Downtowners Hung Up On AT&T Facade

Melissa Bailey Photo New Haveners are calling on the new owner of a long-vacant downtown spot to “fix the ugliest storefront on Chapel Street.”

Pete Persano of Orange opened an AT&T retail store on Jan. 11 across from the historic Green. The building at 936B Chapel St. is the former home of the Edge tattoo shop, which had been closed for years.

Persano said he noticed that although AT&T has corporate headquarters on Orange Street, there were no retail stores downtown. Several competitors have retail wireless stores nearby.

“AT&T needed a presence in downtown New Haven,” Persano said. “I took the advantage of going down there and doing it myself.”

He spotted the empty storefront on Chapel near the corner of Temple Street and saw “a great opportunity.” The building, once the penultimate location of the Malley department store, is still owned by the Malley family. A booted downtown liquor store owner tried to move there, but gave up when a nearby wine store tried to block his way in court. Most recently, the space held a makeshift fireworks shop over the summer.

Persano worked out a deal with the landlords to subdivide the 1,600-square-foot space. Persano opened his store in the right half. Edible Arrangements plans to move in next door, Persano said.

Persano said he completely remodeled the interior of the store. It’s now up and running, with four full-time staff who sell phones as well as AT&T services.

“I built the store from soup to nuts,” said Persano, who owns three other AT&T outlets in the area.

A number of downtown enthusiasts, including the district’s alderwoman, are calling on the new storeowner to seize the chance to fix up the property. Comments have focused on the unusual facade. The first story is pitch black and has a texture that some say looks like rugged Styrofoam. Persano didn’t come up with the design—the facade has looked that way for years. He said it is made of stucco covered in black paint.

Before the new store opened its doors, a public campaign was already gaining momentum on the watchdog site SeeClickFix. A month ago, “Liz” saw that AT&T was moving in and posted this request: “Please fix the ugliest storefront on Chapel Street.” Since then, 42 comments have seconded that call.

“This poor building is a dagger in the heart of New Haven,” wrote Pedro Soto, a recent appointee to the city Development Commission.

“This building is horrendous. It brings down property values of the entire city,” added an anonymous voice.

“This building hurts to look at,” said Juli.

“If ATT really lets the building stay like that it would be disgusting,” wrote neighborhood activist Ben Berkowitz, who runs the watchdog website.

Persano said he hasn’t received any criticism on the facade, except from one person who suggested he paint the store bright orange.

He said when he moved in, he put on a fresh coat of black paint and added a glowing AT&T globe.

Downtown Alderwoman Bitsie Clark said she’d like to see it further improved.

“I would think that an upscale organization like AT&T would try to put their best foot forward,” she said in an interview. “They should have some pride. Their great big headquarters in New Haven. They should really try to make it really upscale.”

In a phone interview, Persano cleared up an apparent misunderstanding.

“A lot of people don’t understand,” he said. “It’s not a franchise. It is my own separate business. AT&T has nothing to do with the running of the business.” He said his business, Wireless4U LLC, contracts with AT&T to use their name and services.

Clark said she has heard a lot of complaints about the facade, including from nearby property owners who are trying to improve the block. Further up the hill, Chapel Street looks “absolutely gorgeous,” she said.

But the old tattoo shop and its surrounding storefronts lag behind. On the same block as the former tattoo shop, two storefronts at the Bulldog Apartments building are vacant (one bears a sign of progress, promising a “Bulldog Food Court”). The large picture windows of the former Kaye’s art supply store, owned by Yale University, now look into an empty room. Next door, another Yale property at 986 Chapel lies empty, its front wall blank with white paint. One downtowner estimated it has been vacant for at least 15 years.

The stretch of Chapel lies in the heart of downtown, blocks away from bustling restaurants, Yale’s campus, and the historic churches on the Green.

“So much could happen to that block,” Clark said.

Persano said he’s building an office space inside his store so he can move his business’s home base to New Haven. He also owns stores in East Haven, Fairfield and Bridgeport. The New Haven store is open Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 to 6. He said he’s considering opening on Sundays, too, depending on how business goes.

Persano said he’s been in touch with a downtown ambassador about getting involved with the Town Green Special Services District.

“I want to get in with the community. I want to work with them and hopefully get involved with some programs,” he said.

An affable guy, Persano said he’s open to suggestions on how the store looks.

“I’m willing to make changes,” he said. He welcomed anyone who’d like to talk to him to visit him at the new store—he’ll be there starting next week.

“I want to play nice with the neighbors,” he said.

