A Breath of Fresh Air

W hen you attend this evening’s monthly On9 celebration in Ninth Square, think about what was “On9” 70 or 100 years ago. Some markets were there, sure, and even some theaters; but mostly factories.

Today, Ninth Square is a land of independent shops, singular designers, artisan boutiques, a club renowned as the “living room” of the local music scene and a co-op food market that prides itself on the locally made products it sells, but your grandparents and great-grandparents knew the neighborhood for its national and global interests. Instead of browsing the bespoke backpacks happily handmade by Plural Work/Shop, consumers rushed downtown to mammoth department stores such as Malley’s, Schartenberg’s and Grant’s. Instead of having their bicycles lovingly fixed by the community-conscious cyclers at Devil’s Gear, city residents rode trolley cars to get to work assembling cash registers or other items mass-produced at State Street manufacturing plants.

In his introduction to Preston Maynard and Marjorie B. Noyes’ invaluable history of industry in New Haven, Carriages and Clocks, Corsets and Locks: The Rise and Fall of an Industrial City—New Haven, Connecticut (published by New Haven Preservation Trust through the University Press of New England in 2004), Connecticut historian Bruce Clouette writes that “part of the reason New Haven has not retained so vivid a memory of its industrial past as some other cities is the sheer variety of products and processes that made up its industrial sector.” Clouette cites a Census Office report of 1880 which lists “forty-three carriage- and carriage-parts makers … fourteen hardware manufacturers … and nine corset factories. Despite enumerating forty-one specific areas of manufacturing, however, the census still had to put ninety-four factories into the category ‘All Other Industries’; together, those industries, ranging from ammunition and artificial limbs to wire work and wood turning, accounted for more than a quarter of the city’s total industrial output.”

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Those hundreds of factories were spread all around the city—carriages in Wooster Square, matchsticks in Westville, toys in Fair Haven. But many needed to be near the waterfront (which once flowed much nearer to downtown), or the canals, or the train tracks, and Ninth Square was a natural place for those manufacturers. You can still find a furniture dealer in the neighborhood—for example, Acme Vintage Furniture at 33 Crown Street, over a century old and delightfully aware of its noble heritage. But most of the other buildings which once identified as Industrial Revolution icons now house galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and apartments.

New Haveners who recall the bleak, blighted, distressed near-ghost town that was Ninth Square in the late 1980s and early 1990s know that it wasn’t an easy transition from big business to small business, from industrial to residential, from machine-driven to arts-oriented. That only makes the current glory of Ninth Square all the more remarkable.

It’s now a place to live, stroll, window shop, view art (indoors and outdoors), do yoga, sip coffee and eat, eat, eat. Basking in this renaissance, in recent months the many small businesses in the neighborhood have banded together for a monthly series of special events with different themes.

This month’s is “Breathe On9,” and, in a nod to next month’s FITWEEK (Oct. 1-7), it’s all about health and fitness. “Breathe” starts in Pitkin Plaza (the Orange Street end of the new 360 State Street building; pictured second in the slider above) at 6 p.m., when Devil’s Gear, New Haven Rolfing and Sarah Aldrich Pilates offer demonstrations and discussions about health and well-being in the plaza. Fresh Yoga precedes that gathering with a free Pranayama Workshop from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at 49 Orange Street. Jamuna Bodywork extends the boundaries even further, giving chair massages in the plaza from noon until 9 p.m.

A leisurely, pedestrian vibe will be furthered by having Orange Street closed to traffic between Center and Crown streets during the evening. Designer Neville Wisdom of NW Boutique previews his fall line with a runway event in that so-called “Piazza On9” at 7 p.m. And for those like to breathe in the bouquet of a good wine, Opici Wines is hosting a tasting from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Shared workspace The Grove at 71 Orange is giving away passes to local gyms and fitness classes, good during FITWEEK. The sign-up is between the accepted “On9” hours of 6-8 p.m. The Grove is also sponsoring talks by two of its members, Stress Reduction Consultant Phillip Levine and inner-healing specialist Margaret Allende, under the collective title “The Power of Being Present, A Wellness Experience—What Could Possibly Get in the Way?”

While relaxing your body, you can free your mind with an exhibit of Linda Yoshizawa’s monotype prints at Reynolds Fine Art and closing receptions for all three current exhibitions at Artspace. Daily Nutmeg contributor Uma Ramiah is a co-organizer of the local branch of an international interactive art piece, “Before I Die,” where passers-by can chalk their hopes and dreams on a blackboard at the corner of Crown and Orange streets. green well Organic Tea & Coffee has live music from Parker’s Tangent.

Additionally, there’s a health & wellness class with Marannie Rawls-Philippe at Elm City Market at 6:30 p.m. Over a dozen Ninth Square restaurants are part of the mix, too.

“Breathe On9.” It’s something that might not have been quite as easy to do back in the days of smoky, sawdusty factories and sooty steam locomotives. These days, though, there’s a fresh wind blowing through, and it clearly plans to stay awhile.

Breathe On9
6-8pm today, September 7

Written by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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