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"Black Friday" Proves To Be a Welcome Event for Merchants

Matthew Hersh

With various downtown construction projects in a temporary lull, and fair weather prevailing, downtown Princeton, once again, found itself the epicenter of the holiday shopping season.

"Black Friday," one of the busiest shopping days of the year, came and went, and the merchants, it appears, are no worse for it. Quite the opposite, in fact. By many accounts, this first weekend of the official holiday shopping season was the best for downtown Princeton in years.

"It was amazing, certainly our best Black Friday since I've been here," said Lisa Mazzone, owner of Ici Monde, Ici Bebe, and Ici Fashion for Children on Palmer Square West. "It was just an amazing day."

On a day when "super" stores like Wal-Mart scored lower-than-expected sales, in-town stores seemed to thrive, possibly reflecting the accessibility of in-town shopping and the difficult driving situations at malls such as Nassau Park, which, while benefitting traffic flow on Route 1 by removing its traffic light, has created what some feel is a logistical nightmare.

But Ms. Mazzone said she thought people were also somewhat more comfortable with spending their money this season than they had been in the past. "It was a good day for us."

"To give you an idea, we probably tripled our business over last year," granted, she admitted, that last year's Black Friday was a washout, but, she added, the weekend overall saw more foot traffic than she had seen in years past.

"The general consensus is we had a very strong weekend," said Kathie Morolda, owner of the Cranbury Station Gallery on Palmer Square East and president of the Borough Merchants of Princeton. "Many of the so-called 'ma and pops' did very well, and I think a large part of that is the community involvement we're starting to see."

Ms. Morolda directly attributed the "Shop Smart" campaign that the merchant group initiated to generate more student activity downtown.

The program, which involves 15 merchants, creates a link with Princeton's public schools, Ms. Morolda said. By showing a Shop Smart card at the time of purchase in participating shops, 10 percent of that sale will be donated to the Princeton Regional School District.

The program, which took effect on Black Friday, will extend through December 24. Cards are available at the Cranbury Station Gallery, Borough Hall, PRSD administrative buildings, and participating merchants including: Craft Cleaners; Subway; Bowhe & Peare; White Lotus Home; CG Gallery; Nick Hilton Studio; Thomas Sweet Ice Cream & Chocolate; J. McLaughlin; Pryde Brown Photographs; Jazaams; Go For Baroque; Steppin' Birkenstock Shoes; Giselle Dancewear; and Triangle Repro.

David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management, did not hesitate to express his optimism for the 2004 holiday season.

"We're expecting the best Christmas season we've had in a number of years this year. We have had some really good additions and expansions in Palmer Square," he said, citing the recent openings of Honey West, Polo Ralph Lauren, the Bent Spoon, and the relocation and expansion of Zoë on Hulfish Street.

Mr. Newton, however, did not discount national trends as reasons in why he is expecting a lucrative season.

"A lot of it has to do with national economy and the election being over," he said.

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