Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 33
 
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
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Goodbye Chestnut Tree, Hello Chicklets: Shopping Center Has a New Bookstore

Matthew Hersh

For this Princeton Shopping Center location in front of the familiar fountain in the courtyard, anything other than a bookseller would seem completely inappropriate.

So when Chestnut Tree Books suddenly closed two weeks ago, leaving behind a full inventory, and a coffee station, a note quickly appeared on the door heralding the inevitable: another bookstore was on its way. And yes, it's an independent.

Chicklet Books, a privately owned, Hillsborough-based bookshop that has a sister store in Glen Echo Books on Nassau Street in Princeton Borough, opened yesterday at the Shopping Center, joining a book lineage in that location that includes Titles Unlimited, Encore Books, Bargain Books and Music, and, of course, the Princeton Public Library when it took up temporary residence there in 2002 and 2003.

Chestnut Tree Books owners Pam and Ira Kaye were unavailable for comment for this report, but the vacancy created a situation that allowed Shopping Center management to work with Chicklet proprietor Deb Hunter, to launch a Princeton Township branch of her store there.

Having first opened her Hillsborough store in 2004, Ms. Hunter, who is no stranger to the book-buying circuit, said she had been looking to establish herself in Princeton with Princeton University's future Nassau Street bookseller, Labyrinth Books, slated to open this fall.

Glen Echo, which occupies the semi-subterranean retail space in the old bank building on the corner of Bank and Nassau Street, is solely a used book operation. With the advent of Labyrinth, Ms. Hunter was going to transform Glen Echo into the Chicklet concept, which goes after a decidedly "fun and funky book boutique" vibe, brightly colored décor, and discounted books that range from 20 to 50 percent off.

But when the Shopping Center space became available, Ms. Hunter decided to keep Glen Echo as is, and bring the Chicklet brand to the Township.

"We number crunched for four days, and we kept bugging the Shopping Center folks and they finally said that this could happen.

"We made a deal and we're opening today."

The store will not come to its full realization for at least a few weeks, but the concept will be more varied than the Hillsborough branch. The retail space, which encompasses both the promenade level as well as the basement, will feature an "upscale" bookstore and café on the main floor, as well as some discount music, with the discount inventory located downstairs. There will still be a comic book inventory, as Chestnut Tree had provided.

Ms. Hunter is also looking to local coffee providers to manage the café.

Between her three New Jersey stores and an Arkansas outlet that she runs with a business partner, Ms. Hunter also maintains an Arkansas-based warehouse where she is able to access a substantial backlog of titles. While she admits that the warehouse is a significant step for a local bookseller, she said she hopes that her new Princeton location will attract the customer base that can tend to embrace an independent retailer.

"An independent bookstore is so much more difficult to run than the nationals: everyone likes the idea of an independent bookstore, but people don't necessarily buy their books from us.

"I'm hoping that people will be able to discover our store's own personality."

The satellite post office that Chestnut Tree Books had brought back to the Shopping Center will "hopefully" return. The facility is still in place, but the administrative process in transferring postal unit ownership can take time, Ms. Hunter said, adding that a background check is required.

In the meantime, it's about having customers identify with the new locations. "Micawber had a very academic feel to it, and while I like that, this store is going to also be mom and kid friendly. It's going to be bright and cheery and basically were just really excited to be here."

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Chicklet Books, while having yet to set official store hours, will launch with a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday schedule, with abbreviated Sunday hours. For more information, go to www.ChickletBooks.com.

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