Despite the recent sale of Princeton Shopping Center and the termination of its manager and some of its maintenance staff, patrons should not expect to see any significant changes to the North Harrison Street complex and its place in the community, according to the new owner. Jodie McLean, president and chief investment officer of Edens, the South Carolina-based real estate firm, said Monday that the shopping center’s schedule of concerts, gatherings, and cultural events will continue.
“We love Princeton. We love the Princeton community. We find it very much in sync with our own corporate values,” Ms. McLean said. “We believe that our role is to enhance community, and that is retail’s role. We have to be more than just a spot where people come for commodity-type transactions. We have to be fully integrated with the community and be a place where people come multiple times per week.”
Edens purchased the complex of retail shops, restaurants, and other businesses from George Comfort & Sons, which has owned the center since 1983, for an undisclosed sum last week. The 46-year-old firm owns open-air shopping centers up and down the east and west coasts and has regional offices in Boston, New York, Atlanta, and Miami. Edens had been eyeing Princeton Shopping Center for a long time when the sale became a possibility.
“It was not widely marketed,” Ms. McLean said. “This was a center we had identified a while ago that if the opportunity ever came up, we would love to be a part of the Princeton community. We kept in very close contact with the owner, and finally the timing was right for them.”
While longtime manager Chris Hanington and three maintenance staff members were let go when the sale went through, Ms. Mclean said assistant property manager Julie Drobits will remain in the property management office “in the same capacity as before. Julie continues to be employed on site, and she will be there on a daily basis and work closely with the Edens’ team.”
Last Friday, Marlene Marlowe of Marlowe’s Jewelry Repair, a shopping center fixture for 23 years, glanced out the shop window at trash that was beginning to pile up outside. “I’m very annoyed that they got rid of everyone,” she said. “We were running very well, there was never any complaint about maintenance. Hopefully they’ll come in and do the right thing.”
T.J. Tindall, owner of The Light Gallery, said he was surprised by the news of the sale and was dismayed to learn that maintenance staff had been let go. “It’s a little bit of a disconcerting way for them to start out,” he said. “But I’m sure they have their own people in place. We’ll just have to wait and see. We’re all curious.”
Ms. McLean said maintenance will continue as usual, but with new people. “We will have some continued on-site personnel, and we will have some continued third party vendors. But the level of service to the community and the retailers should not be affected,” she said.
Asked if a branch of the U.S. Post Office, which was previously located in the center, might re-open there again now that the branch in Palmer Square is scheduled to be closed, Ms. McLean would not say yes or no. “As of now,” she said, “the post office is undetermined. We love the retailers who are there today. But there is an opportunity to bring in some new retailers. There are a few vacancies. But the post office, right now, is not somebody we are engaged with.”
George Smith, owner of Smith’s Ace Hardware, said he worries that the shopping center’s unique sense of community might be affected by the new ownership. “Our concerns would be all of the events that were held here,” he said. “Chris [Hanington] was always there, making sure everything was okay. She was here pretty much every day, and for all the events. This shopping center is so unique. People come here for concerts and things like that, and it’s a nice thing. They advertise themselves as being community-oriented, but what does that mean?”
Ms. McLean said community events such as the Summer Courtyard Concert Series and the Halloween Parade will continue as before. “We will continue to be engaged with the Arts Council,” she said. “Whatever is planned for this summer is still planned for this summer. We’re attracted to how the community engages here, and we want to continue that. If we change anything, it will only be to enhance it. We plan to work with the same partners in the community and we want to dispel any concerns over that.”