Top: New Haven Pride Center Communications Coordinator Laura Boccadoro and Acting Executive Director Juancarlos Soto. Bottom: One of dozens of cranes now in the shop. Lucy Gellman Photos.
Laura Boccadoro pulled a ladder up to Olmo's front counter, and lifted an orange paper crane to the light. She leaned in, ready with a long string and square of clear packing tape. Beneath her, staff turned out sandwiches on springy, freshly toasted bagels. On the speaker, David Bowie’s “Starman” faded into “Brown Eyed Girl,” and suddenly it was hard not to dance along. By her right hand, a handful of paper cranes seemed to sway in time with the guitar.
Pride Month took flight at Olmo Bagelry Thursday afternoon, as the Trumbull Street bagel shop welcomed representatives of the New Haven Pride Center (NHPC) for a budding collaboration set to run far beyond June. Drenched in the aroma of toasted sesame seeds, sliced scallions, tubs of chilled dairy and warm, cinnamon-kissed babka, Olmo and Center staff hung dozens of paper cranes from the storefront’s ceiling and shelves, creating a rainbow-toned flock across the space.
The cranes come from a community artmaking night that the Pride Center held last week at its 84 Orange St. offices. Acting NHPC Executive Director Juancarlos Soto said that the symbolism feels right: origami cranes symbolize hope and wishes, both of which he holds close as he enters Pride Month.
“It feels great,” Soto said Thursday, as customers buzzed by to pick up lunchtime sandwich orders and iced coffees, and stopped to admire the new decor. “We’re in a time when everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is under attack, and we’re experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and of depression. And so these community building events with our neighbors are so important.”
Olmo Manager Meg Roberts: “We wanted to show our allyship rather than just throwing up a flag,” she said. “That [gesture] didn’t sit well with me. I’d rather have a partnership that can last all year. ”
The collaboration comes from Boccadoro, NHPC communications coordinator and co-producer of PRIDE New Haven, and Olmo managers Meg Roberts and Raphael Bastek. In addition to the cranes, Olmo will be selling Pride Month t-shirts from Bastek, a New Hampshire transplant who is also a freelance designer and graphic artist, and its “Everyone Deserves A Bagel” tote bags. At checkout, customers can also add a donation to the Pride Center.
The collaboration was born months ago, after Roberts started thinking about what she wanted the shop to do for Pride Month. Last year, Olmo vended at a couple Pride events across the state, but “we didn’t really get to put a lot of thought into it,” she said. It birthed the shop’s rainbow-patterned “Everyone Deserves A Bagel” logo (a nod to artist Cara Minichiello), but Roberts wanted something more deeply rooted in the community.
“We wanted to show our allyship rather than just throwing up a flag,” she said. “That [gesture] didn’t sit well with me. I’d rather have a partnership that can last all year. ”
For Roberts, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it was a personal quest as well as a professional one. June marks National Pride Month, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in June 1999 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. In recent years, Roberts has watched as large corporations co-opt the event with a sea of rainbow merchandise, in a phenomenon that is now recognized as rainbow capitalism.
While the most recent offender may be Target, which pulled its Pride Month displays after customers complained and reportedly threatened staff, there are well over a dozen such examples, from Nike to shaving companies to Budweiser.
Instead of that approach, Roberts wants to create a space where customers feel genuinely welcome and celebrated, she said. Growing up in East Haven, she felt firsthand what it was like to be in spaces that didn't feel completely safe. She doesn’t want Olmo to ever feel that way for anyone who walks through the door.
As she bounced around the narrow storefront Thursday, a sense of community care seemed to be the order of the afternoon. At one side of Olmo, the hustle and bustle of orders continued as normal, bagel sandwiches multiplying neatly at the front counter. No sooner had Boccadoro gingerly mounted a small ladder than Soto was behind her, one hand stretched behind the small of her back just in case she needed help.
On the other, Bastek lifted a milk crate full of bright paper cranes, the shapes rustling as if the birds had suddenly come to life, and were testing out their wings for the first time. Like Roberts, Bastek said he “wanted to do something more involved than hanging up some flags” for Pride Month. He realized that his graphic design skills could come in handy.
