Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

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Hometown Princeton Still Going Strong, Expecting to Expand Membership Base

Dilshanie Perera

Now in its second year of operation, Hometown Princeton, a network of independently owned local retailers, restaurants, and professional services, is striving to spread its message of supporting community businesses, to expand its membership base, and to continue advocating for a vibrant local economy.

“Hometown Princeton is alive and well for another round,” acknowledged Fran McManus of the Whole Earth Center, also one of the founding members of the organization.

“The ‘buy local’ food movement has gotten a head start on the local economy,” Ms. McManus said, referring to public awareness of purchasing products from area businesses. “It’s interesting; now we’re not just saying you should look for products from local farmers, but that you should also think about purchasing products from locally owned stores. We’re bringing these two stories together.”

Hometown Princeton is largely the brainchild of clothier and retailer Nick Hilton, who founded the organization with a few local merchants last fall. Over the course of the year, they grew their charter membership to 50 local independents.

“The economic and environmental health of a community depends on people who live here patronizing local stores …. Keeping the money in the town strengthens the town itself, and makes it a better destination,” Mr. Hilton said.

“With online, big box, and chain stores, there’s every conceivable kind of competition,” he added. “The time is really right to remind people that downtowns and hometowns are what they are for a certain reason.”

This year, the organization plans to renew its advertising and educational campaign efforts and also extend its reach to local service businesses. The membership rate for the year for new members is $499, and it is $199 to renew a charter membership.

“We’re looking to recruit more services,” Mr. Hilton said. “You don’t have to just be a merchant; the services can include garages, lawyers, chiropractors, any locally owned and locally operated service companies.”

“We have two new members that are nothing like what we have had before,” said Barry Weisfeld of the Princeton Record Exchange of a pair of recent additions to the Hometown Princeton roster.

“They’re both amazing success stories to come out of Princeton,” he remarked, revealing that Princeton University (“The most famous thing in the history of Princeton,” according to Mr. Weisfeld) had joined, and that Heartland Payment Systems, which began as a small credit card processing company and now serves over 250,000 companies nationwide, is also part of the organization.

Given the positive feedback garnered from last year’s “Why I Shop Local” video contest sponsored and operated by Shycast, which even won a Borrell Award of Merit for the project, Hometown Princeton plans to host another video contest, for which they are currently looking for locally-based corporate sponsors.

Other projects include developing a community gift certificate that could be used in any Hometown Princeton affiliated store or business. Ms. McManus said that they are endeavoring to have it ready for purchase by the public in time for the holiday season.

Ms. McManus characterized the beginnings of support for general ‘buy local’ movements as starting in the mid-1990s, and “here we are 15 years later, and finally everyone knows it. It takes a long time for people to figure out how to integrate it into their shopping patterns, and how to fit it into their lives.”

Describing the local independent merchants as a lively, diverse group, as well as the “craziest collection of people,” Ms. McManus emphasized that “it’s fun …. I value that a lot, and it makes the town interesting. You wouldn’t want everything to be the same, and they certainly aren’t.”

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