Urban Renewal Couldn’t Kill These Nails

Adi Segal PhotoThe preserved remains of a booted downtown business will return to life—this time as art.
Adi Segal Photo

The remains include rows of nail bottles, work stations, wall hangings, and all the trappings of Sera Nails.

The store belonged to a strip of mostly viable small businesses that were evicted in 2006 in a city-approved development plan. City Hall gave a politically connected developer the OK to clear the land to build a 19-story condo tower, then a hotel. The market tanked. The developer never built the hotel or the condos. The storefronts have remained vacant ever since, their logos intact.

Paul Bass PhotoOne of the businesses, Cooper’s Dress Shop, had operated in the two-story building at College and Crown since 1962—when it had moved there because City Hall had evicted it from another spot in the name of urban renewal.

Unlike the other businesses, Sera Nails remained intact inside and out.

That gave Helen Kauder an idea.

Adi Segal Photo“It’s sad in a way,” she said, rummaging through the pile of circa 2007 Victoria’s Secret and Teen Vogue magazines fading in the daylight in the front waiting area. “The stuff has been left behind. But the people aren’t here.”

So Kauder, who runs Artspace, is bringing people back in. She’s inviting local artists into the nail shop on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10 as part of the Open Studios event that Artspace organizes each year.

Adi Segal PhotoThe artists will set up shop at the nail stations, at the pedicure section, and take care of “customers,” i.e. visitors to the exhibition. This has always been one of the whimsical treats of Open Studios: fulfilling Artspace’s mission to “find new spaces for art to happen”

In her call to artists, Kauder transformed “Sera” into an acronym for the purposes of the event. It now stands for “Social Experiments Relational Acts.”

The artists won’t bring any of their own work. They’ll use the left-behind materials to decorate patrons’ nails, massage their feet, and talk about the connection between art and “service.”

Adi Segal PhotoKauder plans to turn on the neon sign in the front window.

Adi Segal PhotoThe clock will remain stopped at 9:40 and 44 seconds. The price list, the autographed photo of Miss Connecticut 2006 Heidi Voight taped to the wall, the drawers with customers names will greet visitors as though the nail shop had never died.

Adi Segal PhotoThey’ll have plenty of polish to work with…

Adi Segal Photo... not to mention tubs and leather-backed chairs.

Paul Bass PhotoKauder (pictured) has more than urban renewal as art on her mind. She also has some ideas about the art of urban renewal, or of finding slightly longer-term uses for the detritus of planners’ mistakes.

Besides running Artspace, she’s in charge of a project to link working artists with students at the new Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School building directly across from the vacant-storefront plaza.

Except for Sera Nails, the building is empty, waiting for someone to fill it with semi-permanent activity, at least until a City Hall-approved developer gets around to building something new there. The developer, Bob Landino, has allowed City Hall and Artspace access to the buildings pending his long-term plans.

The upstairs, last used by Yale’s public health school, has an array of fitted-out offices. Artists will occupy them during Open Studio. After that, Kauder would like to lure freelance writers to those offices. In return for cheap rent and wireless access (as well as access to each other), they’d agree to work with writing students across the street at Coop.

Downstairs, she wants to transform a storefront into a not-for-profit writers’ space. Local writers would lead workshop there. Books by local authors as well as Coop students would go on sale. She borrowed the idea from author David Eggers’ 826 Project, which has opened similar writer-student collaboratives in other cities. Kauder would like to name New Haven’s entry the “Levitation Training & Literacy” store. Motto: Give your writing a lift.

mikeroi.com IllustrationShe had an artist prepare a slide of what the storefront might look like. At least until urban renewal comes around to claim it.

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posted by: streever on September 10, 2010  9:50am

Helen Kauder is pretty cool.

posted by: Paul on September 10, 2010  10:22am

I hope Artspace and the artists have very good insurance policies. In this litigious society people are just sitting out there waiting for a good lawsuit. Applying stuff to individuals fingernails, whether a cosmologist or artist, puts that person at risk. We are all aware of the horror stories. Remember, art is all fun and games until someone gets hit in the mind.

posted by: Lisa on September 10, 2010  10:27am

Awesome! More like this for our other empty storefronts!

posted by: DEZ on September 10, 2010  10:42am

So good to see this level of creativity back in CWOS!  Can’t wait…

posted by: Anderson Scooper on September 10, 2010  4:02pm


So almost two years later, instead of doing the right thing with a severely blighted building, (tear it down or rehab it), the multi-millionaire developer gives it over to a bunch of artists as a play-space?

Anyway, between Bob Landino, (the owner), Helen Kauder, the Town Green SSD, and the City,—I hope together they can at least make the place temporarily presentable. Right now it’s downtown’s biggest disgrace, with Landino not even willing to paper over the empty storefronts.

PS— the commenter above who brings up the insurance issue is dead on. The building is in horrible condition.

posted by: Heidi Voight on September 10, 2010  10:54pm

This story came to my attention via a random Google alert. I left New Haven in 2006 and was unaware that Sera had been evicted. I was a loyal customer of hers for six years. Annie was my manicurist and I always looked forward to catching up with her and Sera every few weeks. What a bittersweet surprise, indeed, to stumble across this news. I’d love to attend the exhibition for old times sake. Wherever Annie and Sera are today, I truly hope they’re well. They were lovely, caring people. Bless them.

posted by: Bruce on September 13, 2010  8:38am

This just makes me sad that we lost TKs for no good reason.  Booo!

posted by: grossed out on September 13, 2010  6:49pm

Ewwwww!  That is gross!  Certain standards are necessary and licenses for nail salons. “They’ll use the left-behind materials to decorate patrons’ nails, massage their feet, and talk about the connection between art and “service.””

Sounds very gross to be touching feet and using expired products…. Is the water even on in the building?