Connecticut retailer Trailblazer is living up to its name by splitting its 9,000-square-foot store in downtown New Haven into three smaller specialty shops that will focus on its two most popular categories, action sports and the traditional outdoor sports markets.

The new stores, each with their own names, will comprise three points of a triangle within the Broadway Shopping District near Yale University, flanked by national retailers such as American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, J.Crew and Thom Brown Shoes.  Because the stores are located within 100 yards of each other, a single general manager will be able to oversee them all, said Chris Howe, one of three owners behind the venture.

The arrangement is designed to serve each niche better, while also leveraging Trailblazer’s 13-year history in southern Connecticut. The stores will coordinate advertising and redeem each other’s gift cards and merchandise credits.


Howe and his partners – David Venables and Todd Raskin – closed Trailblazer’s single location on Chapel Street March 1.  Two weeks later, they opened Denali, a store featuring products from The North Face and Merrell exclusively.  They plan to reopen the Trailblazer store, which will focus on outdoor sports, camping, running and climbing brands like Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot and Keen, by mid-April. TRAFFIC, a surf, skate and snowboard store featuring hardgoods, clothing and footwear from Burton, Billabong, Roxy, Element, DC and Volcom will open by late spring.

“One of the things we have been struggling with in a metropolitan area was how to meet the needs of all our different customers, while at the same time dealing with the growth of particular brands,” said Howe.  “The idea is to give more square footage to a series of brands that had been minimized due to growth of TNF and Merrell.”

The TRAFFIC concept will allow Howe and his partners to better tap into the skate and board culture that is more popular with the under-40 crowd.  


“Action sports is a strong sector for us, but at the same time we found we could not be core enough when that product was mixed with outdoor goods,” said Howe. “We see skate/surf, action sports as the next generation.”

Howe noted that Trailblazers’ metamorphosis has been prompted as much by a need to find a new space as it was by a master plan. 


“Part of it, honestly, was born out of need,” he said. “A bank offered to buy us out of our lease at a price we could not turn down. Our last space was somewhat unique for New Haven – 9,000 square feet on a corner with multiple window displays. There really was not another space like that in the city.”

Howe and his partners did not sign a lease for the Denali store until early February, but now think they can bring the concept as well as the TRAFFIC brand to other metropolitan and suburban markets.  In the meantime, they continue to operate two Trailblazer stores in Branford and at the Mohegan Sun Casino.


Having said that, Howe has no illusions about the risks he and his partners are taking with their enterprise.

“We realize this is a bold move and we are, of course, nervous about it,” he said. “There is risk here, but we have had the opportunity to discuss this plan with people both in and outside of the industry and the majority thought it was a risk worth taking. Hopefully, we're on the right track.”