As Town Topics Has Reported the News, Area Advertisers Have Shared Its Journey
By Jean Stratton
Newspapers tell the stories of our time. They are an essential force in providing information for citizens to make decisions and navigate the changes in their world.
The advent of the internet and the digital age, with constantly advancing technology, has challenged newspapers in numerous ways. Unfortunately, many print papers have been lost, unable to compete in this new world.
Some, though, through the efforts of hardworking staffs, wise leadership decisions, and the continuing support of
readers and loyal advertisers — and good luck — have prevailed.
Town Topics is proud to celebrate its 75th anniversary, and finds itself in a world far different from that of 1946, when it began reporting the news.
Step back for a moment into that world, only one year after the end of World War II. Bricks and mortar establishments were thriving, as people were delighted to “go shopping” after the rationing and shortages of the war years.
Princeton was still a relatively small town. The streetscape was filled with small independent shops and businesses, many of them family-owned and operated. Small markets and grocery stores, gift shops, stationary and toy stores, luggage and tobacconists, men’s and women’s emporiums, bookstores galore, and sheet music businesses were all available; and small hardware shops and pharmacies prospered before the arrival of the big chains.
Harry Truman was president, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, Princeton University undergraduates were all male, and the PC, DVD, CD, smartphone, etc. were barely a glimpse on the high tech horizon.
Everyone read books and magazines, including Life, Look, the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, also movie magazines, and the occasional tabloid such as True Confessions and Confidential.
For those interested in serious national and international news, one could choose from seven New York City dailies, as well as all the Philadelphia papers. News was also available on the radio, but TV had yet to appear, and in the evenings, people listened to their favorite shows.
Visitors to town not only stayed at the historic Nassau Inn but at the much favored Princeton Inn (now a University dormitory). Green space was still abundant in Princeton and nearby areas: development, gridlock, and the Route 1 corridor were all in the future. Traffic tie-ups were a novelty — except on football Saturdays, Reunion weekends, and graduation.
Pen and Paper
People drove American cars, including Studebakers, Packards, Oldsmobiles, and DeSotos. Toyotas, Hondas, and KIAs et al had not yet taken over the highways. Vehicles, other than pickup trucks (mostly seen in the surrounding rural areas) were generally smaller sedans or station wagons. Large SUVs and other king-size cars were nowhere in sight.
And, a little miscellany: other than face-to-face, if you wanted to communicate, it was via telephone, telegram, or letter writing. Pen and paper were necessary for letters — no email, texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. And no zip codes were needed. Just stamps for three cents! Telephone numbers in Princeton began with Walnut 4 or Walnut 1, and there was still an occasional party line, but no call waiting, or caller ID.
Town Topics was there to report it all, and has done so throughout the decades since, witnessing the massive changes in the community and the nation. The space age, men on the moon, presidential assassination and resignation, hippies, music revolutions, VCRs, streaming, and of course, the internet and its resulting metamorphosis of the world.
Fast forward to 2021.
Town Topics is still here, providing readers the current Princeton news, helping them to digest the latest trends and direction of the times, and keeping them up-to-date with news of the shops and stores, which have managed to deal not only with online competition, but for the last year, to navigate the onslaught of a pandemic.
The establishments differ widely in merchandise and types of services; what they share is a commitment to quality products, customer consideration, and support of this newspaper over the years.
Many, fortunately, are still family businesses that have been passed down through the generations. All have remained competitive in changing times and customer tastes, while retaining the individual qualities that make them unique. And, above all, they have stood the test of time.
A favorite place for generations of Princetonians, Hamilton Jewelers (originally known as George Marks Inc.) has been a mainstay in the jewelry business since 1912. It has continued to uphold the tradition of providing the Princeton community with enduring value, exceptional quality, and outstanding service. With an extensive selection of fine jewelry, timepieces, and home decor and giftware items, it offers customers a unique shopping experience.
