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New Haven, Conn., makes the transition from crime to coffee shops

new haven

It’s rare for a supermarket to make it onto a traveler’s itinerary. But two people have recommended Elm City Market, so here I am.

The sprawling organic food co-op is bright and cheerful, with luscious produce and cheese offerings that would make a monger proud. But really, my guides have sent me here because the market anchors a larger transformation.

The sprawling organic food co-op is bright and cheerful, with luscious produce and cheese offerings that would make a monger proud. But really, my guides have sent me here because the market anchors a larger transformation.

Not so long ago, New Haven’s Ninth Square neighborhood was just a stretch of empty red brick buildings. Now, it’s chockablock with art (including Artspace, a warehouse of mini-galleries), quirky shopping (a Jamaican dress designer is just doors down from the century-old Acme Furniture) and divey ethnic food options.

It’s one sign among many that New Haven has outgrown its reputation as a college town that’s more crime than coffee shop, pockmarked by poverty and post-industrial waste.

That was an identity forged largely after World War II, when demand for New Haven’s wartime manufacturing goods disappeared. Jobs followed, and violence ticked up. Entire neighborhoods were left for dead. By the late 1980s, even the president of Yale University wouldn’t live in town, settling in New York instead.

But on a recent weekend trip, I discovered that this New Haven doesn’t really exist anymore (if it ever did). In its place, I found a city transformed.

Once-vacant factories now house art studios and coffee shops. Galleries have popped up in abandoned churches and parking garages. Restored Victorian gingerbread houses dot quaint main streets and city squares. And culinary intrigue lurks around many a corner.

In short, it’s a city with Boston’s historic charm, Philadelphia’s artistic pleasures — and Buffalo’s beer prices.

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