Flourishing “Woods”

By Markeshia Ricks –

Paul Bass Photo

Paul Bass Photo –

Edge of the Woods has been a neighborhood anchor, with a diverse clientele, for over 25 years.

Since Edge of the Woods owner Peter Dodge bought his natural-foods grocery store’s shopping plaza and spruced it up, visual changes have spilled out to the Whalley Avenue corridor.Dodge hopes pedestrians walking up and down Whalley notice the planters filled with plants and flowers. With financial support from the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, Dodge and his sons were able to design and maintain the planters.

“I think they soften the area,” he said. He has some landscaping plans, as well.

Thomas MacMillan File Photo

Thomas MacMillan File Photo

The Edge produce aisle.

Dodge got a chance the other day to show Mayor Toni Harp the many changes that have come to Edge of the Woods Plaza, including the once-rundown and abandoned former pillow factory (pictured above) in the rear that he has been converting into warehouse/office/apartment space. Dodge took the opportunity to bend Harp’s ear about the state of the parkway that serves as a bridge between downtown and Westville. He also pitched her on having the city fix cracked sidewalks that have been a source of consternation for Dodge and many of the business owners along Whalley Avenue.Harp, who has shopped for years at Dodge’s busy healthful-food emporium, stopped at the plaza last week as part of the “shop-local” initiative she launched to encourage people to spend their dollars in neighborhood commercial districts. (Click here to read about her previous visit to the Broadway district.)

“We need help on the main sidewalks and the parkway,” Dodge said after the visit. “They’re rough. I talked with the mayor about that and she understood. Hopefully, she’ll be able to do something about it.”

Doing His Part
Allan Appel File Photo

Allan Appel File Photo

When he bought the plaza about a year ago, Dodge (pictured)  said, it was something that just made sense. The previous owner, who lived out of town, often left the snow removal and the upkeep of the parking lot between the plaza and the grocery store to Dodge and the tenants. So it was kind of like he owned it already. When the owner decided to sell, he bought it. (Read about some of the challenges Dodge had with the former owner here. Click here to read about a charitable mission he has run through the store to benefit communities in Haiti.)

Tenants like Sylvan Cleaners owner Jane Choo couldn’t be happier with Dodge’s decision to buy the plaza. He’s not only good to the tenants, she said, but he gets stuff done.After years of asking for a sign on Whalley Avenue to let passersby know that the cleaners is tucked in the plaza, Choo said, Dodge put one up for her. The building also has a new facade and new signs. Next up is a new roof.

“I’ve been here for eight years, and now new customers come in and say, ‘I didn’t know there was a dry cleaners here,’” she said. “There has been a dry cleaner here for 40 years, so there are people who know, but new customers didn’t know that.”

She said Dodge and his wife Fran are always checking in with tenants to make sure things are going OK.

Markeshia Ricks Photo

Markeshia Ricks Photo

William Gibbs (pictured in a black sweater to the right of Mayor Harp), owner of Custom Tees Plus,  has been a tenant in the plaza in some form as a graphic artist, custom embroiderer and print shop for more than 14 years.“Things are much, much better,” he said.

Changes coming

Next on Dodge’s to-do list is finishing the transformation of what was a former pillow factory into a real live-work space at the rear of the lot.  In the end he expects to have two apartments on the top floor of the old factory building and a warehouse/office space for Edge of the Woods.“For the first time in many years, I’ll have my own office,” Dodge said as he showed Mayor Harp (pictured) the nearly completed space during her visit.

Dodge worked with architect Lindsay Suter to renovate and preserve the space, rather than gut it and start from scratch. True to his ethos as a natural and sustainable grocer, Dodge wanted to make the old factory energy-efficient and sustainable.

Suter said that meant keeping the existing footprint, salvaging material such as the already existing hardwood floors and using as many techniques as could be found within a limited budget to ensure that tenants will be warm in winter and cool in summer, without breaking the bank.

Dodge said his meeting with Mayor Harp was the first time he’d really had a chance to have an extended conversation with her. He left that conversation feeling hopeful.

“I think she got a deeper perspective of what we do and what we are doing,” he said. “It felt good to start a dialogue. I hope she can move the city forward.”

Mayor Harp said that concerns about Whalley Avenue sidewalks are well known to the sidewalk committee that she has established during her administration. She said that committee has a list of projects that it will begin, hopefully in early spring, but she did not know where Whalley Avenue is at on the list.

Original Article http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/whalley_ave_renaissance/

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