Yesterday, Staples. Tomorrow: Saws?

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAt a now-vacant Whalley Avenue storefront, people once stopped in for toner and ballpoint pens. They might soon be dropping by for torque wrenchs and ball pein hammers.

Harbor Freight Tools, a nationwide chain of tool stores, is looking to open a new branch at 84 Whalley (pictured), the former home of a Staples office supply store.

On Tuesday night in the Hall of Records, attorney Anthony Avallone, representing the building’s owner, sought a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals to allow the store to open. Since the area is a zoned for “automotive sales,” Harbor Freight needs special permission to set up shop.

The board didn’t vote on the application, but referred it the City Plan Commission, which meets next week. The commission has to weigh in on part of the application that requests a special exception to have fewer parking spaces than otherwise required.

The building in question has been vacant for two years, since Staples shut its doors. A year ago, Avallone tried to help the owners install a Save-A-Lot discount grocery store at the location, but zoners shot the plan down amid neighborhood concerns that it would spell the end of the then-nearby Shaw’s grocery store (which died on its own several months later).

Unlike the Save-A-Lot plan, the Harbor Freight proposal is being well-received by neighbors. Sheila Masterson, head of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, said the members of her board of directors let loose with a loud “Hooray!” when Avallone and Harbor Freight presented the plan to them.

She said she’s fully in support of the application. “Every times a New Haven dollar leaves town to buy a tool in North Haven it makes me crazy.”

Avallone said he also presented the plan to the Dwight Community Management Team and received a good response there.

Harbor Freight has 370 stores nationwide, including one in Orange, he said. The Whalley Avenue store, which would be open seven days a week, would be about the same size as that one, he said. The Orange store has fewer parking spaces than 84 Whalley Ave. and has no problems, Avallone said.

The store would have 30 employees, 12 of whom would be full-time, according to an advisory report to the board, prepared by the City Plan Department’s Gill Hawkins. The report recommends approval.

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posted by: Curious on December 14, 2011  12:43pm

Meh.  Could be useful.  I’m surprised they never put a gym here.

posted by: Jason Stockmann on December 14, 2011  12:53pm

New Haven needs a hardware store! 

I hope the Board of Zoning Appeals will follow the lead of other cities in granting Harbor Freight Tools an exception to the parking requirement.  The parking requirement ignores the fact that this site is well-served by bus service and is immediately adjacent to some of the densest residential neighborhoods in the State of Connecticut.  If parking is truly needed, let the market will work out a solution.  There should be an *upper* bound on parking, not a lower bound.

New Haven would do well to strike its commercial parking requirements from the books entirely.  They are a fossil from an era when auto-centric planners wanted to turn New Haven into Los Angeles.  Removing the parking requirement would be a win for developers, a win for the businesses, a win for the free market, and a win for walkers, cyclists, and users of transit who are tired of staring at bleak seas of asphalt and of subsidizing parking lots when they patronize local businesses.

posted by: Yale Ave on December 14, 2011  12:56pm

Please sign these guys up before they get away.  I used to drive to Berlin, CT before they opened in Orange.  They are a great store.

posted by: Joe Hill on December 14, 2011  1:11pm

There is a hardware store in New Haven, Lowe’s on Rt. 80, although many people forget that’s in our town. But this is in the nick of time since I’ve banned Lowe’s for my family due to their withdrawal of advertising from American Muslim—caving to pressure from a hate group.

posted by: Stephen Harris on December 14, 2011  1:58pm

Just to clear the record.

The BZA didn’t deny Save-a-Lot because it might “spell the end” of Shaws. It was denied because Shaws was in operation. A hardship for another grocery store, so close to an existing one, wasn’t demonstrated. Additionally, the BZA and the City Plan Department were unaware that Shaws was going to close down.

The BZA report that recommended denial stressed the need for other, unmet services on Whalley Avenue that were spelled out in a recently completed market study.

Having said that, I welcome the new store.

posted by: aharper on December 14, 2011  2:20pm

yey!!! Just in time for my boycott of Lowes to be somewhat less annoying!!

posted by: streever on December 14, 2011  3:55pm

Harris is correct.

I second Stockmann’s urge—the city should really be striking the parking requirement. In general, the city should not be in charge of parking, but rather allow business owners to make their own decisions about their customers and tenants.

We can provide mass transit and safe, walkable streets.

posted by: Stephen Harris on December 14, 2011  4:08pm

From VTPI, the transit gurus.

A thorough revision of the zoning ordinance (including parking) is needed to bring us kicking and screaming into the modern age. It would be a good use of taxpayer money.

posted by: Pedro Soto on December 14, 2011  8:45pm

Wow, what timing! I JUST went to Harbor Freight in Orange for the first time today to pick up a utility cart that Home Depot and Lowes didn’t have in stock. This is a huge deal for New Haven, and is a perfect location. They are the perfect “mid box” type of store that this city needs. This is great for businesses, and this is great for tradesmen and homeowners. The more businesses like this New Haven can attract, the better.

posted by: davecoon on December 14, 2011  9:46pm

I would personally welcome never needing to drive out to (B)lowes again! Bring on Harbor Freight! Cool name, too.

posted by: Nadine on December 15, 2011  10:50am

This is FANTASTIC news!!!

I HATE having to drive all the way out to Lowes on Rt. 80 to get something and now that I heard what they did with American Muslim I will not be shopping there any more. This new store is in walking distance to my house and I would love being able to just walk down the street to get something rather than jumping in my car & wasting gas & time. Ive seen some of their circulars and they seem to have an excellent selection so bring on Harbor Freight!!!

posted by: What??? on December 15, 2011  11:15am

WELCOME Harbor Freight Tools! The gym/fitness center idea would be good for the Rite-Aid side, unless this proposal is to occupy the whole property with a better parking layout.

posted by: Loretta on December 15, 2011  11:41am

Even through there is a Lowes and a Home Depot maybe we don’t want to drive that far just for a tool. This would be so great for walking distance as well. Let it pass.

posted by: Henry Dynia on December 16, 2011  12:09pm

Welcome Harbor Freight Tools…A great resource for homeowners, contractors, and property owners….filling a big void left when Whalley Hardware departed.  It is difficult for neighborhoods to stay in good repair when all the resources have left the city.  They will do great in New Haven.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on December 16, 2011  5:59pm

This is excellent.
Welcome to town Harbor Freight

posted by: Schneur on December 19, 2011  1:51pm

Of course this store is better than nothing. But really people, do you think that big landlords are going to buy from this store Just because it is in NH. Perhaps a few large property owners will investigate the prices here. No guarantee they will shop here.
Most of the Yale community does not need a hardware store certainly not one like this.
They either live in dorms or rent space.A store selling small electronic appliances would be more in line for this part of the “community”
Do the poor people living in that area need a large hardware store , they probably really could use a good 99 cent store or a store like Target or K Mart.
If a hardware store is so great why is it that no city official or do gooder lifted a finger to help the hardware store that closed on Whalley and Sherman 2 years ago?

If the agenda of the “progressive” communtiy is to serve the needs of the community a clothing store like Marshalls is what is really needed. After all not all of us can go to the fancy stores on the new Broadway for a pair of slacks.
Anyhow its good news that a new store is coming to town !