Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 28
 
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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Merchants Join Forces, Form Hometown Princeton

Dilshanie Perera

A group of local business owners met last Thursday at the Princeton Fire House to chart a course of action for their initiative, Hometown Princeton. The goal is to work together to combat the economic downturn and to increase viability.

“Our mission is to create a network of Princeton businesses who get together to share the expense of communicating to residents in the area the economic and environmental benefits of shopping locally,” retailer Nick Hilton explained at the beginning of the meeting. The newly formed non-profit corporation was spurred by Mr. Hilton, Fran McManus of the Whole Earth Center, Mark Bovenizer of Community Liquors, and Lewis Wildman of Jordan’s.

The plan is to launch a marketing campaign by September to explain the benefits of shopping locally and to highlight independent businesses in town. Incorporating the internet, print media advertising, handouts, maps, and decals, the effort would create an easily-recognizable brand for Hometown Princeton.

“Creating a sense of community here is really what we’re after,” said developer and restauranteur Jack Morrison, while Mr. Hilton asserted that the endeavor “should benefit the entire community.”

Joanne Farrugia of jaZams suggested that Hometown Princeton partner with local merchant organizations like the Borough Merchants for Princeton and the Regional Chamber of Commerce, though the precise method for accomplishing that has not been determined.

A representative from the Princeton Shopping Center suggested challenging such entities to pledge amounts to underwrite the cost of the marketing campaign, which is currently estimated at $15,000.

In order to raise the funds independently, Hometown Princeton would need at least 30 participating businesses to pay a membership fee of $500 each. Stores that have made public pledges to participate with donations of $500 apiece include Community Liquors, Hamilton Jewelers, Hinkson’s, Hulit’s, jaZams, Jordan’s of Princeton, Nassau Seafood & Produce, Nick Hilton Princeton, Terra Momo Restaurant Group, Whole Earth Center, Lisa Jones, Olives Bakery, Princeton Record Exchange, Chicklet Books, and Hedy Shepard.

According to Mr. Hilton, there are more than a dozen additional businesses, not present at the meeting, who have also indicated that they will join. “We have just about reached “critical mass,” he said, adding that some members are reaching out to the Borough Merchants for Princeton, Palmer Square Management, the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce, and Sustainable Princeton for additional support. Since none of these organizations includes only locally-owned and independent businesses in Princeton Borough and Township,” he added, “none is appropriate to represent a “shop-local Princeton” effort, but their recognition and support are “urgently needed.”  

During a brainstorming session, participants suggested tiered membership, and other ways to get out the shop-local message including a photo display around town to showcase Princeton’s history of commerce, and perhaps choosing a civic organization or non-profit to which to donate funds.

“The emotional connection is key,” declared Ms. McManus, while Kevin Wilkes of Princeton Design Guild added that “Quakerbridge Mall has no story to tell,” whereas “you all have a deep social and cultural history to tell. There is nothing inauthentic about our town.”

Retailer Lisa Jones added that part of the goal should be to showcase the deep history of the town, but also to underscore that “the vision for the future is about the sustainability of our businesses.”

Mr. Bovenizer noted that “New Haven, Connecticut, used to be filled with ‘Mom and Pop’ shops,” but that the town eventually became overrun with chain stores. “That’s what killed the housing market there.”

The Shop Local initiative would also keep money circulating within the community, Mr. Bovenizer said, adding that “63 percent of every dollar spent locally, stays local.”

“What we really are is an information service. We’re not selling a product; we’re selling an idea,” Mr. Hilton suggested. “This is about changing people’s minds, and getting them used to seeking out local suppliers of things they may need as opposed to driving further afield to obtain them.”

Ms. McManus added that “the number of extra miles consumers are traveling adds up to a huge environmental impact in terms of energy.”

“This is a quality of life issue. Princeton has an aura of desirability, and that charm and uniqueness comes from local business,” Mr. Hilton said.

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