July 25, 2012

Retail Changes Underway in Town and Malls

Construction and renovation crews have been a significant presence this summer in downtown Princeton and area malls. Change is underway at several retail and restaurant establishments. Much of Quaker Bridge Mall has been involved in construction, and several new tenants have been announced for neighboring MarketFair.

In Princeton Borough, crews have been busy for months gutting the inside of the former Lahiere’s restaurant on Witherspoon Street. Construction workers at the site say an American restaurant with a long bar is being installed, but an official announcement of just what establishment is moving in has yet to be made.

Up a stairway behind Redding Plumbing on East Nassau Street, there was good news this week for patrons of the Nearly New Shop, a fixture in town since the 1940s. Moira Mittnacht, who worked in the store for 12 years, has taken it over from Princeton Day School. The school announced this spring that it was going to close the shop, which was founded as a fund raiser. Ms. Mittnacht plans to reopen it the day after Labor Day.

“I just couldn’t walk away from it,” she said Tuesday morning as she shoved several bulging bags of clothing, to be picked up by the Rescue Mission, out the door. “Yesterday was bag sale day so we’re really cleaned out, but we’ll have plenty when we open again in September.”

The Nearly New Shop sells used clothing, small appliances, and books for bargain prices. Patrons range from needy residents and workers in the area to Princeton University students and professors. “The kids in the eating clubs really depend on us for their parties that have different themes,” Ms. Mittnacht said. “They email me with their party themes, and I’ll save stuff for them. Like if they’re having an 80’s night, I know what to put aside.”

Many low-income workers in the area count on the store for clothing. “Everything is clean and in good condition,” Ms. Mittnacht said. “I always have a rack of tee-shirts for a dollar, for guys who are mowing lawns.”

Ms. Mittnacht began volunteering in the shop when her children were students at PDS. The school decided to close the shop last spring in order to focus on other fund raising projects. “I’m not sure they realized the impact the store has on the community,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe the letters we were getting. People were so upset. This is a place they can shop with dignity, for quality clothing.”

Ms. Mittnacht is in the process of cleaning, decorating, and restocking the shop. She is meeting with local business people to get advice on whether to remain a non-profit, and how to continue to donate some proceeds to PDS. The store did not accept credit cards in the past, but will do so when it reopens. Hours will change slightly, opening at 11 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. Ms. Mittnacht is considering whether to make room in the shop for a seamstress.

“It’s my goal to keep the prices low and the quality high, and to just keep it going,” she said. “We’ll have all new stuff for fall.”

Palmer Square

On Palmer Square, the store that formerly housed Banana Republic is being turned into Brooks Brothers, with an expected October opening. Banana Republic has moved to MarketFair. Urban Outfitters is expected to move in November into the former Talbot’s store on Nassau Street, while Talbot’s is consolidating with its second store, formerly Talbot’s Petites, just a few doors down. Urban Outfitters will occupy two floors of the building. Talbot’s was using the second floor space for offices and storage.

Anita Fresolone of Palmer Square Management said that the announcements a few months ago of Brooks Brothers and Urban Outfitters on the office’s Facebook page generated positive feedback. “It was one of the larger responses we’ve gotten; dozens and dozens of ‘likes,’” she said. “All ages responded. We’re bringing two totally different concepts opening within a few months of each other.”

Other Palmer Square changes include the expansion of Lace Silhouettes into the spot where Bucks County Dry Goods has been located, with that store moving up the street. “That’s a success story, and we like that,” said Ms. Fresolone. “It’s a store that has been here a long time and is moving to a larger location.”

A new restaurant called Mistral is moving into the spot formerly occupied by the restaurant Zen, and before that, Ichiban, in the small strip mall at Witherspoon and Hulfish streets. This is a co-venture of Scott Anderson, the chef at nearby elements, and businessman Steve Distler, elements’ co-owner. Set to open sometime this fall, the restaurant will have about 45 seats inside with the possibility of another 40 outside. It will not have a liquor license.

Mr. Anderson told the website eater.com earlier this month that the restaurant will be casual and serve small plates. “You won’t be able to classify it as tapas or any other type of cuisine,” he said. “We’ll be doing the interpretive American cooking I’ve always talked about …. The kids from Princeton can come in and eat, or even high-schoolers who want a nice night out or are on a date.”

Mistral will have a wood-fired oven and raw bar. Mr. Anderson is working on a charcuterie program and several pastas for the menu, according to the website.

Quaker Bridge Mall

Much of Quaker Bridge Mall has been covered in protective plastic this summer as crews work on a new look for the 36-year-old shopping center in Lawrence Township on Route 1. While the anchor stores Lord & Taylor, Sears, Macy’s, and J.C. Penney will remain, several changes are underway. New retailers include Michael Kors, Pandora, Sephora, Sur le Table, Teavana, Ann Taylor, H&M, and Brighton Collectibles. The Cheesecake Factory restaurant is under construction. Another eatery will also be coming to the mall, but mall marketing director Marian Kapp declined to name it because negotiations are still ongoing.

“We’re getting new tiles, new railings, ceilings, skylights, and landscaping,” she said. “The mall obviously needed a facelift. We originally announced a renovation a few years ago but the scope changed slightly. There is a demand in the market for fashion-forward stores. We get that request constantly. We were listening to our customers.”

The question of whether the Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus stores will come to the mall, as originally announced, is “on hold,” Ms. Kapp said. The mall will have a new food court on the upper level, in space that formerly housed part of the Old Navy store and other retail space. Ms. Kapp preferred not to say which eateries will be installed in the court, since negotiations are not complete.


Across Route 1 and slightly north is MarketFair, where four new restaurants, the West Elm furniture store, and a relocated and retooled Barnes & Noble are part of the changes targeted for the next two years. Valet parking and new business fronts are part of the plan for a village-like atmosphere.

The new Barnes & Noble “flagship” store will open in September 2013 under the company’s new design, which is focused on e-books and new publishing technology, but will still sell books. The bookstore, which will remain open during the renovations, will relocate to the north end of the mall.

The new restaurants Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze will be placed in the location currently occupied by Barnes & Noble. Eastern Mountain Sports will also be moved from its current spot to the existing Barnes & Noble space. Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace and Qdoba will be located in the mall’s west corridor near West Elm, which is being built out in the former food court space. The food court closed in late April. MarketFair officials declined to comment on whether the food court will be relocated and reopened.

The mall opened in 1986. Princeton architect Michael Graves designed new interior and exterior touches in 2008, beginning the makeover that is expected to be completed at the end of 2014.