At a meeting March 13 at the Chestnut Street Firehouse, residents of the “tree streets” neighborhood will have a chance to hear from representatives of 7-Eleven, the company that wants to put a convenience store into the East Nassau Street property most recently occupied by West Coast Video.
The Bratman family, owners of the building at 259 Nassau Street, have an agreement in principle to rent to 7-Eleven subject to municipal approvals. Situated next to a building owned by the Carnevale family, which most recently housed Olive May market, the large parcel has been the subject of controversy in recent years among local residents, the municipality, and the owners seeking to attract viable tenants. Princeton University also owns a portion of the site.
Mr. Bratman said last week that he hopes residents will attend the meeting with an open mind. “What people need to understand is this: The taxes are very high,” he said. “I’ve been attending Council and zoning hearings for the past five or six years and I’ve heard a consistent theme. People wanted food, as in a grocery. The problem is the density of that part of town can’t support a full-blown grocery, as Davidson’s and Wild Oats and Olive May markets showed when they came and went.
“So the question is, what can be there that can offer food? From what I understand, 7-Eleven is going through a transformation and trying to offer fresh choices like fruits and fresh sandwiches. It’s not your father’s 7-Eleven. Is it an organic grocery store? No, but I think it really is an answer to what I think people have been asking for.”
A neighborhood-wide survey completed in 2012 indicated that while residents were in favor of a food market of some sort, they were against fast food restaurants — especially those with a drive-through window. While 7-Eleven stores do not have drive-through access, they are usually open 24 hours a day.
“On their website, it says that most or almost all of their stores are open 24-7-365,” said Marty Schneiderman, a neighborhood resident and one of the people who created the survey. “There are concerns about that. If they could be closed sometime in the middle of the night, that would be a good idea. You have residences that back up right behind that property.”
Municipal Planning Director Lee Solow said last week that there is no provision in the ordinance, which was revised at the end of 2012 to be an SB (Service Business) zone, that prevents a business from being open 24 hours. A spokesperson for 7-Eleven, which is based in Dallas, said Tuesday that the store would likely be open 24 hours, but “considerable remodeling” would provide proper barriers between houses and the store.
“We are a 24-hour store, and we want to be open whenever people need us,” said Margaret Chabris, the spokesperson. “If we do go forward with this, we plan to include environmentally friendly LED lighting inside and outside. Also, the direction of the lighting will be situated not to disturb nearby residents.”
The building at 259 Nassau Street was a garage before Mr. Bratman’s parents purchased it in 1964 and opened a Viking Furniture store. A Jack and Jill convenience store was on one side and a coin-operated laundry was located in the back. Mr. Bratman’s father closed the furniture store in 1986, but the laundromat remained until a few years ago.
A Wawa convenience store was installed briefly before the Bratmans leased the store to Eckerd Drugs, which was almost immediately purchased by the Rite Aid chain. Since Rite Aid already had a location in Princeton Shopping Center, they closed the Nassau Street store and sublet to West Coast Video, which closed in 2005. Rite Aid’s lease runs until 2015.
Mr. Bratman said he does not plan to do anything to the existing building. The back space has been renovated and an additional tenant is being sought.
“If they’re not making any changes to the physical property itself, the questions are whether there will be parking and for how many cars, and whether there will be landscaping to create a barrier between the headlights of the cars and the homes that are behind there on Murray Place,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “And not just little bushes. They’ll need landscaping that is significant and able to block the light.”
Ms. Chabris said that remodeling would also include a trash enclosure. Noting that area residents have said they were in favor of a local business taking over the site, she said that 7-Eleven is a franchise company. “Our goal is to provide an opportunity for a local resident, which would make it a locally run business,” she said.
Mr. Bratman sent emails to neighborhood residents informing them of the plan for 7-Eleven and the public meeting that will be held next week. Representatives from 7-Eleven are to be on hand to explain their concept for the site, which Ms. Chabris said will include an interior floor plan. “We don’t typically do this, but we will show them how the interior will look, with movable tables and seating.”
She confirmed that the 7-Eleven chain is now emphasizing fresh items. “We have a wide variety of fresh and better-for-you foods made each day and delivered,” she said.
The plan does not become official until it goes through the approval process. “We understand they want to present their plan and we look forward to it,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We certainly also hope they will listen to people’s interests and concerns, and be responsive to what they want to do. That’s the way it works best.”