March 25, 2020

Another Virtual  Business Forum to Be Held This Week

By Anne Levin

As the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses quickly became a reality just over a week ago, Mayor Liz Lempert reached out to James Steward, director of Princeton University Art Museum and a board member of the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA), for ideas. How could small- and mid-sized businesses manage throughout the crisis?

The conversation resulted in the first Virtual Princeton Business Forum, held last Thursday and “attended” by some 82 interested parties, via Zoom. The conversation, which was led by Steward, will be repeated this Thursday, March 26 at 10 a.m., with a representative from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority on hand to answer question about loans, financing, and technical assistance. The virtual gathering is presented by the PMA, and is open to members and non-members.

“I knew that step one was to create an opportunity for people to come together sooner rather than later,” said Steward, who will host the second event. “The pace with which this crisis has unfolded was leaving people feeling isolated and frightened and alone. And that includes the business community.”

Among those who posed questions and comments during the first forum were proprietors of Labyrinth Books, Casa Aziz, Princeton Garden Theatre, Jammin’ Crepes, Bella Boutique, Homestead Princeton, and Thomas Sweet. Marco Cucchi, who owns Thomas Sweet, said concerns about the health of his employees led him to close all four of the ice cream café’s locations, in the hopes that they could get a jump on securing unemployment compensation. Jack Morrison, PMA president and owner of the JM Group’s five restaurants, offered to be a resource on the employee question, having established a Go Fund Me account for his workers.

Lempert spoke about the website that has been established as a one-stop source during the crisis. “People want to help the business community,” she said. “This group should channel that.” Commenting on whether people are following social distantancing, she said, “We’re counting on the worst actor to be behaving in the best way possible.”

In an email this week, Lempert said of the forum, “From the municipal government side, we wanted to hear about what more we could be doing to help out businesses and their employees, and connect them to available resources. And we wanted to hear directly from the business owners about their immediate concerns. The meeting also gave merchants a chance to ask questions of our health officer and to hear from each other about their plans.”

Steward said he was pleased with the fact that more than 80 people chose to participate in the forum. “I was not super optimistic about getting the word out, so I think 82 was a robust number,” he said. “And it went well. There was a lovely degree of human compassion, and enough participants to talk about their pain and be a community.”

“The town/gown thing can sometimes get in the way,” he continued, referring to relations between the University and the municipality. “But here, that didn’t seem to be the case.”

A few days before the business forum, the Arts Council of Princeton and the Princeton Senior Resource Center helped convene a similar meeting with executive directors of some of the town’s nonprofits.

“COVID-19 is a health crisis, but it is also an economic crisis,” Lempert said. “We need to be thinking now about how we can best support our local businesses and position ourselves as a community so that when we reach the other side of this pandemic, we are ready to rebuild a strong, resilient, and interconnected local economy.”

To participate in the Thursday, March 26 forum at 10 a.m., join at The meeting ID is 328 214 452.

For more information, visit