Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 21
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
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Town Topics Celebrates Move to New Home on Witherspoon Street

Linda Arntzenius

Town Topics celebrated a milestone in its 61-year history when it moved from the University-owned building it had occupied at 4 Mercer Street for 57 of its 61 years and took up new quarters in a renovated building at 305 Witherspoon Street.

Past and present employees — including former editor and publisher Jeb Stuart — gathered with friends, advertisers, and new neighbors last Thursday, May 17, to share memories from the newspaper's history and celebrate the move that took place Wednesday, April 18.

When current publisher Lynn Adams Smith heard from her landlord that they wanted to cancel the lease, she was upset at the prospect of having to move out of the building that had been home to Town Topics almost since its inception.

But after finding a new location and going through the process of renovating and refurbishing offices at the paper's new site, Ms. Smith's attitude changed to one of excited anticipation.

"I thought I would but I don't miss the old building — the traffic there was very stressful and even more so at the moment with road work going on there," said Ms. Smith.

The move coincided, and to some extent precipitated, the shift from the by-hand method of pasting up camera-ready-copy for delivery to the printer in Lakewood, New Jersey, to computer generated pages that are now sent digitally. The new technology was learned on the job during the process of refurbishing the new building and planning the move.

"I miss the idea of the old building, the central location and looking out onto the University, feeling that you're in the heart of the town," said staff writer and copy editor Stuart Mitchner.

For Assistant Editor Matthew Hersh the move has been all positive: "People ask me how I like the new building. I love it. This environment is so much more conducive to a smooth workday. It's easier to conduct interviews and liaise with other writers. The architecture worked against us in the old building in a way that was very frustrating," he said.

In addition to current staff, last week's gathering found former owner Jeb Stuart reminiscing with former employees as well as printer Glen Davis, whose Lakeside company Webco has been printing the paper since November 1973.

Besides ticker-tape news releases and the advance of cold type, much of the conversation centered on the newspaper's infamous "wing mailer," a mid-1940s labeling machine that was still in operation when Ms. Smith joined the paper. "I got tennis elbow using that machine and it was a relief to my arm when the printer took on the task," she recalled.

Alison Peebles reminded Mr. Stuart of the time photo captions were switched with unintentionally humorous results. "No, did we make a mistake?" laughed Mr. Stuart.

"In the early 1950s, my aunt Mary Coyle was office manager at Town Topics, where she worked until 1973," he recalled. "At that time, Mrs. Priest, the wife of the owner of Priest's pharmacy that had occupied the building before Town Topics, lived upstairs on the second floor. She was an old lady and infirm and had a nurse with her all the time. Every now and then, Mrs. Priest would fall out of bed and the nurse would call my aunt to have her come up and help her back in again."

Julie Gonzalez-Lavin, who has worked in composing since 1990, asked Mr. Stuart about a story she'd heard of an issue that was printed with an ad placed upside down. "That was in November of 1973, our first issue in cold type and we were working on it until 4 a.m. on Wednesday morning way beyond our usual deadline," said Mr. Stuart of the unforgettable "nightmare" issue.

It's almost 10 years since journalist Barbara Johnson retired from Town Topics. Asked about her feelings toward the paper, she recalled the moment when she was hired by Jeb Stuart to write part-time for the paper. "I nearly did handstands all the way home to Boudinot Street. It was April 1975 and I was so excited, I felt as if I'd had another child."

Ms. Johnson first compiled the calendar and then wrote obituaries and feature articles. "I am still asked to write obits and I care about them a lot. I have all my clippings and I sometimes think of taking the best of my profiles and compiling them into a book."

During her Town Topics tenure, Ms. Johnson recalled meeting some "amazing" Princetonians: physicist Henry DeWolf Smyth and diplomat and historian George F. Kennan in particular came to mind.

"It was a terrific honor when George Kennan asked me to interview him for Town Topics," said Ms. Johnson. "He wanted to thank the people of Princeton but I was so awed, all I could do was a Q&A. He had such a clear and lucid mind. They don't make them like that these days."

While Ms. Johnson said that she hasn't yet written her memoir, she's been tempted to do so. "I've done some genealogy and I'd like to write a memoir in the form of letters to my grandchildren." But the idea has taken a back seat to a busy retirement in which Ms. Johnson enjoys taking classes at Princeton University.


Founded in 1946 by Princeton University graduates Donald Stuart and his brother-in-law Dan Coyle together with Don's wife Emily and Dan's wife Mary, the newspaper continued as a family business until it was sold to current publisher Ms. Smith and her former spouse in 2001.

Ms. Smith, who had been working for the newspaper, convinced Donald Stuart's son Jeb Stuart and his wife Sheila that she was the right person to take over the newspaper that Jeb's father had founded. Protective of the newspaper's independence and loyal readership, Mr. Stuart said at the time that he did not want Town Topics to become part of a chain.

With the help of a small group of the newspaper's employees, some of whom had already retired, as well as the Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier, chairman of the Hillier Group, as a minority investor — Mr. Hillier stepped in at the eleventh hour said Ms. Smith, who took over the running of the paper with the promise that she would retain the look and the traditions of the family business.

Mr. Hillier's firm was responsible for the design of the new building, which was renovated by Faucett Construction.

New Building

The new building has its own place in Princeton History.

Formerly the home of Robert W. Sinkler, his wife Phyllis, and their three daughters — Joyce, Carol, and Ellen — the building has seen extensive renovations to turn it into a professional workspace for writers, editors, and advertising personnel.

According to Joyce Sinkler Robinson, 305 Witherspoon Street was built by her father in 1949. Although her father, a World War II veteran and a graduate in economics from Rutgers University, had not constructed a home before, he set about building the family home because he was unable to acquire a loan that would fund the project.

Phyllis Sinkler drew the architectural plans for the first floor on a piece of cardboard and then told her husband to add on another floor just like it. A physical therapist and trainer for the Princeton University football, basketball, and hockey teams, Mr. Sinkler enlisted members of the football team to help him complete the roof, giving them a case of beer for their efforts. He is remembered by Town Topics staffers whose children attended Community Park School, across the street where he was a familiar presence.

Ms. Robinson, who lives in Yardley and has taught for 30 years in the Princeton Regional Schools — as a third grade teacher at Community Park School — believes that her father would have been happy to have the newspaper in the building.

Also attending last Thursday's party was Ms. Robinson's sister, Carol Sinkler, who now lives in Trenton.

As for the old building, a University spokesperson reported no immediate plans for the property. "Our eventual plan is to have residential spaces upstairs and some type of office use on the first floor, either University or non-University, but that determination has not been made." The building would remain on the tax rolls, she said.

Town Topics Today

Besides publisher Lynn Adams Smith, Town Topics comprises editorial staff: Matthew Hersh, Bill Alden, Stuart Mitchner, Linda Arntzenius, Fritz Marston, and Susan Bell; along with Advertising Director Robin Broomer, Office Manager Melissa Bilyeu, Classifieds Manager Irene Lee, Real Estate Ad Manager Barbara Wenitsky, and Bookkeeper Samantha Eng. Composing room professionals are Julie Gonzalez-Lavin, Stephen Marks, Anne Elliot, Lorraine Edwards, Yeou-Shiuh Hsu, and Rebeka Aginako. Contributing editors also include Jean Stratton, Kam Williams, Donald Gilpin, and Nancy Plum. Photographers are Ed Greenblat, George Vogel, and Bill Allen.

Distributed free to every household in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, and to parts of Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, West Windsor Township, Lawrence Township, Pennington, Montgomery Township, and South Brunswick Township, Town Topics has an estimated readership of 30,000.

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