March 16, 2016

Advertisers Past and Present Have Shared Town Topics’ Commitment to the Community

The news, of course, is the foundation of any newspaper. Right alongside, however, are the advertisers, who support and contribute to the success of the publication.

As Town Topics marks its 70th anniversary, it has been fortunate to count upon many loyal advertisers over the years. They differ widely in merchandise and type of services; what they share is a commitment to quality products, customer consideration, and support of this newspaper over many years.

Many are family businesses, which have been passed down through the generations. All have remained competitive in changing times and 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, Rosedale Mills specializes in pet products, animal feed, equestrian-related items, including saddles and tack, and garden supplies. It has a long history dating to the 1800s, and it is a true family business, says owner John Hart, Jr.

Family Ownership

The original Rosedale Mills was a saw mill and feed supply business. Mr. 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 the 1960s, the focus changed, as farms began to give way to development, recalls Betty Hart, Mr. Hart’s mother, and wife of then John Hart, Sr. “The major change was adding lawn and garden products. In addition, feed for animals, pet food and supplies, among a variety of other products, were emphasized.”

The store, now located on Titus Mill Road in Pennington, recently added a selection of equestrian clothing and gear, notes Mr. Hart, who also looks forward to including his own farm-raised beef, poultry, and pork.

“I have been a life-long farmer, and I have a farm nearby. We raise cattle, chicken, and pigs, and we will soon have these products available for our customers.”

“The business has certainly changed over time,” he adds, “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.”

Hulit’s Shoes is a Princeton tradition. The store has provided generations of Princetonians (including Albert Einstein) with footwear. With changes peppering the town seemingly non-stop, Hulit’s offers a sense of continuity and durability, as well as a fine selection of shoes for the entire family.

Founded in 1929 by Warren Hulit, the store has been a Nassau Street mainstay. Family members have been actively involved in the store through the years. Warren’s sons, Ralph and Pete Hulit, were known to many shoppers, and his daughters, Nellie Meyers and Lillian Hall, were on hand too. His daughter Clara Hulit and her husband Charlie Simone, also in the store, were the parents of current owner Chuck Simone.

“I started working part-time in high school and then full-time in 1971,” he says. “I became owner with my late wife Phyllis in 1987.”

Entire Family

He is pleased now that his son Ryan, representing another generation, is continuing the family tradition, and has become manager.

“This store serves the entire family, and that is sort of a dying breed these days,” points out Mr. Simone. “We try very hard to emphasize service, and we make a special effort to fit the shoe. We know how to fit children’s shoes, for example.”

Indeed, Hulit’s has seen many children grow up over the years, he adds. “We have seen so many families coming in, and we’ve gotten to know them. We now see their children and even the great-grandchildren of customers from the early days.”

The more informal life-style of society these days has been reflected in the shoe business, and as Mr. Simone says, comfort is a major goal. “People want to be comfortable today, and this is true in dress shoes too. We have shoes from all over the world now, and can provide something for everyone’s needs and taste.

What customers appreciate in addition to the extensive selection of footwear is Hulit’s special brand of individual service.

“We offer a lot of personal attention,” says Mr. Simone, “and I think people like the way they are treated here.”

Batch of Blueberries

It was 1939 when Charles Peterson, Jr., then six years old, went out to pick a batch of blueberries, and then proceeded to sell them.

The late Mr. Peterson’s early entry into business proved so successful that he built his fledgling operation into Peterson’s Nursery, Garden Center & Landscaping in Lawrenceville.

Mr. Peterson’s son Charles III, daughter Liz, and his widow Linda now operate the business.

“We have evolved from a seasonal produce business to a year-round garden center, nursery, and landscaping business, and with a second generation family operation, we have many customers who come in, saying, ‘My father always got his tomato plants at Peterson’s;’ or ‘I remember helping my mother choose flowers at Peterson’s for our garden;’ and ‘When I was a kid, we always came here to get our Christmas tree,’” reports Mrs. Peterson.