“I wanted to do something quirky and fun, that wasn’t just our logo and a rainbow,” he said. The result was a design that featured a cat, and should be available for sale in Olmo by later this week and throughout the month of June. Since connecting with Boccadoro, he’s also been more involved with the Center, including at the crane-making night.
Just feet away, NHPC Youth Services Coordinator Ta’LannaMonique Lawson-Dickerson reached her hand into the crate, and pulled out a butter-yellow crane with sharp, delicate folds. Even during a month of celebration, she stressed the need to remain vigilant and fight for LGBTQ+ rights, which are under constant attack across the U.S. and in Connecticut.
Even as she spoke, the Newton Board of Education was gearing up for a heated argument just miles away, over whether to ban two graphic novels that both address gender. Thursday night, the board ultimately voted to keep the books in the district’s schools.
“We need to fight,” she said. And at the same time, she is excited to see the Center step into what feels like a new chapter. In January, she was one of eight employees put on temporary furlough at the Center. She’s now back, helping coordinate youth programming. “I feel like we are finally cocooning into what we are supposed to be.”
Ale Cruz and Matthew Garcia, who are cousins and ran into each other at the shop.
Behind the counter, employee Matthew Garcia smeared an everything everything bagel with cream cheese and layered arugula and tomato gently on top. Born and raised in Hamden, Garcia said that he is excited for this year’s Pride Month celebrations, and to know that Olmo is on board.
“I love it!” he said of Pride Month and the paper crane initiative. “Honestly, I’m an ally, but I think being able to support friends and family [who are LGBTQ+] is so important. Knowing we can welcome all people of all races, specialities, genders here … it’s about feeling safe.”
Soto said that it also feels like a new beginning for the Pride Center, which since November has faced significant financial woes, loss and reinstatement of its nonprofit status, staffing challenges, and an abrupt transition in executive leadership. As he and staff plan events, they’re focused on getting back to the Center’s deep community roots, from weekly support and affinity groups to new artmaking nights..
Already, he said, that relationship building is nurturing him and fellow NHPC staff. When community members gathered at the Orange Street space last week, one told Soto about the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, about a young girl who is diagnosed with leukemia, and sets out to make 1,000 origami cranes so that she may be granted a single wish.
In the book, her wish is to regain her strength and join a running team. Soto’s, meanwhile, centers more on building trust and relationships in the heart of New Haven and in the region. This month, the Center will be at several regional Pride events, including Middletown Pridefest on June 3.
“We’re wishing for a new community and for people to come as who they are,” Soto said. “For us, it’s important to work with our neighbors for events—rather than folks just trying to get that rainbow dollar. This is a partnership with neighbors who understand what allyship really means.”
During the crane making night last week, Soto recalled, he could also feel that mission in action. In addition to making art, Pride Center staff read from My Shadow Is Purple for some of the younger members of the group. In turn, attendees shared their own knowledge.
One, seven-year-old Gabriela Diaz, taught participants to make other animal shapes out of folded paper. It was so much fun, Gabriela said, that they kept making new cranes after the event was over.
“It was good and I liked it,” they said in a phone call Thursday evening, adding Soto had gifted them the book My Shadow Is Purple, which totally delighted them, at the event . “I feel like when I make them [the cranes], it's making the world more beautiful. I feel good inside.”
“Yes, we want to help [the NHPC], but we get a lot of support from the Pride Center too,” said Gabriela’s mom Jenny Heikkila Diaz, who had come that night to drop off clothes and hygiene supplies, and stayed for the event. “The staff there is always building community. They have been really supportive of our family too.”
Heikkila Diaz added that the two would likely be making a stop at Olmo in the next few days to drop off more cranes. While Pride Month runs through the end of June, Roberts said there is no formal end to the collaboration.
Thursday, Olmo Co-Founder Craig Hutchinson said that’s what it’s all about. When staff came to him with a proposal for Pride Month, he listened, learning about rainbow capitalism for the first time. He praised managers Roberts and Bastek for carrying the collaboration.
“I think that as a business owner, if you do it right, you’re learning all the time,” he said. “I just want to make sure that we’re doing this year round. By no means is the work done at the end of the month.”