As president and CEO of Hamilton, Hank Siegel has led the company to new levels of success, while retaining its core values and its character as a family business. “It is an honor and a responsibility,” he says. “Today we have 95 employees. The business stared with three: my grandfather, father, and one employee.”
Irving Siegel, Hank’s grandfather, purchased the business in 1924. His son Martin Siegal (Hank’s father) joined the firm, later becoming president; the family focus continues to this day, now that Hank’s son Andrew is the latest generation to carry on the Hamilton tradition.
Quality jewelry remains a constant in the retail business, but business operation must adapt to changes. And in that regard, this year has been unlike any other during Hank Siegel’s stewardship of Hamilton.
“Certainly, business was challenged when our stores were closed for three months,” he reports. “In our 109-year history, the COVID pandemic was the most challenging situation we have ever faced. We were also very concerned for our many Princeton neighbors, which is why we created the Princeton Community Auction to raise funds for other businesses.
“However, our excellent team was creative, and we immediately added new pieces to our website as well as added services and features, enabling clients to make appointments, arrange visits outside of the store, consult with our team members, and more, which quickly helped our business to recover.”
“That said,” he continues, “unsurprisingly, we continue to find that the purchase of fine jewelry is an experience that people want to have in person with a trusted adviser to guide them, and have the ability to compare items, try them on, and enjoy the experience.”
He adds that while jewelry is always the important gift for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, many people enjoy surprising a family member or friend with a piece of jewelry at any time. This has been true during the past year with the virus.
“People were looking to celebrate with a piece of jewelry. Our engagement ring transactions are way up — more and more couples are getting engaged — and we even had rush orders for wedding rings for couples who decided not to wait until COVID was over but wanted to get married now. Also, Mother’s Day gifts were very big, as well as graduation and other commemorative special occasion gifts.
“We find that customers are willing to celebrate and recognize special moments in their lives throughout the year, and this has been true during COVID.”
Diamonds continue to be No. 1, he notes, but as he points out, “Hamilton is also known for our selection and expertise in colored gemstones, and in addition to emerald, ruby, and sapphire, we have seen interest in tourmaline, multi-colored sapphires, and opal.
“Fine watches have been an important part of our business,” he adds,“and we are known for our outstanding selection in all price ranges, as well our maintenance in-house service center.
Siegel knows that change is here to stay, and Hamilton will adapt to this reality, but its fine quality jewelry and attention to service will never change. As he points out, “I could write a book on the changes in business I have seen in my 40 years with Hamilton. But in terms of the fundamentals that drive our business every day, we are guided by our core values, which have served us well: responsible business practices, integrity, entrepreneurship, hospitality and distinctive service, enduring value, and expertise.”
Emphasizing the unique bounty of each season, Terhune Orchardsis a local treasure year round. Community members and families gather at this country farm to enjoy great food, fresh fruits and vegetables, friendly farm animals, and wine tastings from the farm’s own vineyard winery.
From its beginning, when owners Pam and Gary Mount purchased the orchard in 1975, it has been a special place. The diversity of crops and products has increased, along with the expansion of land. More than 200 acres are now farmed, and the land has been preserved under the Farmland Preservation Act.
Like all businesses, Terhune Orchards has been affected by COVID-19. Fortunately, as Tannwen Mount, daughter of the owners, points out, they have been able to continue without interruption. “Business has changed, but we are thankful that we have not had to close. We have changed how we have operated during this time, and offered different ways of getting our fresh produce and products. With enhanced safety measures, our farm, since it is an outdoor, open air environment, has continued to be a safe place for our community to come.
“We have limited the number of people who are able to come into the farm store at one time, and customers who do not feel comfortable coming inside the store have been purchasing in different ways: online, using delivery, porchside pick-up options, and participating in virtual activities during the winter. All our stands and farm store have shields in front of our cash registers, sanitizer and hand-washing stations for customers, as well as our staff practicing enhanced safety guidelines.”
