series of monthly events designed to showcase local businesses.
"So, it's a place for young professionals to come"
Chris Ortwein is the manager of the Economic Prosperity Initiative for the Town Green Special Services District in New Haven.
"and they're drawn here because of the community, the great night life, wonderful restaurants, and we are a cultural mecca for Connecticut."
According to a recent study published by the New Haven Town Green Special Services District, 50% of businesses that opened ten years ago are still operating today. This statistic highlights New Haven's success with retaining small businesses. The national average is around 34%. Chris Ortwein says new housing downtown has been one critical factor.
"What makes Ninth Square unique at this point is we have had 360 State Street, 500 new apartment units come into the downtown. Where we're standing here at 38 Crown, 65 units were availbale for rent and they rented out within 7 months."
Enola Iversen is the owner of Euphoria Salon on Orange Street. And although she's been in business for over 25 years, on this day, she celebrates 9 years in her Ninth Square studio, but still remembers taking a chance on the location.
"I like the diversity it had to offer . It's very down to earth yet sophisticated at the same time...Already really nice restaurants down here. And I just saw there could be a great future here if there were more retail spaces here."
Iversen says that aside from hard work, she believes the community has played an important role in her success.
"There's young and old, conservative and funky, yale, locals...and I feel that I'm a little bit of all of that within myself. And so I connect to everybody. And Ilike the variety it has to offer."
While some businesses have made roots in the ninth square, others have just recently opened their doors. Sarah and Matt Greenwell of Greenwell Organic Tea and Coffee and Greenwell Being have been in the area for only 4 months. Sarah Greenwell says that although they looked in other towns, the Ninth Square was the perfect fit.
"We looked in Glastonbury and West Hartford , and honestly I thought West Hartford was going to be it but we saw this place – and nothing else compared to it. And then when we got out and started walking around here we saw that there were a lot of small businesses like us.. And as we got to know more about the Ninth square, and that it is a historic community we loved it even more."
But despite the supportive community, there are still many challenges to overcome.
"We're sort of on the outskirts of the Yale community which is good we don't have the ebb and flow of the student seasonal calendar, at the same time, a lot of what other businesses have we don't have yet. And it's unpredictable -we could have a great day and not many people the next..We can't really predict it yet."
But, as cities around Connecticut look for ways to keep their downtowns vital and alive, the question remains, what is it that comes first, the people or the businesses? Chris Ortwein.
"I've been in downtown revitalization for 20 years and we're always asking that question what comes first? It is the balance between how do you get the right businesses to come and how do you get people to support them.”
For WNPR, I'm Sarah Miner.