In May of 2021, New Haven-based real estate company New Haven Towers opened a new luxury apartment building, 18 High, at the corner of High Street and Crown Street. 18 High offers studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, with monthly rents ranging from $1,895 for its smallest studio units to $3,995 for its largest two-bedroom apartments. Beyond its residential units, it boasts a state-of-the-art gym, a co-working space, and a 5,000-square foot rooftop lounge. Moreover, the building also has 10,000 square feet of prime retail space on the ground level, subdividable into four distinct units. Edward Anderson, leasing manager of New Haven Towers, told me that he hopes 18 High will be a “vital and synergistic part of the City of New Haven.” How, and to whom, New Haven Towers rents out its retail units will be the test of whether 18 High will be able to engage a wider community beyond its current tenants.
Soul Sweat, a hot yoga studio, opened in August 2022, making it the first tenant of 18 High’s retail space. Founder Courtney Brooks began her journey as a business owner just five years ago, when she founded her flagship studio in Old Saybrook after earning a journalism degree from the University of New Haven. Though she long resisted opening a second location, the Covid-19 pandemic changed her perspective. “Covid was so hard to get through. We were closed for three months, and we could only have seven people in a class for a whole year with masks on. That was hard. Once we came out of it, I was like, ‘Nothing is going to be harder than Covid, so I might as well open a second studio.’”
Brooks immediately turned her attention to New Haven, where there was a market for a new hot yoga studio. She realized that luxury apartment buildings like 18 High were actively trying to recruit businesses to their ground-floor retail space. After finding out that the Audubon, a relatively new apartment building on Orange Street, planned to open an OrangeTheory, she emailed virtually every new apartment building in the city. 18 High hit the mark. She remembers, “I didn’t expect to hear back from anyone, but this building got right back to me. They said, ‘We love your idea. We want to go forward with it.’ It was like it was meant to be, and actually very easy.” 18 High’s owners have been good landlords, Brooks reports, “from a small business owner’s standpoint. They’ve been very accommodating to me and my needs as a small business. If I have a question or something goes wrong, like a leak, they are on top of it.”
When asked about the demographics of her customers, Brooks estimates that around 75% are Yale students. She said this became abundantly clear over fall break, when attendance at the popular 5:30 class, which usually draws around 30 students, dropped to just ten people. Brooks has worked to immerse herself and her business in the Yale community. In August, she sent a letter to various teams and student organizations inviting them to come in and take a class. Now, individual students and organizations are taking advantage of the opportunity en masse. The Yale Men’s Baseball team are regulars, and Soul Sweat has recently partnered up with Kappa Alpha Theta. Courtney takes pride in Soul Sweat’s fast-earned status as a fixture of the Yale community. “One of the things I’m most proud of as a business owner is that we are on Yale’s campus. You guys are going to be the leaders of the world, and the fact that we have a small helping hand is the best.”
Although Soul Sweat has a large student customer base, Brooks says the studio also attracts people from all over. Soul Sweat patrons come not only from New Haven, but also from Fairfrield, Guilford, and Madison. By virtue of the studio’s location, at the convergence of a bustling downtown retail hub and a residential area, both Brooks and Sholom Andrusier, 18 High’s property manager, believe Soul Sweat will have broad appeal beyond Yale. Andrusier noted that “we’re seeing this already. Soul Sweat is very busy and we are very happy about that. I can’t tell you exactly where they’re coming from but it seems like people are coming from lots of different neighborhoods.”
Steve Dolio, a Connecticut native and the son of a Yale alumnus, plans to open his second franchise of Super Sandwich next door to Soul Sweat. Super Sandwich is a high-quality sandwich joint that works with local bakeries, cheese shops, butchers, and farms to support its product. If all goes according to plan, Dolio says the New Haven location should be up and running by the time Yale students return from winter break in January. Dolio started Super Sandwich 10 years ago in Shelton. It took off within its first few years and quickly became famous for its chicken cutlets. He says, “We do chicken cutlets the way Italian grandmothers would have done it, and we sell 2,000 pounds a week per store. It’s a crazy amount of chicken cutlets!”