“During seasonal times,” she continues, “we have an outdoor market to allow for open air shopping and to accommodate additional customers. Seven days a week, we offer delivery and porchside pick-up of everything in our farm store. We have continued to attend Princeton Farmers Market, West Windsor Farmers Market, and we are at our stand at the Trenton Farmers Market three days a week.”
“Many customers, including new ones, have been coming to Terhune Orchards now because they feel more comfortable than at a grocery store,” she said. “They know our food is fresh, local, and we have the open air environment.”
From the beginning, customers have loved Terhune’s apples, peaches, pears, and apple cider. The farm now grows more than 40 different crops and also offers a full bakery, with many products made from Terhune’s own ingredients (apple crisp, cookies, fruit breads, and salsa).Their donuts are always in demand.
Pick-Your-Own crops has been a big addition, allowing customers to experience farming firsthand, adds Tannwen.
“In 2004, we were able to purchase a new farm, which allowed us to seamlessly transition to organic vegetable production. With the new property, we also expanded to include a vineyard in 2005, and we now have 16 different wines.”
Owner Pam Mount is proud that Terhune’s now includes a second generation of the Mount family. “Our daughters Tannwen and Reuwai are now involved full-time, and our six grandchildren, ages 5 to 16, are all nearby. We have always seen ourselves as stewards, not owners, of the land, and wehave passed that concept down to our children.”
Adds Tannwen, “Our customers have continued to support locally grown and the freshest quality produce. We have seen the increasing importance of people wanting to know where the food is coming from and that the local farmer is using safe and sustainable growing practices. As a community farm that has always been open to the public, we feel grateful for our community support over the years, and that has not changed.”
Benvenuta! Buon Appetito! This invitation to enjoy lunch or dinner at Tino’s Artisan Pizza Co. has welcomed customers for 10 years. Located in Kingston, it introduced many diners to Neopolitan-style pizza, which is cooked in terra-cotta ovens from Italy at very high temperatures.
“Because of the high heat, up to 800 degrees, the pizza cooks very fast — in 90 seconds, and this brings out the flavor more intensely,” says owner/chef Tino Procaccini.
Offering high quality food has been his focus since 1999, when he and his brother John Procaccini opened La Borgata Ristorante & Pizzeria in the Kingston Mall. Still in college at the time, Tino attended classes every morning, and then spent afternoons and evenings in the kitchen at the restaurant.
The work ethic has always been a very important concept in the Procaccini family, he notes, and it is still in the forefront of Tino’s business regimen. He has now added new artisan pizzerias in Ocean Grove, Madison, and Jersey City, and there are plans for more.
Each restaurant has felt the impact of COVID-19, he says, and from last March until June, only takeout and curbside pick-up were available. Outdoor dining became popular in the warm weather, and he expects this to continue.
“Fortunately, all of our locations have some sort of outdoor dining so when the weather cooperated, it definitely helped when we had no indoor availability. If there is one positive thing that the pandemic brought to the restaurant industry, it is more outdoor dining — even in the colder days and months. I have a feeling these options will be around more and more moving forward. To think how so many guests braved the cold, eating outside to support their local favorites!”
New rules are now in place for indoor dining, he notes, with indoor capacity increased to 50 percent. “We are still maintaining social distancing within our restaurants along with masks, and we are purchasing a lot of sanitizing products to keep everything as safe as possible.
“Also, so many people are thrilled to be receiving the vaccine, which in turn will create more confidence to actually go out and get back to normal. I think going out to eat is such a big part of human interaction and socialization, and of course, food is what gets us to gather together in the first place.”
In addition to COVID, Tino has seen new challenges and changes during his years in the food industry. Always hard work, requiring a strong sense of dedication and commitment, running a restaurant is now even more work-intensive.
“The industry is getting tougher. A lot of competition, pricing of products and ingredients are increasing, so it’s been getting more and more challenging for sure,” explains Tino. “Sales have been down as a whole during the virus, but we are still producing enough to keep our teams employed, along with paying the bills, so I am grateful. Fortunately, pizza has always been a takeout-friendly option even before the pandemic, so this definitely helps.”
