Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 42
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
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Stores Band Together in Downtown Clean Up

Matthew Hersh

A group of stores on a pivotal stretch of Nassau Street have begun working together to beautify an area that, shop owners say, has long illustrated downtown Princeton’s less attractive side.

Parts of Princeton’s downtown are dirty, merchants said, and following stalled talks about implementing a fee-based special improvement district, or having the Borough rely on committed sweepers, planters, and good Samaritans offering time for street beautification, merchants appear ready to take matters into their own hands.

Just weeks before the planned opening of an independent bookstore, Labyrinth, and the Princeton University Store on the block between South Tulane Street and Witherspoon Street, an improved landscape has already begun to take shape.

This week, new flowers were planted at the base of each tree along that stretch, signifying the first step in what is being described as a phased-in beautification effort, aiming to attract more people to Princeton’s downtown.

“It’s really a cooperative effort,” said Paul Breitman, Princeton University’s general manager for University Services. Princeton University, which announced late last year that Labyrinth Books, an independent band of scholarly bookstores, would open in the former Woolworth building at 116-122 Nassau Street. Princeton University had worked with Micawber Books, whose owners had sought retirement, in acquiring that building at 110 Nassau Street, as part of a choreographed effort to bring more students to Princeton’s downtown, while maintaining the independent feel of the street.

Princeton University purchased 112-114 Nassau in the transaction, and has assumed the lease at 110 Nassau for the Life is Good clothing store. The 116 Nassau side of the Woolworth building will be the home of the Princeton University Store’s apparel shop, and Labyrinth will lease the remaining space there. The University did not purchase the Woolworth building.

So, while the University is not funding the beautification project, Mr. Breitman said, all parties involved have a vested interest in getting that area looking good again. Labyrinth and the U-Store have reached out to other merchants in the area, including Landau, Forest Jewelers, the Princeton Running Co., as well as the management of the Hamilton Jewelers building, in not only planting flowers, but solving trash collection problems there, as well as working with the Borough in garbage can cleaning, and tree trimming.

“Everyone just wants that area to look as good as possible, and they’re working with the Borough, as well as with each other,” Mr. Breitman said. The University, he added, is encouraging its two tenant merchants, Labyrinth and Life is Good, to work with the rest of the street, hoping for a “positive outcome.”

Labyrinth is slated to open November 8, with the U-Store opening November 12, which will bring commerce to those storefronts for the first time in more than six months. And with commercial vitality, Mr. Breitman suggested, should come beautification. “We’re hoping other blocks emulate this type of activity,” he said.

That area is not alone as stores in other sections of downtown have banded together to form alliances with the aim of beautification, or just simple promotion. Chambers Street shops have their own promotional campaign, and a string of stores on South Tulane Street last year worked with the Borough in putting together a sign campaign that allowed for some more visibility from Nassau Street.

However, visibility for stores on Nassau Street, between Tulane and Witherspoon was never a problem, but trash was. Labyrinth will store all trash in the rear of its building prior to pick up, Mr. Breitman said, addressing what had been a significant problem while the Children’s Place and Foot Locker had occupied that space.

“It leaves us to wonder who owned this garbage,” Robert Landau, co-owner of Landau, said in an interview. “At some point, it needs to get cleaned.

“But every year the town generates more and more garbage, and trash maintenance is the most basic of services and it needs to be done better,” he said. “This is our front door.”

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