Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 50
 
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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Local Merchants See Business Slow but Attitude Is “Cautiously Optimistic”

Dilshanie Perera

“We went into this season with low expectations,” said Vice President of Palmer Square Management David Newton,who acknowledged that business during the holiday shopping season is better than expected. There’s obviously a lot of caution out there, but there are some positive things,” he remarked, adding that “a couple of tenants reported increased sales.”

While Mr. Newton characterized cosmetics as a product that is “more recession proof,” since using such items “is a relatively inexpensive way for people to feel good about themselves,” Interim CEO and President of the Regional Chamber of Commerce Adam Perle said, “I think that the economy is tough for everyone. No industry is safe, but the Princeton region contains resilient businesses and businesspeople.”

While admitting that businesses directly related to fuel, heating, and HVAC tend to be “a little more immune” to the oscillations of the market, Mr. Perle envisioned the current climate as a time to reevaluate and determine strategic plans for the future.

Terming economic downturns as a “cyclical kind of thing,” Mr. Perle reported that he’s seeing local businesses “doing what they need to do to continue to prosper,” listing “inventory control, discounts, layaway plans, advertising, and networking” as key elements. “Networking is one of the most cost effective ways to improve business” he suggested.

In a separate interview, President of the Borough Merchants for Princeton and owner of the Cranbury Station Gallery Kathleen Maguire Morolda agreed with Mr. Perle’s sentiment, noting that “one of the things we’re really pushing is cross-promoting each other” and having “marketing material for different merchants in town” inside each other’s stores. She described the dynamic between merchants as a “nice camaraderie.”

“September, October, and November are usually busy months, but I’ve noticed a visible taper,” admitted Mike Anis, manager of the Princeton Running Company. “The store is usually busier in the fall, because cross country season is starting and people are training for fall marathons, and once Christmas passes it slows down a bit, but there aren’t as many people coming out to shop right now.”

Beyond retail, even the caffeine-related industry is seeing a “little bit of a downturn, but nothing problematic,” according to Small World Coffee owner Jessica Durrie, who commented that “we’re seeing the same amount of customers, but the average transaction size is smaller.” She’s also noticed that they are “brewing a lot more regular coffee, so people who were previously ordering a double latte may be ordering a double joe, which is more cost effective in terms of getting caffeine into your system.”

Though he believes that “we have to wait to see” the effects of the current economic climate on local merchants, Mr. Newton acknowledged a “reason for cautious optimism” in the fact that there have been some increases in sales. He asserted, “If you’re in a recession, then Princeton, New Jersey’s the place to be.”

 

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