In fact, the popularity of Tino’s pizza and the warm and friendly atmosphere — inside or outside — of the establishment continues to attract customers in large numbers.
“The fact that our concept is all natural, along with a lot of organic ingredients, assures our guests that they are getting the best quality food. Even when customers have a dietary restriction, we do our best to accommodate their needs,” points out Tino. “We notice that some people who have ordered regular pizza crust in the past now order gluten-free or cauliflower crust, which are only a few of the options we have to offer.
“We always try to follow trends as well, tweaking our menu as best we can. We have a very healthy focus. Our concept is all-natural Italian food, using the highest quality ingredients that are sustainable, local, and organic wherever possible — the way it used to be!
“We also make every effort to be environmentally-friendly, operating our family business with green standards in the hope of helping to have a better environment for future generations. I am encouraged with the success of all the restaurants, even during the virus, and I look forward to continuing to serve our customers, and be the best we can be.”
Fun and Functional
What is it about a hardware store that intrigues so many people?
It’s fun! And of course, it is functional, but it is the sheer number of all kinds of different items that appeal. Tools and gadgets, bird feed and garden supplies, ladders and mailboxes, screws and nails, paints, clocks, and cookware — the list goes on!
Smith’s Ace Hardware in the Princeton Shopping Center has all of the above and much, much more. Since its opening in 2002, it has provided Princeton customers with 30,000 items in stock, and with convenient, in-town friendly and knowledgeable service.
“We have expanded the store twice to the 18,000 square feet it is now,” reports owner George Smith. “Also, company-wide, we expanded from three stores (Princeton, Mercerville, and Yardville) to six, with the addition of Chatham, Chester, and Newtown, Pa.”
As the number of stores has grown, so has the inventory, he adds.
“Major additions to our product lines include a 3,000-square-foot gourmet housewares department, as well as the following popular brands: Big Green Egg and Traeger grills, Benjamin Moore and Magnolia paints, Craftsman and Milwaukee tools, Yeti Cooler, and Ego, Toro, and Stihl outdoor power equipment.
“Services we have added include our computerized chip key cutting, an Ace Rewards Program, free delivery on most items, and AceHardware.com online ordering.
“Over the years, many of our original customers have moved from larger homes to smaller ones, including townhouses. We see less ‘do it yourself’ projects and more decorating, such as painting, also gardening, lawncare, and cooking.”
Princeton store manager Carter Allen notes that Smith’s Ace Hardware has managed to deal with the COVID challenge effectively.
“Luckily, Smith’s Ace Hardware company has given our teams the flexibility, support, and responsiveness to balance the needs of our community and each other. Though the pandemic has made much of our day-to-day activities far more complicated and at times difficult, we continue to keep in mind how much more resourceful we can be by working together to serve our customers, community, and team members.
“We have been able to stay open during the past year, and have taken steps during the crisis to meet the changing demands by increasing frequency and thoroughness of cleaning protocols. They include adding multiple sanitizing stations within the building, installing barriers between cashiers and customers, and 6-foot distancing floor signage, etc.”
Allen points out that during the times of increased infection rates, the store was closed for cleaning one day a week in addition to the daily cleaning schedule, but remained open during the rest of the week.
Even with the popularity of hardware stores, Smith’s Ace has faced the same online competition felt by other bricks and mortar establishments, and this was heightened during worries over COVID.
However, adds Allen, “Our customers have increased the scale of their projects and purchases due to the increase of time spent at home. They have been more willing to complete home projects from small to large, and from enjoyable to necessary. Some of the more popular items purchased during the past couple of months include bird feed and sleds.
He and George Smith look forward to more years of being a part of the community. “We have enjoyed our nearly 20-year relationship with the Princeton community. Our goal remains to provide quality products and services at affordable prices with knowledgeable sales people, who are always ready to help customers with advice and information.”
