Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 1
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
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Seeing Slow Growth, Local Merchants Remain Cautious About Year Ahead

Dilshanie Perera

Area business owners and retailers have reported seeing a modest upturn in sales over the past year. While they are heartened by the consumer enthusiasm displayed over the holiday season, they remain cautious about the year ahead.

President of the Princeton Merchants Association and owner of CoolVines Mark Censits noted a high activity level among customers, but also reported that many were tentative in their spending, selecting mid-range bottles instead of higher priced wine, for instance.

Anecdotal evidence from other business owners in the area reveals that “customers are looking for value,” added Mr. Censits, but that “enthusiasm and exuberance are back again.” He characterized the new year as “a bit of an improvement over last year,” and “definitely a more upbeat one.”

David Newton of Palmer Square Management envisioned the upcoming year as one of transitions, though he did acknowledge that “we have started to see a slight turn,” and that while they are “saying goodbye to some tenants,” they have finalized other leases and are in negotiations with other business owners. “The whole process will take a while.”

The site of the former Coach store, located at the corner of Hulfish Street and Palmer Square East, which briefly housed a pop-up satellite of JaZams for seven weeks during the holiday season, will see Palm Place as its new tenant, Mr. Newton revealed. A Lilly Pulitzer signature store, the apparel operation will also carry other brands.

Mr. Newton also noted that “we are losing Nine West, but are in the last stages of signing a lease for a tenant there.” The same is the case for the Pawtisserie’s former location on the Square. He anticipated that a few other retailers may move “before the onset of the spring,” but that vacancies would be temporary.

One of the incoming establishments will showcase a “type of use never had on the square before,” while the other would likely deal with apparel and accessories, Mr. Newton suggested.

Marketing Director of Palmer Square Management Anita Fresolone noted that the new retailers “will definitely add uniqueness” to the Square, and that the management organization focuses on striking a 50-50 balance between small independent stores and larger national businesses.

Mr. Newton’s strategy for now is to “be flexible in what we do,” and to “keep an interesting tenant mix.” In the years preceding the financial collapse of 2008, Palmer Square Management was “moving toward a higher end strategy” but noted that that objective has “leveled off” following the crisis, he admitted, emphasizing the need to keep options open.

One of the Square’s tenants, retailer Joanne Farrugia who operates the toy store JaZams, described the year as a good one, noting their fourth quarter sales, but added a caveat: “I’m thinking we’re not out of the woods yet.”

“We’re going to continue doing the same things going forward … and continue to keep the store stocked and to feel fresh and vibrant,” Ms. Farrugia said. She noted that “every year we go to our landlord [i.e. Palmer Square Management]” and ask for vacant space to use to warehouse their goods. This year, JaZams’s pop-up store took up its temporary residence on the Square, with its stock housed in the basement below.

“It creates a bit of a buzz and is good marketing,” Ms. Farrugia noted, adding that it does not necessarily increase profitability and is a lot of work. “It is definitely a fun thing to do, though, and gives off a great energy … it made us all feel good.”

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