Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 20
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
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Local Merchants Band Together to Tackle Economy’s Challenges

Dilshanie Perera

The Borough Merchants for Princeton (BMP) met on Tuesday to determine how to confront challenges posed to local business by the faltering economy, downtown parking changes, and competition from Route 1 stores.

While the focus and vision of various merchants differed, almost all agreed that greater networking, partnerships, and strategizing between and among businesses would be beneficial to everyone.

BMP President Kathie Morolda, who also owns the Cranbury Station Gallery, noted that should a merchant go out of business downtown, it would affect all merchants in the area. “No one is happy with what is going on,” she said about the current fiscal climate, “but we need to work together in order to thrive.”

Travis Linderman of the Maclean Agency, who was facilitating the discussion as a BMP Director, seconded the claim, adding that strengthening the partnerships between merchants would in turn bolster the economy and “keep money staying within Princeton and in the community.”

The conversation turned to a “local first” campaign, which would encourage residents to buy goods from local, independently owned stores. Outside the umbrella of the Borough Merchants, retailer Nick Hilton began to assemble merchants interested in an informal group last month.

At the meeting, Mr. Hilton said he wants to see more civic pride and more of a “spirit of community” among the retailers, emphasizing that “small independent stores pay back more to the community than larger chains in terms of employment and contributions they make to local causes.”

Noting that a “local first” campaign would promote a shift in the thinking and consciousness of consumers, Mr. Hilton envisioned putting together “a group of 20 to 30 people, and advertising first to the community, raising our profile among residents, and also supporting local causes — civic, charity, and so on.”

Fran McManus of the Whole Earth Center remarked that their store has emphasized the idea of patronizing local business consistently, adding that the BMP has to make a more compelling argument for buying local.

Supporting local small and independent business is essential for maintaining a diverse and interesting set of shopping options, as well as a varied landscape, Ms. McManus observed, adding that “if you go to any other town now, it looks like every other town, and people are beginning to catch on that it is actually quite boring.”

There was some debate during the meeting as to the scope of the Borough Merchants for Princeton, and whether the organization should include businesses outside the Central Business District. JaZams owner Joanne Farrugia suggested that including retailers and restaurants at the Shopping Center would give shoppers from out of town “more reason to come to Princeton.”

Ms. Morolda responded that the “parking situation” is not the same for businesses at the Shopping Center.

On the subject of parking in the downtown, meter hours extending until 8 p.m., and the eventual implementation of Sunday parking fees, developer and restauranteur Jack Morrison reported that the petitions circulated and drafted by himself, Henry Landau, and others protesting the fee extension had been “well-received by the public.”

The petition, which urges Borough Council to rescind its decision to extend meter hours and to charge for parking on Sundays, has been circulated in close to 80 percent of stores downtown, and has seen approximately 10,000 signatures, Mr. Morrison said.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi encouraged merchants to approach the parking change from a “different marketing angle,” underscoring the fact that out of the 1,200 parking meters downtown, the new regulations would affect only 200 of the meters. He cautioned that saying that “parking stinks” is “not good PR, and doesn’t provide good value for the overall Princeton community.”

As for the current status of parking downtown, Mr. Bruschi said that changes in the Spring Street municipal garage involving raising Sunday rates to the regular fee of $1.25 per hour have already been implemented.

While signage has changed downtown, the Borough is delaying enforcement of the extended hour and Sunday parking until “we get full approval from the state’s Department of Transportation,” Mr. Bruschi remarked. Once it is granted, the changes would be phased in gently over a month before major enforcement would be put in place. “We want to do this as positively as we can, with flyers on windshields informing people where parking is free and what the rates are.”

At the meeting’s conclusion, Peter Crowley, President and CEO of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that 1.7 million visitors come to Princeton every year, and that while the Chamber serves 21 municipalities in central New Jersey, Princeton is the most travelled area destination. “All across the state, they are dying to have what Princeton has, so it’s important not to lose sight of that,” he said.

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