Always in the forefront of fashion, Hedy Shepard LTD is a longtime Princeton favorite. Offering a dynamic collection of all-occasion clothing — career to evening, sophisticated and very wearable — it features the latest styles and fashion choices in all categories.
Despite a pandemic and the challenges of online shopping, this special store remains a go-to resource for women who want stylish and unique fashion.
Originally opened in 1987 by Hedy Shepard, it became the fashion focus for new owners Lynn Rabinowitz and her daughter Rachel Reiss in 2000. The mother-daughter team operated the store together until Lynn’s death last year.
“I am proud to continue the tradition that my mother and I established together,” says Reiss. “I look forward to furthering our focus on personal service and helping customers to look their best.”
Of course, the pandemic underlies much of what people think and do today. After being closed last year from March to June, the shop re-opened its doors and many customers returned, eager to see the latest styles from the shop’s collection of outstanding designers.
Reiss notes that many customers want colorful tops today, also jewelry and scarves. “Things from the waist up! One reason for this is that so many people are on Zoom now, so you see everyone from the waist up.”
During the time the store was closed, Reiss instituted an innovative “Style Boxes” program, which became a big favorite. “We would send a variety of items for clients to choose from. They trust us to know their taste and their height and body shape, etc. We ship all across the country, and the program has become so popular that we will continue it even after the virus is gone. It is fun and functional.”
Now that vaccinations are becoming available, and people are more confident about going out, increasing numbers of customers are visiting the shop, she reports.
“Our success is based on our customers. They are loyal and dedicated to our success. This year has proven that to me. They are coming in and buying with the sole purpose of helping me get through these difficult times. They may not have a need for new clothing right now, but they tell me I better be here when they do!”
She points out that there is really nothing like face-to-face interaction. “We listen to our customers’ needs and desires and try to channel that while we are curating a new season. While online shopping may be convenient, it does not offer the opportunity to listen and hear what people want. Until that happens, it can never compare to what we do within these walls. I know my customers agree. We have created a very large family of friends here!”
“I find it humbling to be a store owner,” she adds. “I’ve told my customers that many times. I am nothing without them and the manufacturers. I am just the middle woman to bring it all together.”
Princeton has been a perfect location for the shop, she reports, and the viability of a thriving downtown is crucial. “Princeton, New Jersey — need we say more! Of course, we need a variety of shops to represent our eclectic community. We have one of the best towns in the United States. Princeton University has certainly given us this opportunity to support a college town. Our downtown businesses should be as equally amazing as the university it supports.
Hedy Shepard LTD will continue to be here, leading the fashion future. As Reiss points out, “Lifestyles may change, but taste never changes. People may be dressing more casually today, but they still want quality.”
And there is still nothing like a new dress, jacket, scarf, or piece of jewelry to create a feel-good moment.
Place To Go
Your son or daughter just threw a baseball through the window; the wind blew the patio table over, and broke the glass top; the king-size mirror fell off the wall — who to call?
Nelson Glass, of course! Since 1949, this has been the place to go, whether for an emergency, a quick fix, or a long-term project.
Nelson Glass & Aluminum is unique in Princeton today. An independent, family-owned and operated business that continues to provide Princeton with knowledgeable, friendly service, and quality products. It has a proud history.
“It all stared in 1949 with one truck and one man, my dad, Bob Nelson, serving one small town,” says owner Robbie Nelson. “Today, 72 years later, we service Princeton and the surrounding area. We do it all — residential and commercial, simple or complex. We are still the one-stop shop for everything glass, including windows, insulating units, tops and shelves, mirrors, shower doors, storms, solar film, and more.
“Also, we don’t really compete with the big box stores with their generic approach to products and customer service. Being the glass company in Princeton for this long has given rise to a huge loyal customer base, which spans generations. We have customers who were classmates of mine at Princeton High School, and whose parents were customers of my dad years back.”
