Style on a Student Budget: Remembering the Yale Co-op

The return of Gant to New Haven and their reintroduction of the Yale Co-op buttondown shirt warrants a fond remembrance of the now defunct cooperative.

Founded in 1885 to provide carriage rides, tobacco and dry goods to the university community, the Yale Co-op was America’s second-oldest university store when it closed in 2000.

The Yale Cooperative Corporation, called “Yale’s commercial alter ego” by the New York Times, was an insular institution. Yale alumni, faculty, students and employees could become members by paying a dollar a year. The profits of the cooperative were divided in the fall proportionally to each member’s purchases. This was called the “patronage refund” and amounted to about 10% of purchase price. The back of the 1960-61 Co-op catalog enticed its recipients with the slogan “Join-Buy-Save the Patronage Refund Way.”

From 1929 through 1962 the Co-op resided at 300 York Street. The York Street address corresponds to the Ivy boom period of the 1950s. The decade saw the shop grow from 11,900 to 25,000 square feet. Revenues climbed from $843,000 to $2.2 million. By 1959 there were 12,529 members who collectively received $159,000 in refunds.

Reflecting the zeitgeist, the Co-op eventually moved to a new building on Broadway designed by Eero Saarinen and Associates Architects. The structure was described as a “bold and attractive design in keeping with the architecture of the adjacent Stiles and Morse Colleges.” The retail specialist firm of Ken White & Associates provided consultation on the interior design.

The Yale Co-op on Broadway saw the last bloom of Ivy League Look, the rise of the counterculture movement, and somehow weathered it all. A particular telling sign of the times and a story that reflects the loyalty to the Co-op involves the writer Eric Segal. In April of 1971 Professor Eric Segal was facing mounting criticism that he had become a Hollywood sellout do to the immense success of “Love Story.” Segal’s sincere defense to News Day was, “I still drive a Cougar with a rattle. I buy my clothes, boots, sports shirt, suede suit from the Co-op.”

In commemoration of its 100th anniversary, The New York Times visited the Co-op in 1985. Reporter James Brooke found a bastion of Ivy style in a store that sells buttondown shirts by the thousands. The men’s department was in the firm hands of Dominic Maresca and Jimmy Dixon — Maresca the senior starting in 1945, with Dixon joining him in 1952. Brooke reports that they had ”schooled generations of Yalies in the fundamentals of the classic Ivy Look — soft-shoulder suits, buttondown shirts and regimental ties.” They were standing guard and were “not about to let standards slip.” The bottom line stated by Dominic Maresca: “In the Ivy style, nothing has changed since we came here.”

For many years a Yale alumnus counted on things not changing. A trip to New Haven meant a nostalgic field trip that would include coffee at the Yankee Doodle, a visit to J. Press to see the Donegal tweeds and schoolboy scarves, over to Barrie’s to view the English benchmade shoes, a meal of Welsh rarebit at Morey’s; and a postprandial pipe of Harkness Tower at The Owl Shop. And not to be forgotten: a visit to the Co-op, even if it was just for a crested sweatshirt for a future legacy.

In a bit of Ivy-on-Ivy violence, Yale refused to renew the cooperative’s lease in 1997. Speaking for the university at the time, Secretary Linda Koch Lorimer said, “Yale community’s needs are best served long-term by Barnes & Noble.”

In a simple tale of profits over prestige and progress trumping tradition, the Yale Co-op was exiled to Chapel Street, and by 2000 the supercentarian existed no more. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

Christopher Sharp lives in upstate New York. He is a former community-newspaper reporter and a veteran of the Global War on Terror. He has served in Navy Reserve for over 20 years. In a subsequent post he will present two vintage Yale Co-op catalogs from the Ivy heyday.

25 Comments on "Style on a Student Budget: Remembering the Yale Co-op"

  1. This is a great article. Never got a chance to visit the Yale Co-Op, especially during its heyday, but it sounds like it was absolutely phenomenal.

  2. Re: The last Co-op ad: “Everyone Looks Well in a Sweater”:

    One hopes that the Yale English department is now teaching underclassmen the difference between “to look good” and to look well”.

    to look good: well-dressed; attractive.
    to look well: healthy.

  3. @OldSchool

    Could it possibly be a (bad) joke?

  4. @Liam

    I hardly think it was intended as a joke.

    It’s an example of the phenomenon that linguists call hypercorrection. It occurs when a grammatical rule is applied in a mistaken context, so that an attempt to be “correct” leads to an incorrect result.
    Using “good” in place of “well” in sentences like “he writes good” or “she cooks good” was so frequently castigated that many Americans began to use “well” in contexts where, in fact, “good” was correct.

    Another example would be the use of “between you and I” by people who have been criticized for using “me” where “I” is required.

    The term “hypercorrection” could, itself, be criticized as a misnomer, since it refers to incorrectness in the form of a mis-application of a rule, rather than to excessive correctness.

  5. fred johnson | March 10, 2011 at 12:39 pm |

    Great piece. I got my Yale Co-Op account in 1965, 3rd year high school. I wore Co-Op button down shirts, crew neck shetland sweaters, tweed cap and loden green duffel coat all through the remaining high school years and 3 years of college. Started wearing their sport jackets and trousers when I started working. Stuff went so well with my Barrie shoes.
    I really miss that place!

  6. More information about two establishments mentioned by Mr. Sharp:

    The Yankee Doodle:


  7. Great story. The first oxford shirt I remember wearing was from the Co-op, a hand-me-down from my mother in fact.

    As it pertains to well vs. good — I don’t know the origin, but “you look well in that” was frequent usage for at least a century. It may be that the current distinction between well and good post-dates the origin of this usage. As an example, “Israel Potter,” Herman Melville, 1854: “It looks well on you, Captain.” “Do you think so? A Scotch bonnet, though, ought to look well on a Scotchman.”

