Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 11
 
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
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Following Pi Day Success, Merchants Assess Community Events, “Shop Local” Initiative

Dilshanie Perera

Despite the abysmal weather, merchants reported town-wide enthusiasm for Sunday’s Princeton Pi Day, marveling at the turnout. “It’s hip to be a geek,” joked Shopping Center General Manager Chris Hanington. “It really puts you on the map.”

The Princeton Merchants Association (PMA) meeting on Tuesday involved a look at the Pi Day event, as well as an overall discussion about the scope of the PMA, particularly as it relates to the Shop Local initiative sponsored by Hometown Princeton. “We want to look at where both of these organizations can go together,” noted PMA President Mark Censits.

Given the impact of the historic storm, local business owners agreed that Pi Day attracted a surprising number of participants, and participants had a lot of fun. University Community Relations Director Karen Woodbridge described the Pi recitation challenge as a hoot, pointing out that a local six-year-old had memorized the irrational number out to 107 decimal places, and that the overall winner correctly recited 206 digits.

“The library had over 1,300 folks come through its doors,” said Princeton Tour Company founder and Pi Day instigator Mimi Omecinski, adding that “we had 400 people take our re-enactor tours,” with proceeds benefiting the public library. She described the day as one in which merchants and local organizations banded together in order to ensure the event’s success.

As for whether businesses reported increased sales that day, Ms. Omecinski suggested they hadn’t, though many other PMA members noted that they were busier and saw much more traffic in town and the Shopping Center. “No event brings in money, but it does give us exposure, and people will always be back,” said Ms. Hanington.

Shopping Local

Mr. Censits explained that the Princeton Merchants Association is “the second generation of an organization that has been around for quite some time,” namely, the Borough Merchants for Princeton, which was founded in 1988, with the PMA reinventing itself earlier this year.

Membership criteria involve being a Princeton-based business, with the general organizational goal of PMA being to “create a vibrant, sustainable economy that makes Princeton a good place to live and work,” Mr. Censits said, reasoning that “unifying our efforts” creates “a stronger front.” Current agendas involve expanding the membership base and presenting educational events like the social media marketing workshop at the Nassau Inn on Tuesday, March 23 at 6 p.m. Cost to attend is $10 for members; $50 for non-members. E-mail fran@princetonmerchants.org to register.

How PMA and Hometown Princeton would relate to one another was an open topic for discussion, with the “buy local” organization founder Nick Hilton explaining that the group was formed to highlight reasons to shop at local independent business owners’ stores. “From the beginning it sounded like a good idea whose time had come,” he said, adding that last September they began their marketing campaign with 50 member organizations.

“The environmental and economic reasons we do this are self-explanatory,” Mr. Hilton remarked, noting that the idea of buying locally is something that has to be continually reinforced.

Criteria for membership in Hometown Princeton were elaborated by Fran McManus, who explained that the prospective store had to be owned by someone who lived within a radius of 50 miles from Princeton, and one in which discretion over operations is managed locally. Publicly traded companies are excluded from membership as well. She said that “as independents, we bring another set of values to the community,” and tend to invest in and do work with other local businesses, thereby creating structures of mutual support.

“I think we have a very healthy mix of stores in this town,” Ms. Morolda said, adding that her own independent business is strengthened by the presence of larger chain retail operations.

Jack Morrison added that both Hometown Princeton and PMA have the shared goal of “promoting the vitality of Princeton business.” Mr. Censits noted that from a practical standpoint, it might be awkward to offer only certain members of PMA benefits, should the two entities be combined.

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