Changing times bring changing needs, and Nelson Glass has always adapted to new markets and directions. After 10 years on Nassau Street and nearly 60 on Spring Street, the company moved to Alexander Road in 2018.
“We started when Princeton was a village,” remarks Nelson. “Spring Street was a good location in the heart of town. But as times have changed, and Princeton has grown, we need more space and more parking. The Alexander Road location is just right, and convenient and easy to get to.”
Keeping up with the changes in today’s rapidly-changing technology is a must for a business, she adds. “We have developed a fabulous website, and are technologically up-to-date, but a huge part of our business is still face-to-face service, Glasswork is highly specialized, and every job is different.”
As it has for everyone, the virus has brought changes to Nelson Glass, but not all have been negative. “We did basically shut down, expect for two of us, through the first few months last spring,” reports Nelson. “I wanted to be here in case of emergency broken windows, for example, that we could address immediately.
“We also had a chance to experiment with PIexiglas and Lexan for shields. Quickly, after reopening in June, we started in with the protective glass and plastic shields for offices, schools, religious gathering places, municipalities, doctors’ and health care offices. Many shields were temporary, but a surprising number were designed to be permanent.”
People have reacted differently during the virus, she adds, and the company has adapted to customers’ needs accordingly. “We found that while many people did not want us in their homes, others were anxious to take advantage of ‘at home’ time to forge ahead with overdue home improvements. We have been installing many new shower enclosures and have helped out with new addition projects. I have to say that, overall, it has been a successful time for Nelson Glass.”
She does note, however, the sad loss of longtime office manager Alice Kent to COVID-19. ”Our good friend and loyal employee, Alice was with us since 1964, and we miss her so much.
“However, we have a great staff, knowledgeable and experienced, and every customer and job gets attention from the entire team. We ensure that your experience with Nelson Glass will exceed your expectations. Come visit us at our spacious shop and showroom. There is plenty of free parking and a social distancing policy to keep everyone safe. Call ahead or when you arrive for masked entry. We are getting through this together!”
John Procaccini, managing partner of the Gretalia Hospitality Group, is a hometown success story. Starting out in the restaurant business in 1999 with his brother Tino, he has continued to expand and widen the lens. A true entrepreneur, he now operates 10 restaurants, and a catering company with his partners, and is looking into offering even more new dining opportunities.
Princeton is home to Trattoria Procaccini and Pj’s Pancake House (also in Kingston), and the latest, More Than Q Barbecue Co., specializing in Texas-Style barbecue, is in West Windsor.
“We were looking to move in a different direction, something unique,” explains Procaccini, referring to More Than Q, which opened in June.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, the timing was right. Increasing in popularity, barbecue in all its forms, appears to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue — literally and figuratively! It is said to be among the most popular foods in the U.S.
And so are pancakes, of course, and Pj’s Pancake House remains a real local favorite. The Italian food offered at Trattoria Procaccini, and the pizza at the Osteria Procaccini’s in the surrounding communities have many fans as well, and as dining indoors begins to increase, all the signs are hopeful.
But it certainly has been a challenging year, says Procaccini. “I think the local restaurants have been hanging tough with the support of our local customers. We are grateful to them for adapting to all our COVID changes and the new way to dine out.
“Outdoor dining was a blessing during the warmer months, and this helped tremendously. It was really the savior of the restaurant industry this past summer. We currently have all our patios open for those who wish to brave the colder temperatures, and as the days get warmer, more customers will want to be outside.”
Indoor dining will resume too, he adds. ”We will now be at 50 percent capacity for small establishments like ours. It doesn’t help as much as for bigger venues because we still need to follow social distancing of tables, and there is only so much room we have to work with. Of course, vaccines will definitely give people more sense of comfort when making a decision to dine out, and this will be helpful.”
Actually, COVID has provided Gretalia with new ideas that may well continue after the virus leaves us. As he points out, “COVID has opened our eyes to many new innovative ideas to make customers feel comfortable eating with us. We have moved to many online delivery platforms, contactless curbside pick-ups, contactless menus via smartphones, and interesting family-style menu additions for customers to enjoy in the comfort of their own home.