Dolio had been looking at the location at the intersection of High Street and Crown Street before 18 High even existed—back when it was still a parking garage. However, when Covid hit, he says that they backed out of the deal. Post-Covid, Dolio says he considered locations in Long Island, Milford, and Westchester County, but settled on New Haven because of the university. “We thought this was a great demographic for us because college kids love our food.” Dolio says they are planning on creating space for 50 people to sit at one time in their 2,800-square foot space.
Super Sandwich is making a concerted effort to appeal to the student population. After we finished the interview, Dolio asked whether I would be open to participating in a student focus group to try new menu items—including plant-based and vegan options—that would appeal to a diverse customer base. He also wondered whether Yale students really use Snackpass and whether it would be worth joining. Finally, he asked whether Super Sandwich should consider staying open late on Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate weekend partygoers. I told him that a late-night sandwich spot on High Street would be a gold mine, not to mention a public service, saving hundreds of students the precarious trek to Good Nature Market on Broadway. Dolio’s questions demonstrated his sincerity in engaging the Yale community. He explained, “We want to employ students, and our process is easy. It is a fun place to work. They even get free food if they work here.”
Dolio hopes Super Sandwich will also reach customers beyond Yale. Aside from its brick-and-mortar storefront, Super Sandwich also runs a thriving catering company. It hopes to serve the hospital, high schools, local sports teams, and corporations out of New Haven just as it does at its Shelton location. Dolio also sees the potential of attracting older millennial customers, as New Haven continues to see new apartment buildings opening near the train station geared toward commuters and employees of the Elm City’s emergent biotech industry. He plans on joining the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is, among other things, to promote “economic growth that is shared and inclusive.”
In answer to the question of synergy raised by Andrusier, 18 High’s leasing manager: in just a few months, Brooks has amassed a loyal following of Yalies and non-Yalies alike at Soul Sweat. Though Super Sandwich has yet to open its doors, Dolio’s plan is similar, as he hopes to attract both the Yale community and affiliates of other local institutions. Certainly, the businesses under 18 High are aiming for engagement with both the Yale and New Haven communities. In many ways, Soul Sweat has already shown that this is possible.
Brooks and Dolio’s shared enthusiasm to reach beyond Yale seems notably absent from the attitude of 18 High itself. Andrusier explained that 18 High is for “anyone living in the area,” but it evidently caters to people who 1) prioritize proximity to Yale and 2) can afford it. One need not look much further than the building’s homepage to realize that 18 High frames itself as an extension of Yale onto High Street. The first sentence reads, “New Haven Towers presents luxury apartment life just steps away from Yale University Campus.” This is followed by a chart titled “Yale University right outside your window,” detailing how many blocks from the building several major Yale buildings are located. 18 High also out-prices other buildings in the immediate vicinity, such as the Cambridge Oxford Apartments. With a more affordable option just down the road, 18 High caters to a clientele willing and able to pay extra for luxury living. 18 High is certainly appealing to a subset of elite Yalies, but it would be remiss to credit the apartment building itself for engaging substantively with the general New Haven—or even most of the Yale—community.
Even so, it is important to give credit where credit is due. 18 High has, intentionally or not, and potentially because of its high prices, been able to create a space where passionate entrepreneurs can introduce their small businesses to a wide audience. Mr. Andrusier noted that before 18 High arrived, the whole area “was just a parking lot. There wasn’t any retail there.” 18 High has already facilitated a successful and popular partnership with Soul Sweat. I expect one with Super Sandwich will follow suit.
18 High exists at a pivotal intersection between New Haven’s downtown scene, on Crown Street, and a residential stretch of High Street largely inhabited by Yalies. I hope the final retail units will contribute to the project Brooks and Dolio have already started, as they work in tandem with 18 High to turn what was once a parking lot into a space where small businesses can flourish, create jobs, and enhance New Haven for everyone.