She adds that the emphasis may shift a bit but that people will always be interested in gardening. “Large gardens may give way to smaller gardens, raised beds, or container plants, but people still enjoy ‘digging in the dirt!’

“Plant choices and growing methods are changing as people move to more natural and organic methods. Peterson’s has long been a leader in encouraging the use of non-chemical gardening products. Charles Peterson, Jr. always suggested using natural, organic fertilizers, and advocated the use of natural seaweed products in the 1980s, way before the flood of ‘natural/organic’ products came on the market. Charlie did a lot of research on insect control in the greenhouse, and Peterson’s has been selling ladybugs for natural aphid control for many, many years.”

Personal Touch

The internet has certainly brought changes, continues Mrs. Peterson. “We can order products or connect with customers in such a short time. But the internet removes the personal relationship that we like to build with our customers. And internet pictures are not always accurate when it comes to colors and shades of colors. Words do not always describe a plant correctly.

“Gardeners want a hands-on buying experience when it comes to plants. They want to be able to see and touch what they are buying. When shopping at Peterson’s, our customers can see how different colors and flowers will go together in their garden or landscape. They appreciate talking with our knowledgeable staff. Charlie’s daughter, Liz, and son, Charlie have been involved with plants all their lives, and can offer advice about what will grow in the sun or shade or what the watering needs are of a specific plant. They can recommend what will grow in the sun in a dark corner of their living room, or what will survive on their hot, sunny deck, or what will screen a swimming pool from neighbors. Internet shopping does not provide that personal connection.”

“The changes and challenges we see these days compared to when my grandparents ran the business are vast and never-ending,” points out Jill Jefferson-Miller, product manager of Jefferson Bath and Kitchen, a division of N.C. Jefferson Plumbing, Heating & A/C.

Opened in 1947 by Ms. Jefferson’s grandfather, Norton Jefferson, the company included his brother Bob. His son Bruce (Jill’s father) grew up in the business, becoming owner in 1988.

Over time, a bath and kitchen showroom, now located on the Princeton-Hightstown Road in Princeton Junction, was added to the operation, and Ms. Jefferson-Miller notes the many changes of that aspect of Jefferson’s focus.

“The emergence of the internet and on-line shopping has been one of our biggest challenges this past decade — at least for the Bath and Kitchen side of our business. As a small business, it is impossible to compete with the large on-line distributors.”

Product Links

What Jefferson Bath and 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. I then provide detailed quotes and always offer a discount off the manufacturer list price.”

Ms. Jefferson-Miller adds that the internet has also been beneficial to business in a number of ways. “I probably spend half my time on the internet looking up specifications, ordering material, and gathering information for products and projects. I 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.”

Focus on quality and customer service remain foremost at Jefferson, she emphasizes. “We still offer the same high quality, personal service to all our customers. We’re a family business, and we work in a very small radius surrounding the Princeton area. Our customers are like family, and we instill that philosophy with our technicians to ensure that they treat each home and homeowner with the utmost respect.

“We’ve been in business for 60 years next month, and Princeton has been a wonderful place to do business. Many of our customers remember my grandfather and have been loyal to us from the beginning. We now work for many of the children and grandchildren of those customers. We are multi-generational on the business side and on the consumer side as well!”

A mainstay in the jewelry field since 1912, originally as George Marks Inc., Hamilton Jewelers has upheld 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 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 more than 100 employees. The business started with three — my grandfather, grandmother, and one employee.”

Dream of a Father

Irving Siegel, Hank’s grandfather, purchased the business in 1924. His son, Martin (Hank’s father) joined the business, later becoming president. Hank shares his father’s philosophy regarding values in business and family. As Martin Siegel says, “I started to help my dad in the business when I was 12 years old. I never thought of doing anything else. I came on board formally in 1955, and now my son Hank is president and CEO. It has meant more than I ever expected to have the family business continue. It’s a dream of a father, passed on to a son and a grandson.”

Most recently, Hamilton has added a new Nassau Street storefront, H1912, nearby the flagship Hamilton location. Featuring vintage jewelry, watches, and special items with a unique heritage, it offers yet another intriguing Hamilton shopping experience.