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Comments

posted by: The Count on January 25, 2010  12:03pm

Hey! A business that chooses New Haven is a business that chooses New Haven! Don’t argue with them! If they do well enough where they don’t close up shop, more power to them! They can always change the facade later.

posted by: anon on January 25, 2010  12:14pm

This building DOES drag the city down. Thousands of visitors see this on their first visit, stepping out of the Omni. It’s time for immediate action to fix it up, even if eminent domain has to be used.

posted by: anthony on January 25, 2010  12:26pm

this is insanity. is the storefront a work of art?
no.

is it a boost to the downtown economy?

yes.

lets try to fill out all the empty store fronts first, then we can worry about making them pretty.

posted by: Our Town on January 25, 2010  12:42pm

The people on SeeClickfix are real good at finding ways to spend other people’s money.

posted by: William Kurtz on January 25, 2010  12:47pm

Is it that black stucco-like stuff that people are objecting to?  It may not be work of art, but it’s hardly a crime against nature. I would take it over the bright orange someone asked for. And once the other half is occupied, it won’t look bad at all.

posted by: Erin on January 25, 2010  12:58pm

Just FYI to the author and those not familiar with this block, Bulldog Food Court actually already opened and then closed. You can’t be blamed for missing it- it was open about a week and a half. No word on why it shut down.

I agree with the comments about the current facade and I’m pleased to see that Persano is so willing to consider further alterations. Sounds like he could be a great addition to the block.

posted by: robn on January 25, 2010  1:02pm

Its the Malley family who should be ashamed of the building upkeep, not their tenants. Not that they have a history of engendering trust…those with long New Haven memory haven’t forgotten about the murder trial and questionable acquittal.

posted by: Building Lover on January 25, 2010  1:13pm

This is a squeeze play on a new business owner.  If these professional politicos dislike the facade so much, let them pay for it themselves.  Obviously, they don’t have a business to run.

posted by: Nan Bartow on January 25, 2010  1:32pm

Fix this storefront.  It’s been ugly for too long. If it looks more desirable, it will attract more business for the store and for the nearby businesses.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 25, 2010  1:34pm

“The public realm, in America, has two roles. It is the dwelling place of our civilization and our civic life and it is the physical manifestation of the common good, and when you degrade the quality of your public realm, you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and your communal life that take place there.”

The public realm is all exterior space in our towns and cities. Like the walls within our houses define different rooms-living room, dining room, bedroom, and others that make up the private realm-the walls of the exteriors of buildings define outdoor spaces aka the public realm. If our status in society is largely defined by our private realms and what is in them-the size of our house/apartment, the amount of stuff we own, the quality of that stuff, etc, then the status of our civilization is determined by how pleasant our public realms are within our towns and cities.
We do not show our collective worth and wealth through the sum of our private realms, we show it through the quality of our shared public realm.
We have to wonder if this exterior is doing its part to add to the public realm or if its degrading our communal, public space.
Are most or all of our buildings doing us a disservice?
Is New Haven doing its part, nationally, to uplift our civilization/society along with all other towns and cities?
Are our buildings antiquating defining outdoor space with walls or are they pushed too far back within their lots to provide a sense of enclosure?
Where enclosure is not sensed by buildings, have ordered rows of street trees been planted to offset these spacial deficiencies?
http://www.esf.edu/pubprog/images/elm.jpg

I personally feel that black should only be used as an outline color and when it is used in large sections, it tends to have a strange visual quality. Perhaps a beige accented with white and black, or brown would be easier on the eyes, until a more appropriate facade can be applied.

posted by: Liz on January 25, 2010  1:40pm

I posted the original SCF about this issue (and yes, this is my real name.) I didn’t know at the time that this store is owned by an individual and not the AT&T corporation. As I said in my (unanswered) letter to AT&T, I applaud anyone who opens a business in these times, and, of course, I’d rather see a storefront put to productive use rather than sit empty. My gripe is not so much with the individual business owner—why would he fix up the space when neither AT&T, the city, or the property owner is requiring him to do so?

My gripe is with AT&T. Even if they don’t own this business, their name is on it, and you can bet that they have some standards about how their name is used in other situations. If there is a 20-page corporate brand manual for, say, how their name is placed on a letterhead (and I’m sure there must be), then why isn’t there one for how their name is placed on a building? This is just disrepectful, not to mention shortsited—it devalues their brand to be associated with such a shoddy property.

As I said in the SCF posting, New Haven really needs to keep a step ahead of things by making some design guidelines. Now, before everybody gets in a twist about infringing on property owners’ rights, I am not in favor of onerous regulations. I’m not demanding that everyone be forced to fix up their building immediately. However, these people were already doing work to the building and needed a permit from the city to do so. What’s the harm in seeing that they comply with a general list of do’s and don’ts before they get their permit? The requirements don’t have to be difficult or extensive—I think most people can agree that styrofoam is not an appropriate building material, plastic box signs are fine for strip malls but not for downtown,and there is such a thing as a too big sign. If anybody on the zoning board is reading this, I’d love to discuss this with you.

posted by: Josh Erlanger on January 25, 2010  2:03pm

Stella Blues would be more then happy to donate a few gallons of beige paint to get ride of the eye-sore. Ill even come over and paint it for you.

posted by: downtown on January 25, 2010  2:03pm

Its great that Mr Persano opened this store.  He shouldn’t be blamed for the ugly facade left over from the tattoo shop. If he and/or the building owner is willing to improve the facade that would be fantastic for downtown, but the important thing is he is there. Perhaps just painting it beige or gray would make it stand out less. 