  8. After checking the links I posted, I discovered that for some reason, the link to Mory’s excludes the “apostrophe s” (‘s) at the end. You must add both the apostrophe and the s manually in order for the link to take you to the appropriate article.

    Perhaps this will work:

  9. Funny, after reading OldSchool’s comment re: “good vs well” I happened to run across an old photo of me last night getting my first haircut in 1969, and in the background of the photo there’s a sign posted in the barbershop that reads “It Pays To Look Well”. I’m wondering if this substitution of “looking well” for “looking good” was more prevalent years ago, or if it is indeed a case of hypercorrection, as OldSchool (very interestingly) pointed out. Hmm.

  10. The Co-op was not just for Yalies. Many a Saturday in my early teens I hitchhiked down Whitney Avenue from “The Glen,” breezed by George and Harry’s (Wall Street), checked out the latest tunes in Cutlers, squeezed the skiis at the Co-op, and topped off the morning with lunch aT “the Doodle.” Thanks for the memories…

  11. @spuyten

    For the curious: “The Glen” is Glen Haven Road.

    George and Harry’s was at 90 Wall Street.

    Cutler’s is still in business and still calls itself a record shop, although must of the customers have never seen a record in their lives:

  12. Just some thoughts…

    Grammar nazis truly baffle me. Is there some moral value to retaining the most pointless and arbitrary of rules? Do they actually believe the English language is that static? These type of nerd duals are nauseating….I don’t think I feel so good.

    The quote from Linda Koch about Barnes & Noble is extremely depressing and typical. The statement is just disingenuous drivel, and reminds me of rhetoric I’ve heard from my university’s president.

    One question about Mr. Sharp’s bio….How does one claim to be a veteran of “The Global War on Terror”? Is this a recognized distinction from the US Military? If so, how does one receive this label?….Not trying to spark a political debate, but this just struck me as odd.

  13. @Abdullah

    Abiding by grammatical rules is, I daresay, even more important than abiding by sartorial rules. The semantic difference between “You’re looking good today ” (well-dressed) and “You’re looking well” (healthy; recovered from an illness) is hardly a trivial matter. A poorly-dressed person can look well, just as an invalid can look good.

  14. Wallace Hainault | March 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm |

    There is no one in America authorized to by law or custom to enforce rules of grammar or dress. All of those rules are mere creatures of our imaginations invented to clarify, classify, and select our personal and professional interactions. Rules of English grammar were arbitrarily imposed to give a common language to business, commerce, and law. Sartorial rules arose from class distinctions rooted in a system of orders.

    In the 21st Century these rules don’t match the social and political climate. Our best defense lies in looking better and sounding more elegant, or the other way around.

  15. @Wallace Hainault
    The fact that rules of grammar and dress are not heeded by the masses is an indicator of the general decline of standards in the 21st century.

    Maintaining grammatical and sartorial standards on the individual level is a harmless form of revenge.

  16. ScoobyDubious | March 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm |


    Is a nerd “dual” different form a nerd “duel”?

  17. Having visited New Haven many times, I have wondered about the Yale CO-OP and welcome this excellent essay.

  18. Hey spuyten, I lived in Spring Glen too.– Ridgewood Ave.

  19. Just a line about a veteran of the “War on Global Terror”. By serving in the military in any capacity during the current “War”, Mr. Sharp probably received a certificate from some US government agency that is able to confer that distinction.

    About 20 years ago, I received a Certificate of Recognition confering our nation’s gratitude for my participation in the “Cold War”. This award was on DD 2774, and signed by the Secretary of Defense (illegible signature). My involvement in the “Cold War” was negligible. I merely served honorably in the US Army during the period in question.

    The recognition is a nice way of thanking all who served in the US Military, regardless of capacity, from the lowest enlisted rank to the Commander in Chief, the President.

  20. Cold War Certificates are still available for those who served but did not get one the first time around

  21. Wallace Hainault opines,

    “Rules of English grammar were arbitrarily imposed”

    This assertion is 100% incorrect. Grammatical rules are not imposed by anyone; they are, in effect, a social agreement. Grammatical rules are not rules so much as principles that are acquired by children learning their native tongue, and followed so that we may communicate with each other. Having said that, if you break these rules, the effects can range from puzzled looks, outright incomprehension, or, worst of all, conveying a meaning other than the one intended.

    Of course, different dialect have different rules, such as the usage of got in American vs. British English. Both are right–in their own contexts. Similarly, double negatives have a positive meaning in Standard American English, whereas they have an emphatic meaning in Black English (or “Ebonics,” if you prefer).

    Given the tenor of Mr. Hainault’s posting, I fully expect either him, or someone who agrees with him, to post a leftist class-warfare sort of response to me.

  22. The mention of Cutler’s Record Shop on Broadway in New Haven by Spuyten and OldSchool brings back a memory.

    I went in there about 20 years ago looking for a song from the early 1960s, but could recall only one line: “it seems like a mighty long time, shoo-bop shoo-bop, my baby-ooo.” The salesperson, who if born in the ’60s would have been an infant at the time, thought for no less than two seconds: “Oh, that’s ‘Hello Stranger’ by Barbara Lewis,” and brought me the cassette. Very impressive. That kind of encyclopedic recall always seems magical to me. Good song, too, I recommend it.

  23. Still residing in my closet are Yale Co-Op Button-Down Oxford Dress Shirts, unworn, with their original tags attached. As if that weren’t enough, at the time I paid one Vittoria on Park Street (local tailor) to install darts on the lower back of each one, as I myself was keenly tapered at the time. Should I put them on eBay? I’ll never wear them.

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