Flights Attendance

M idsummer in New Haven has its benefits: more abundant parking, easier restaurant reservations. But those same perks are indications of a tough season for downtown merchants.

Driving more traffic to local businesses at a slow time was the impetus 10 years ago for the creation of Flights of Fancy, now billed as “New Haven’s premier shopping, wine and food crawl,” a highly anticipated semiannual event. July’s edition took off with a sold-out crowd of 400 swarming The Study at Yale starting at 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon to collect swag bags and wine glasses, enter a raffle, toast the start of the evening with a taste of Prosecco and a snack from Garden Catering and pose in a makeshift photo booth before hitting the pavement.

The concept is simple: merchants throughout downtown open their doors and serve up tastes of wine curated by The Wine Thief and small bites from local restaurants while showcasing their own wares. Participants pick up a map at the start, plot their course and head out post-work with friends to be part of the scene.

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“You think you’re not going to shop, but you do,” an experienced participant advised me as the party started in a back room at The Study. “You can’t help it!” Her prediction was borne out not only in my own party of two but among others traveling the streets with distinctive sky blue Flights of Fancy bags over their shoulders. “Is this a gift, or is it for you?” a cashier at Ten Thousand Villages asked one participant, who answered honestly, “I don’t know!” Like other venues, the shop was offering a discount on the evening’s purchases.

Designer Neville Wisdom was on hand at his Chapel Street boutique, answering questions about his beautiful line of summer clothing in muted solid colors. Likewise, artisan Derek Simpson watched from the wings as a crowd browsed at Derek Simpson Goldsmith. At Merwin’s Art Shop, where the walls are covered floor-to-ceiling with framed originals and prints ranging from New Haven landscapes to botanical still lifes to Japanese-style works, the assistant manager said Flights of Fancy is less a moneymaker than an opportunity to get exposure so people are aware of the shop and will think of coming back next time they need something framed or are looking for a special print.

But as far as attendees are concerned, Flights of Fancy is first and foremost about the flights—of wine, that is. Tastings were offered in many shops, ranging from a tempranillo and a Bordeaux to several rosés to the lightest of summer whites. The Wine Thief curates the selection, with an eye toward “high value, low price points” from around the world, says Win Davis, director of the Town Green Special Services District, which sponsors the event along with the Broadway Merchants Association. “They’re so well-schooled in choosing wines that every flight is different.” The evening ends at The Wine Thief, where case discounts are available for all of the wines served.

Where there’s not wine, there’s food. At Patagonia, we tried bhel puri, a savory snack from nouveau Indian spot Sherkaan, and at Ten Thousand Villages, we enjoyed meatballs served in San Marzano tomato sauce with caramelized onions from Basta Trattoria. But our personal favorite was heirloom farro salad with balsamic reduction, scallions and goat cheese by Tarry Lodge, whose executive chef was on hand at L. L. Bean to regale us with stories.

The next Flights of Fancy will take off in January. Last year, Davis says, the winter event drew a crowd despite pouring rain in the hours before it. People can sign up online for the district’s newsletter for future information. In the meantime, Town Green District has more tricks up its sleeve, including Thursday and Friday summer happy hours in Temple Plaza and, as a sponsor, New Haven Cocktail Week, running August 18 to 24. In the fall, the nighttime street fair New Haven Night Market, which typically draws a crowd of thousands, returns on October 4, with local vendors and entertainment joining Artspace to celebrate the opening night of City-Wide Open Studios.

But it’s Flights of Fancy, whose return should happen some time in winter, that has run the longest, beginning with its original organizer, The Shops at Yale. It does a good job of drawing a crowd from outside downtown, says Francesca Vignola, events and communications coordinator for Town Green District. At The Wine Thief at the end of July’s evening, she watched strangers meet and share recommendations about their wine choices and where they planned to go for dinner afterward—an unofficial part of the evening’s lineup. “It’s definitely fun, this being the final stop for everyone,” she said from her perch on a stool beside the register. “Everyone just talks to each other and compliments each other’s wine selections.” It didn’t hurt that Insomnia Cookies was there with a selection of soft, gooey cookies to kick tired feet back into gear.

Outside the wine shop, those ubiquitous blue bags were spreading out into the evening.

Flights of Fancy
Organized by Town Green Special Services District
www.downtownnewhaven.com/fof

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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