What’s most unattractive is the vacant storefront next door with the boarded up windows. And the other vacant store fronts. How do we get those filled?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 25, 2010  2:16pm

*‘antiquating’ was supposed to be ‘adequately’, in my precious post*

posted by: Pioneer on January 25, 2010  3:50pm

I’ll be surprised if work on re-doing the exterior of the building doesn’t begin early next month. I’d just like to welcome Mr. Persano to the community, I wish him only the best. It looks like he is open to comments and is willing to give in to them (I was the one who suggested the traditional orange storefront! wee!). And as for Edible Arrangements moving in next store.. if for some reason Persano wouldn’t for some reason get around to the exterior, Edible Arrangements Co. definitely would, they’d never allow their cheerful store to be turned down by an ugly one next to it.

posted by: Pioneer on January 25, 2010  4:54pm

I was just speaking with Mr. Persano about the issue. He told me that he plans to get the front re-done, but he is just waiting to see what Edible Arrangements will be doing to their front just to be sure he doesn’t screw up and make things worst

posted by: AndersonScooper on January 25, 2010  6:52pm

THE CITY SHOULD TAKE THE MALLEY PROPERTY VIA EMINENT DOMAIN.

There, I said it.

Look, the Malley Family has proven themselves to be horrible stewards of their real estate. That amalgamation of buildings is a genuine embarrassment to the city, and a detriment to neighboring property owners, all of whom are working to lift the city up,—not bring it down.

The problem is that the property is owned in eighths and sixteenths by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and together they can’t agree on anything, except inertia and the status quo.

The Mayor should given them an ultimatum. Put the property on the market, and sell it to someone with the time, money, and inclination to re-develop it. Or have the City of New Haven exercise its eminent domain powers for an economic re-development project.

And let’s don’t worry too much about the Malley family. They’d likely make more money from the re-investment of the sale proceeds, than they’re making now. That property is so under-utilized, a developer would gladly pay more for it than the current cash stream would warrant by itself.

fwiw.

posted by: '10 on January 25, 2010  7:27pm

The bigger eyesore is 986 Chapel, next to Richter’s. I am glad the article at least mentions it. I never knew it was a Yale property. But it has indeed been vacant for years, and it looks like something sleazy. Right in the middle of the Green block and arguably MUCH more apparent than the AT&T facade.

posted by: AndersonScooper on January 25, 2010  7:53pm

PS—speaking of that Chapel Street block, what is up with Yale and Bruce Alexander maintaining those two permanently vacant storefronts between Richter’s and Ann Taylor?

I’m speaking of the old comedy club storefront, and what used to be Kaye’s. The comedy club has been vacant for over 15 years. (Bruce Alexander has been here for 12 years, btw.) And the former Kaye’s for 8-10 years.

Can’t Yale renovate the ugly facade of the old comedy club. If so they’d quickly find a tenant for such a great location. And yes, I understand the old Kaye’s is a problem because it’s such a big space. But there’s no excuse for letting it sit empty, and empty, and empty. I mean lower the rent if you have to!

posted by: AndersonScooper on January 25, 2010  7:55pm

Okay, let’s see if between the NHI and SeeClickFix can get Mr. Alexander to attend to Yale’s portion of this problem block:
http://www.seeclickfix.com/issues/14074

posted by: Walt on January 26, 2010  12:01pm

Not pretty,  but OK

The boarded up place next door seems to be a bit of a problem.

Just the artsy -fartsy folks attacking a small businessman and implying that he is AT&T to make the attack look   more reasonable, it seems..

Better that they offer to decorate the next door plywood with “art”  than to pester the guy who is just trying to start a new business to the area.

posted by: Jim Martin on January 27, 2010  7:22pm

Not to worry Yale will tear up the street without any notice. Then take away all of the parking. AT&T will lose money and move away. Close and go away. That seems to be the plan for Chapel St. lately.

posted by: Steve Ross, Human on January 28, 2010  12:15pm

I cast my vote very much against beige.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 28, 2010  3:51pm

When budget allows it, a possible facade could look something like this:
http://hphotos-snc3.fbcdn.net/hs174.snc3/20155_1223069531970_1085910074_30550439_4960060_n.jpg