Still going strong after 67 years of service, Nelson Glass & Aluminum Co. is an independent, family-owned firm on Spring Street, offering a wealth of experience in the glass business.

“It all started in 1949 with one truck and one man, my dad, Bob Nelson, serving one small town,” says owner Robbie Nelson. “Today, nearly 67 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.”

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 an interactive Facebook presence, but a huge part of our business is still face-to-face service. Glasswork is highly specialized, and every job is different.

“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 nearly 67 years has given rise to a huge, loyal customer base, which spans generations. We have customers who were classmates of mine at Princeton High School, whose parents were customers of my dad years back. Of course, long-time employee Alice Kent, with more than 52 years with Nelson Glass, has been the continuous thread through the generations.”

Early Days

Buying or selling a house is one of the most challenging experiences one encounters. A knowledgeable, reputable real estate broker can make all the difference. Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty is such a resource. The result of a merger in 2012 of two of Princeton’s most respected realtors, this company specializes in residential brokerage.

“The heritage of Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty dates back to 1953 when my grandfather, John T. Henderson, Sr. opened his first office located on Alexander Street,” says Judson R. Henderson, Broker of Record. “Since those early days, the company has thrived and entered the 21st century with a third generation of Hendersons actively managing this exceptional boutique business.

“In 1974, Pete Callaway founded N.T. Callaway Real Estate, also opening his first office in Princeton. Like our family’s firm, N.T. Callaway Real Estate grew, adding offices in several strategically located area communities.”

Keeping up with the clients’ tastes, demands, and needs is challenging, adds Mr. Henderson. “Certainly, buyer demands have changed over time, and like most trends, they are constantly evolving. One consistent theme, however, is that a coveted location is still the most important trend for buyers.”

In addition, he points out, “The advent of the internet and now social media have been the two single biggest changes to the way we market real estate. As a smaller, local owner and based company, our Sotheby’s International Realty platform puts us in front of the right potential buyers on a global level. We pride ourselves on knowing that we are small enough to adapt to the latest technology changes when needed but large enough to make sure we get their sellers’ properties in front of the world.

Ultimately, he adds, “We believe that it is our commitment to the community in which we live that sets us apart. We see community involvement as a passionate obligation. We work and live here, and we’ve been doing it for decades. That resonates with our buyer and seller clients alike.”

“Next Best Thing”

What is so intriguing about Landau is that you will always find something new and often, something unexpected.

Long known as the place to go for wool, this Nassau Street favorite still has a wide selection of sweaters, throws, scarves, and other wool items. In addition, however, customers will find a variety of other hard-to-resist choices: caps, hats, coats, jackets, Princeton University insignia apparel, gloves, sheepskin slippers, and the special “Einstein Corner” filled with newspaper articles, photos, and books about Princeton’s famous former resident. This is all in keeping with co-owner Robert Landau’s philosophy of finding the “next best thing.”

“We pursue what people want,” he explains, “and we have been able to mold our direction. The key is when something is special to extend the offering so that many customers can get it.”

Indeed, a keen awareness of what customers like and will buy has been a strong focus for Landau since Henry Landau opened it as a dry goods store in Jersey City in 1914. “The principle has always been the same,” points out his grandson Robert. “You try to find quality merchandise that will last and that people will buy.”

In 1955, Mr. Landau’s father and mother, David and Evelyn Landau, moved the store to Princeton, and from that point on, it has been a process of evolution, notes Robert.

In addition to his own and his brother and co-owner Henry Landau’s acute business sense, a major reason for success is that they operate a very hands-on store. Both are buyers, and are on the floor with customers.

“Because we are here, we can observe, hear things, and see whether our ideas work. Our forte is seeing the enthusiasm of customers when they like something or knowing when they don’t want something and why,” explains Robert.

Changing Times

“Adapting to changing times is a requisite for survival,” he adds. “You have to adapt to what is going on, and we have been able to do that.”