“In fact, overall, we have not reduced the size of our menus, but actually increased them.”
Having been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years, Procaccini has witnessed dining tastes change and evolve. Favorites come and go, but quality and healthy eating remains uppermost, he reports.
“The biggest change we have seen over the years is that customers have become more health-conscious and aware of foods that are not good for them. They are looking for healthier options including gluten-free choices, all-natural, organic, and locally grown.
“We were a little ahead of our time as we have been doing this for years, trying to follow more of the Mediterranean way of eating. It is the way we were raised, eating mostly what my dad grew in the garden. We continue to adapt to customer requests, and modify our menus often to keep dining at our restaurants interesting.
“What I really enjoy is the next restaurant, the next opening. This is always a new challenge, a new adventure”
A new dining dynasty in the making!
Staying put for the past several months has led many homeowners to think about a face lift!
Not necessarily a bit of “nip and tuck” here and here around the eyes or to firm up that softening chin line — although they may be options too.
But, more to the point, many people are thinking of ways to create a new look in the house — specifically in the bath and kitchen. Both are hot spots for upgrades.
Improvements to these special places have long been known to boost sale prices for homeowners wishing to sell. But, on the other hand, isn’t it appealing to make some changes just for your own enjoyment? Especially during times that have brought added stress to everyday lives.
Jefferson Bath & Kitchen is just the place to find everything from a new shower head or sink to a bath tub, or all of these if you are ready for a complete remodel.
“Our showroom is currently focused on the bath, but we will be expanding the area to accommodate a variety of kitchen products.” reports owner Jill Jefferson-Miller. “When people come in, they will find a complete showroom, with all the choices and high quality products they need.”
The possibilities are quite remarkable. The latest choices in sinks, tubs and toilets — including those with heated seats, automatic open/close lids, hygienic cleaning wands, and warm air dryers — are all available.
Customers have come to rely on the service, knowledge, and experience of the staff since the showroom opened in 1989. Initially, a division of N.V. Jefferson Plumbing & Heating, it is now under the ownership of Jefferson-Miller. She is the third generation to take part in this family-owned and operated business.
Opened in 1947 by Jefferson-Miller’s grandfather, Norton Jefferson, the company included his brother Bob. His son Bruce (Jefferson-Miller’s father) grew up on the business, becoming owner in 1988.
“The changes and challenges we see these days compared to when my grandparents ran the business are vast and never-ending,” she points out.
Over time, the bath and kitchen showroom was added to the operation, and Jefferson-Miller notes the many changes of that aspect of the business focus.
“The emergence of the internet and online shopping has been one of our biggest challenges — at least for the Bath and Kitchen side of the business. As a small business, it is very difficult to compete with the large on-line distributors.”
What Jefferson Bath & Kitchen can offer, however, is personal, knowledgeable guidance. “I spend a lot of time with my customers finding out what their needs are, their style and taste in design, budget, etc. I answer their questions about the options and how they compare, the quality of products, and how they function.”
She adds that the internet has also been beneficial to the business in a number of ways. “I spend a good deal of time on the internet looking up specifications, ordering materials, and gathering information for products and projects. I can also provide product links to my customers so they can see what we have to offer without having to take time to come into the showroom to make selections. It also allows us to offer more options to the consumer than what we can display in our showroom.”
This has certainly been helpful during the past year as customers and business owners alike have coped with the COVID challenge, and now with easing of restrictions, the showroom is open to customers by appointment, and Jefferson-Miller reports a distinct increase in interest.
“I am actually busier now than I have been in years. I think the spark in business is partly due to people being home this past year. Spending so much time at home has given them the chance to consider improvements. And while some people have suffered financially, others have prospered, and have had a chance to save toward these types of projects.
Reason Or Needs
“We have seen some clients renovating to make their house more marketable for a future sale, and other customers who have just moved to the area and are looking to make their new home more their own.
