April 8, 2015

Town Topics Moves to New Home in Kingston

Town Topics has moved from its most recent home on Witherspoon Street to the historic Union Line Building in Kingston.

“We outgrew our office on Witherspoon Street,” said publisher Lynn Adams Smith. “The move doubles our square footage, giving us ample storage for magazines and newspapers, and triples our number of parking spaces; it not only meets our current needs, it gives us room to expand.”

The move also takes Princeton’s Community Newspaper back into an historic building of similar vintage to the one it left eight years ago when it relocated from 4 Mercer Street. Town Topics had occupied the red-brick building that had previously been Priest’s Pharmacy, for most of the years since its founding in 1946 until 2007. Even today the site is referred to as “the old Town Topics building.”

That building and the paper’s new location stand almost as bookends to Princeton, one at the southern end of Nassau Street close to the intersection with Route 206 and the other on Route 27 just beyond the northern end of town at the crossroads in Kingston.

Founded by Princeton University graduates Donald Stuart and his brother-in-law Dan Coyle together with Don’s wife Emily and Dan’s wife Mary, Town Topics was run as a family business until it was sold to current publisher Lynn Adams Smith in 2001.

Ms. Smith took over the running of the paper with the help of a small group of newspaper employees and Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier, as investors. “I will always be appreciative that Jeb Stuart trusted me to carry on the Town Topics tradition and grateful to Bob for his support,” said Ms. Smith.

Having assured its former owners that Town Topics would retain its independence and not become part of a chain, Ms. Smith has maintained the  newspaper’s look while expanding into new print media. Town Topics is now part of the Witherspoon Media Group, which also publishes Princeton Magazine and Urban Agenda: New York City.

Light-filled Space

The newspaper’s new headquarters dates to 1878 when the Union Line Hotel was erected to serve stage coach traffic between Philadelphia and New York City. The hotel replaced an earlier hostelry, the Withington Inn, which had been destroyed by fire. More recently the building was home to Tuscan Hills.

According to historian Jeanette K. Muser, author of the 1998 pictorial history, Rocky Hill, Kingston and Griggstown, the new Town Topics building sits on what used to be known as the King’s Highway. Following the route of a once-narrow trail formed by Lenni Lenape traveling between the Delaware and Raritan rivers, the road linked New York City and Philadelphia. In 1913, it became part of the Lincoln Highway, the coast-to-coast road that was the result of a national effort to encourage automobile traffic. An interesting history by Ms. Muser of the Kingston area is available online: www.kingstongreenways.org/history.html.

Remodeled by owners Carlo and Raoul Momo in 2009, the building has 4,248 square feet of space on three floors with a basement. It retains its vintage appeal through custom mahogany doors, covered porches, and pine flooring.

“It is fabulous to have Town Topics here in Kingston where we opened our Eno Terra restaurant in 2008 as a companion to our Princeton restaurants; we feel that the histories of Kingston and Princeton are entwined. In fact if you consider that the king is traditionally more important than the prince, what does that tell you about Kingston?” said Raoul Momo.

The Momos are something of champions for the village of Kingston. If Raoul Momo had his way it would be annexed and joined to the municipality of Princeton. “The history of this place is amazing,” he enthused Tuesday while stopping by to welcome the new tenants, “but the bureaucratic hurdles are complex — Kingston comes under four municipalities: South Brunswick, Plainsboro, Franklin Township, and Princeton and it straddles three counties: Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset.”

As entrepreneurs, the Momo brothers faced numerous hurdles when they acquired Kingston’s former Wine Press building. Because there was insufficient parking to serve the anticipated needs of employees, they were required to buy the Union Line Hotel property at 4438 Route 27, which had ample parking in the rear.

Access to parking is now one of the aspects of the move to the new location most appreciated by Town Topics staffers. “It’s a relief to be able to throw away our complicated shared parking roster now that we have parking for everyone and for visitors too,” said Operations Manager Melissa Bilyeu, who has been with the company for more than a decade.

“The new building is filled with light from morning until we leave at night; it has so much more storage too,” said Ms. Bilyeu who coordinated the move from Witherspoon Street. “It was a challenge to get it all done smoothly but we did it and this new space will allow everyone to work at full capacity, and this location offers easy access to Princeton and to Route 1.”

The entire advertising department is located on the first floor in a large open-plan light-filled space with buttermilk yellow walls, masses of windows, a brick fireplace, and wide passageways. “It’s more our style,” said Advertising Director Robin Broomer, who has been with the company for 12 years.

“This space has a wonderful atmosphere and it’s so much easier to communicate with one another,” said newcomer Cybill Tascarella.

Kendra Russell, however, who’s been on the staff for a year and a half, is miffed that she can no longer cycle to work. “It’s not such a safe ride along route 27 but it’s worth it for the space.”

Jennifer Covill agreed. “This improved space is a reminder of how far we have come as Witherspoon Media Group. In the six years that I’ve worked here, we’ve evolved and that will continue here,” she said.

One other task the new tenants had was to have the building wired to meet the needs of a media company. That has pleased Steve Marks, who has been with the company for 12 years. As well as working in the composing room, he’s the go-to IT guy, so it’s no surprise that he thinks the most significant change at the newspaper in recent years is the addition of magazines and the newspaper’s online presence.

The best part of the move from Art Director Jeff Tryon’s point of view is having the writers and the production staff in adjoining rooms. “That’s good for productivity and once we get some carpeting to go under our chairs we’ll be able to stop rolling into the middle of the room,” he laughed. “One of the quirks of being in a historic building is that the floors are not exactly level,” said Mr. Tryon, who has been with Town Topics since 2010 and works on both magazines as well.

After 25 years with Town Topics, Julie Gonzalez-Lavin is one of the few staffers who remember the newspaper at the beginning of its transformation into the digital age. “I came in when Town Topics had just acquired its first computer and I recall the infamous ‘wing mailer,’” a mid-1940s labeling machine that was still in operation when Ms. Smith first joined the paper. “I got tennis elbow using that machine and it was a relief to my arm when the printer took on the task,” Ms. Smith recalled.

“It’s nice to be back in a building that has a rich history, and perhaps even a ghost or two; who knows; perhaps we’ll find out,” said Ms. Gonzalez-Lavin, referring to the legend that 4 Mercer Street is haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Priest, wife of the owner of Priest’s Pharmacy.

“Princeton is an incredible place, Town Topics’s readers are interested in issues that go well beyond municipal boundaries. Town Topics reaches many parts of the greater Princeton area. All of that will continue in our new location,” said Ms. Smith, adding that she will miss some aspects of the old location, such as “hearing and seeing the kids coming and going at Community Park School and witnessing the changes that are to come along the Witherspoon Street corridor.”

Distributed free to every household in Princeton, and to parts of Hopewell, West Windsor, Lawrence, Pennington, Skillman, and South Brunswick, Town Topics will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2016.

The newspaper will have a table at this year’s Communiversity on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. and the staff invites readers to stop by and say hello. The same goes for the new building.