ConnCAT Redefines “Convenience Store”

Simon Bazelon PhotoA vacant Yale-owned building at the edge of Dixwell and downtown may soon house a convenience store that gives culinary students a chance to show their stuff — and peddles local food but not alcohol or tobacco.

At least that’s the plan unveiled by the local job-training nonprofit Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT), at a zoning hearing Tuesday night.

ConnCorp —  a ConnCAT subsidiary that has been buying up property in Dixwell  —  came before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to seek a variance to permit a front yard of 0 feet where 12 feet are required and a special exception for the planned convenience store at 96-100 Ashmun St.

ConnCORP plans to move the current entrance to the south side of the building and build an accessibility ramp.

The proposal now heads to the City Plan Commission before returning to BZA next month for a final vote.

ConnCORP plans to lease the building from Yale and refurbish the front facade facing Ashmun Street, livening up the currently “nondescript” building, attorney Joseph Hammer told the BZA.

The new convenience store will sell groceries, household and personal health products as well as prepared foods, such as grab-and-go sandwiches. It will have a pizza oven onsite. The store plans to operate from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Sundays.

ConnCORP President Paul McCraven said the store will sell largely “local food” produced at the ConnCAT culinary school a few blocks away at 4 Science Park.

McCraven added that one goal of the venture is to create jobs in the neighborhood, especially for students graduating from the culinary school.

BZA members raised no objections to the plan during the hearing. No one spoke in opposition to the application.

A BZA staff report notes that the building “has a long history of nonresidential use; it was last used as an office/storage space for construction operations by the University and in previous decades by a private contractor.”

Erik Clemons, the CEO of ConnCAT, said that the store is expected to open in August 2019. He said he hopes it will make the neighborhood more vibrant. The store will not sell alcohol or tobacco products, he said.

Yale, which has been gradually buying properties on the Dixwell end of campus, has owned the 96-100 property since 2014.

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posted by: wendy1 on January 9, 2019  3:42pm

I’m all for the kids spreading their wings.  I hope they get paid.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on January 9, 2019  4:45pm

This is great! In working with the owners of the Westville Quality Market I found that there is a desire from some of these local convenient stores to purchase local but also a challenge in finding vendors that will sell to stores at their scale. Maybe ConnCat could solve this with this model. Would be great to see ConnCat incubated food makers supplying more New Haven convenient stores regardless of whether or not they are the owners.

posted by: Scribe2k on January 9, 2019  6:55pm

This sounds like a promising proposition for all involved. Training and subsequent employment, what a great concept.  Let’s hope it grows beyond expectations.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 9, 2019  8:29pm

Erik Clemons, the CEO of ConnCAT, said that the store is expected to open in August 2019. He said he hopes it will make the neighborhood more vibrant. The store will not sell alcohol or tobacco products, he said.

It will make the neighborhood more vibrant alright.Sounds more like Colonization of the hood.

Gentrification Is The New Colonialism

According to Urban Dictionary, gentrification means: “When ‘urban renewal’ of lower class neighborhoods attract tenants, driving up rents and driving out long time, lower income residents. Creating a “hip” reputation attracts people who want to live in such an atmosphere, driving out the lower income artists and residents, often minorities.” It also involves the displacing of local businesses due to higher rent.

This definition is right on. I never knew what gentrification was until I was taught of the term and the meaning. Even worse, I had the neighborhoods around me as examples of what gentrification is.

LOTS and I mean LOTS of coffee shops began opening up. Old clothing stores began to close down. Swap meets were shut down. Everything around me was changing. There were more White folks moving into what they would call the “hood,” a place they would never imagine coming to.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 9, 2019  10:21pm

3/5ths, is there any development in New Haven that is not gentrification in your view?

posted by: jamesj@newhaven on January 10, 2019  9:40am

This sounds like someone didn’t do basic market research or think about liability for a nonprofit.  Anyone who has ever worked in a convenience store knows they make their money from beer, cigarettes and lotto tickets.  If you’re not selling anyone of those, sounds like you’re in for a money loser.  And this will be subsidized by nonprofit, charitable contributions??  Also what happens if a ConnCat student gets injured, or heaven forbid, shot in the store during a robbery?  Sorry, I’m not buying this as a good idea.

posted by: ebw1957 on January 10, 2019  10:04am

Brilliant- I hope it is a screaming success. Good for the students and the neighborhood.