By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
For Chase Welles, growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, attending the prestigious Yale University should have been a pretty clear-cut choice.
The alumnus of six U.S. presidents and home of the exclusive Skull and Bones fraternity was, after all, located right in his backyard.
Bartlett Giamatti, one time major league baseball commissioner and president of Yale at the time, was close to Welles’ family. Giamatti himself had advised Welles’ mother on her Master’s thesis. His wife taught at the historic Hopkins School, where Chase’s father was a teacher and Chase himself had been a student.
The teenaged Welles, with an SAT score over 700, was more than qualified to attend the local Ivy League school.
“One time, Mr. Giamatti pulled together all of the boys that he knew in the community and said, “If you want to go to Yale, let me know, but don’t apply if you don’t want to go,’ We all went to very good private schools [and had] 700 SATs. We were all likely candidates anyway. But none of us applied. Everybody wanted to get out of New Haven.”
Chase chose to pack his bags for New York City, heading to Columbia University on West 116th Street, a neighborhood where he would eventually make a major impact.
After graduation, he chose to stay, applying for jobs in different fields and getting a few offers to choose from.
“I got a job offer at an advertising company, a financial company and from a tiny little real estate company on the second floor of a building on Columbus Avenue,” Welles said. “The people had been very entertaining in their interview and offered me a job. [But] I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t take it, I have to go down to Wall Street.’Then the guy said: ‘Did I forget to tell you about the $350 a month rent stabilized apartment?’ I took that job and I stayed there for 13 years.”
The job he chose, at Walker Molloy & Company Inc. paid $17,000 a year with a 10% commission, Welles said, much less than he could have made on Wall Street.
But starting off selling apartments along Columbus Avenue, in buildings managed and developed by Molloy founder Robert Quinlan, turned out to be the best decision.
“I started off doing whatever anybody told me to do,” he said. “I ended up establishing a commercial division in the company with four employees and renting 30 to 40 stores a year. I learned from Bob how to negotiate. I became focused on doing one thing well, as opposed to being jack of all trades in a real estate company.”
That focus became retail leasing, first as a landlord representative, bringing in many of the chic stores and restaurants that define the area around the Museum of Natural History today. In the mid-90’s, as New York began to make way for a Big Box influx, Welles pitched a potential client that would up becoming an unexpected opportunity.
“I had been pitching COSTCO and Northwest Atlantic represents [them],” Welles said. “They called me up and asked me to join their company.”
That was 16 years ago.
Welles then left Manhattan and joined David Firestein, two or three other brokers and one administrative assistant in White Plains to focus on tenant representation, an area he had not experienced at Walker Molloy. He said the retail leasing business has changed in terms of client expectations from years past, where presentation materials and industry nuance knowledge is key.
A narrow specialty, he said, gives one an advantage in keeping up with the trends, and experience with similar types of clients opens up more business in the same client field.
“I would never have gotten the Whole Foods account had I not worked on COSTCO,” he said. “Working on that account was [like getting] a graduate degree. We would report directly to the chairman, Jeff Brotman, and he does not suffer fools, so you have to be ready.”
Landing the Whole Foods account was a “seminal moment” in Welles’ career.
Over the years, he has been involved in bringing the chain that focuses on organic produce and meats to five locations in Manhattan.
Last week, the 12,000 s/f – at grade/27,000 below deal to bring Whole Foods to the corner of Lenox Avenue and West 125th Street, put to together by Welles and Jacqueline Klinger, won the REBNY Retail Deal of the Year Award for its importance to the New York City market.
“It’s always tremendously gratifying to be recognized by your peers,” Welles said of the award. “It’s a rare opportunity, to be recognized in a business where there is so much competition.”
The deal kind of brings Welles full circle back to the neighborhood he landed in after deciding to pass on an opportunity to go to Yale. A neighborhood, which at the time — despite its legendary status — had been besieged by decay and was void of the services Whole Foods will bring. The type of neighborhoods, Welles said, where he would like to bring more supermarkets.
“I would like to work more with Whole Foods to bring fresh foods to under-served urban areas,” he said. “I would like to provide a good example for the next generation of people who do what I do.”