In Princeton, the day after Thanksgiving, commonly known as "Black Friday," is never quite as exciting as it is on television, where images of wild consumers running over one another at the Wal-Mart starting gates are looped endlessly on newscasts throughout the four-day weekend.
But it is a special day for other reasons in Princeton, where retailers and restaurateurs alike enjoy throngs of crowds coming out to participate in the annual Palmer Square tree lighting or to simply take advantage of what is for most children, and for some adults, a prized day off.
"My customers can get some ideas today: they don't necessarily shop today," said Kathie Marolda, owner of the Cranbury Station Gallery on Palmer Square East. "They do stop in, but I always think of this as the day they bring in their relatives to show off the town. And we're happy to show it off to them."
Some clothing stores, however, benefitted not only from the heavy crowds, but from the fact that Friday was the area's first legitimate cold day. Shoppers were out, but once the cold set in, they realized that now might be the time to buy an extra sweater or coat.
"People finally started to realize that it's not summer anymore and we're finally starting to get into winter," said Henry Landau of Landau's on Nassau Street. That Mother Nature played a beneficial hand in Friday's success as well was evident in the crowd of shoppers that milled around the showroom mid-afternoon.
But the one-two punch of cold weather and the start of intense holiday shopping, Mr. Landau said, was part of a steady increase in business all over town for the past several weeks.
The cold weather helps, but "we've been busy the past three weeks," Mr. Landau said.
Down on Palmer Square West, Princeton For New Orleans, a conglomerate of local merchants, Princeton University, and the municipalities assisting in relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, hosted the kick-off of its gift-wrapping fund-raiser. Shoppers are encouraged to have their gift wrapping done there, and leave a donation for the relief fund.
Volunteer giftwrapper and President of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Kristin Appelget said the goal for the holidays is to bring people in from outside the town boundaries.
A partnership with AmTrak has resulted in posters at New York's Penn Station, Philadelphia's 30th Street Station and at stops along New Jersey Transit's Northeast Corridor line promoting the "Holidays In Princeton" campaign -- an initiative of the Chamber's Visitors and Conventions Bureau and "PAACC the House," the Princeton Area Arts and Cultural Consortium.
"We didn't have to go out and create events," Ms. Appelget said, citing annual performances of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol and the tree lighting. "It was bringing all that together to show to the outside world and maybe people will come into town, get something to eat, see a show, and do some shopping." A Web site, www.HolidaysInPrinceton.com, links to a "Jersey Arts Weekend for Two," whose grand prize includes two nights at the Nassau Inn.
While most merchants know better than to focus too closely on one Black Friday, the official kick-off to the manic shopping season is appropriately named: "It's always our busiest day of the year, whether it's a big shopping day or a big 'looking' day,'" said David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management, echoing Ms. Marolda's observations. "A lot of people come here and if they don't buy today, they'll come back to buy later."
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