News that actors Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck would be filming scenes for the crime thriller Runner, Runner at several sites in Princeton drew hordes of people to town last Friday. The streets, already clogged with holiday shoppers, got even more crowded as visitors anxious for a glimpse of the movie stars quickly filled up parking garages and side streets.
While there were no sightings of Mr. Affleck, Mr. Timberlake was spotted at numerous locations. Chief among them was the 100 block of Nassau Street, where a section of the sidewalk was closed off for approximately an hour while New Regency Productions shot scenes for the film. While some local business owners reached this week said they welcomed the attention, others were angered by the interruption of what they consider a crucial holiday shopping day.
“At 2:45 they closed the sidewalk until 4 p.m.,” complained Henry Landau of the Landau store at 102 Nassau. “We were having a great day, and all of a sudden there’s nobody in the store. It’s ridiculous. One customer had driven from a distance and couldn’t get in. It just shows a total lack of consideration of the merchants.”
Next door to the Landau store at Forest Jewelers, owner Mitch Forest concurred. “Whoever gave permission to do the filming didn’t take into consideration, other than receiving a fee, how it would affect shopping,” he said. “Did they talk to any Borough merchants? If nobody did, then it’s just another indication of how little perhaps those who gave permission understand how business works in the community. It’s almost a disrespect. It killed us for that period of time.”
Borough administrator Bob Bruschi said merchants received hand-delivered notifications about the planned filming. “Clearly there is an impact,” he said. “We tried to make that impact as small as possible. We felt that since they were kind of hop, skipping, and jumping around town at three and a half locations that it wouldn’t be that much of an interruption. We try to be flexible and we feel that in the long term, it’s a good thing. It’s a tough time of year and I know that they want to make their nut, and we want them to do that. But we have to weigh the decision.”
One merchant saw business improve as a result of the filming. “I thought it was great,” said Sal Mazzella, owner of Massimo’s Express at 124 Nassau. “A lot of kids, especially high school girls, who were on the street, came in and got slices, and the movie company ordered 10 pizzas. We had an extra 100 people who came in. This kind of thing brings people to town who usually don’t come. If you live half an hour away and you want to see JT, then you’ll come to town.”
Mr. Mazzella has souvenirs in his store from the making of the film Transformers in 2008. A scene from the movie was shot on the Princeton University campus, and actors Shia LeBoeuf and Megan Fox were among the cast and crew who came in for pizza. “I locked the doors when they came in, and as a thank you they gave me a copy of the Bumblebee [action figure], an autographed script, and a picture of them, which are up on my wall,” he said. “It’s great when that kind of thing happens.”
Brian Harris, manager at Princeton Running Company at 108 Nassau, said he had no complaints about loss of business due to the filming. “There was one period where we didn’t have many customers, but generally we got the business we were going to get for that day,” he said. “A lot of customers said they had a problem parking, though.”
Parking is a constant concern for Dorothea von Moltke, owner of Labyrinth Books at 122 Nassau. While the sidewalk in front of that store was not closed for the filming, the lack of parking added to her worries. “The big thing that was a problem was the traffic snarl,” she said. “As bad as it is on Friday afternoons, and with parking such an issue during the holidays, this made it more of a concern. We are always worried about that because our competition is the malls, which have easy parking. So anything that compounds that is an issue. But we were busy, and because the weather was good it was a fine day for us anyway.”
Mr. Forest said that while he did receive the flyer informing him of the filming, the news came as a last-minute surprise. “They just popped it on us,” he said. “This is a time of year when we need nothing but momentum, and we lost some momentum. Did it tick clients off? Absolutely.”