“It’s very active right now, and it’s hard to believe it is not a result of this past year’s events,”
Whatever the customers’ reasons or needs, Jefferson Bath & Kitchen is an excellent place to start. Jill Jefferson-Miller is pleased to be able to help them create something special.
“Rosedale Mills is not just a pet store, or just a feed store, or just a garden store. It is all of these — but more,” explains owner John Hart Jr. “We have a very loyal clientele. They really appreciate the one-stop shopping we offer with all the pet, horse, and livestock products, garden needs, as well as our great selection of bird feeders, houses, and feed — and so much more.”
For generations of Princetonians, this has been a special place. The original Rosedale Mills was a sawmill and feed supply business. Hart’s great-grandfather, Joseph Hunt owned the mill from 1902 to 1943, when it was sold. It reverted to family ownership in 1950, when John Hart, Sr. and a friend purchased it. The primary business then was feed for cattle.
In time, as farms gave way to development, the focus changed, and emphasis was placed on lawn and garden products, as well as pet food and supplies, animal feed, and a variety of other products.
“The business has certainly changed over time,” he observes, “but the focus on quality products and customer service has remained the same. I am glad to continue our family tradition and be able to serve our loyal customers who have been coming to Rosedale for so many years.”
Now known as an “America’s Country Store” and designated as a Purina Company Signature Design (the only one in New Jersey) it offers a spacious 12,000-square-foot setting. Although a state-of-the-art facility, it still retains the feeling of a country store, reminiscent of the feed and general merchandise stores of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
During the months of COVID, bird feeding and gardening have become increasingly popular, reports Hart. “Many people used to feed birds only in the winter, but now, they are doing it year-round. They enjoy watching them come to the feeders. We have all kinds of bird feed, as well as houses and feeders, including special feeders for hummingbirds.
“People are also more interested in gardening now,” he continues. “They want to spend more time in their backyard gardens, and there is increasing interest in organic gardening too, as people want safe food. It can also be a fun family activity, and gardening is known to be a way to relieve stress.”
Stress relief is certainly important today, as people try to find ways to cope with COVID and the necessity of spending more time at home. Being outside can be helpful, and watching the beauty of a garden unfold after careful planting and tending is surely a welcome sight.
Customers have continued to come to the store during the virus, notes Hart. All the safety precautions are in place, and staff and customers are all very careful “We also offer curbside pick-up service, if customers call ahead with an order, and, in addition, we deliver.”
There is a big supply of pet food, supplies, and toys, as well as a Pet Parlor grooming center for dogs. As many people have been adopting animals during the virus, this part of Rosedale’s business is very much in demand.
In addition, increasing numbers of people are opting to have fresh eggs produced by their own chickens, reports Hart. “This is getting really popular, and we are selling lots of chicks of all kinds. As people have started getting interested in organic food and healthier eating, they now want their own eggs, right in their own back yard. This is not just popular on farms, it is in neighborhoods all over the area, including Princeton.
“We just got in 250 2-day-old baby chicks, and they are now available for purchase. We also sell a lot of different chicken coops.”
Wanting fresh produce is another important trend today, and for serious fresh food buffs, this involves planting their own vegetable garden, he adds. Rosedale has long been a supplier of seeds, vegetable plants and herbs, and of course, flowers too.
Like many bricks and mortar business today, Rosedale Mills faces the challenge of online competition. As Hart points out, however. “People forget when they order online, they can’t get the advice and personal attention that we offer, and that they can get when they actually come here. It is our years of experience and knowledgeable service that sets us apart.”
Indeed, what attracts customers away from the convenience and quick fix of an Amazon purchase? Yes, online shopping is convenient, but it is also impersonal. Increasingly, in our technologically-focused society, to lure customers from the comfort of home and computer, something special must be awaiting them.
They will find it at so many of these Princeton and area businesses, where personal service, warm and friendly environments, and knowledgeable help is always present. And they are here to stay!