Princeton is a unique location, he points out, with visitors from all over the world, and many find their way to Landau. “People come from all over the world to visit Princeton University, and half of our business is University-related. People visit the campus, and then walk across the street and stop in to see our store.”

An advertiser in Town Topics every week since the store opened, Mr. Landau is proud of the Landau tradition and the loyal customers, who are eager to find that “next best thing.”

Princeton is fortunate to have Stockton Real Estate LLC to help buyers and sellers complete the perfect real estate transaction. It has become a true Princeton tradition, and owner Martha (Marty) Stockton recalls the history of the firm started by her mother Anne (Nannie) Stockton in 1974.

“My mother worked for Lawrence Norris Kerr from 1960, then bought 32 Chambers Street from ‘Lawrie’ when he retired in 1974. I worked part-time for my mother from 1982 to 1990, when I came on full time, In 2000, I became owner, and I changed it to Stockton Real Estate, LLC, and at that time, started our orange and black sign.

“My office is a boutique office. We specialize in service. The agents and brokers here strive for perfection when it comes to helping a client or customer through the process. And, we have all of the technology to handle things the way the public demands — quick and thorough!”

Major Purchase

Ms. Stockton notes the importance of the internet in the real estate business today. “Gathering as much information for a home buyer and seller is the key so that everyone can make intelligent and smart decisions. It is a major purchase for most people, and one needs to know as much as possible.

“Instantaneous information has saved hours; in the past, we would spend a lot more time tracking down information for people.”

Regarding buyers’ choices these days, Ms. Stockton points out that “Everyone is way too busy today. Most people want to move into something that is ready to go, be it new — or if it is old, it must have newer kitchens and baths.

“We handle about a nine-mile radius of Princeton, and repeat customers are an excellent source of our business. I am in the process of selling a property right now that one of our agents sold in 1989. I found that 1989 file, which surprised even me!”

What is it about a Volvo? This automobile has almost unmatched customer loyalty. Once people have one, they keep it as long as possible, and then, only when necessity dictates, turn it in for — of course — another Volvo.

Volvo of Princeton (Long Motor Company) is very much a family business, notes co-owner David Long. He and his brothers Matt and Larry opened the dealership at 255 Nassau Street in 1982.

Four Sons

“The location was previously a Dodge dealership, and the space became available,” says Mr. Long. “We were there until 1986, when we moved to the Mercer Mall, and then to our current location on Brunswick Pike in Lawrenceville in 1991.”

The family focus is ever-present. Today, Mr. Long’s four sons, David, Jeffrey, Chris, and Nick are all actively involved in the business. His brother Larry is now deceased.

In addition to the Lawrenceville location, the Long Motor Company has dealerships in Edison and Bridgewater.

“Customer loyalty is incredible,” says Mr. Long. “We have clients returning for another Volvo, who refer friends here. In fact, our firm, an independent, family-owned business, buys the most Volvos of any other small independent company in the world — outside of Sweden. “Princeton people love their Volvos. They keep coming back for more.”

Volvos, which are manufactured in Sweden, are known for their safety record, he adds. In addition, he says, “Volvo is very environmentally-friendly, For example, Volvos are 85 percent recyclable.”

Also appealing to customers is the recent emphasis on design. Volvo has added new lines with a more stylish look, a bit more flair.

Giving Back

Volvo of Princeton has won many awards for sales and service over the years, and giving back to the community has always been an important part of the Long family philosophy. The company regularly contributes to numerous charities and organizations in the area.

“The focus is about giving back,” says Mr. Long. “This has always been important to us. We want to make a difference to people.”

Main Street’s popular Euro-American Bistro & Bar in the Princeton Shopping Center and its companion Eatery & Gourmet Bakery in Kingston have been Princeton favorites since the early 1980s, when the Kingston establishment opened.

Followed by the the Rocky Hill Commissary in 1987 and the Bistro in 1991, the entire enterprise has become a mainstay for diners and for corporate and personal entertaining.

“The focus in the beginning was on fresh home cooking to go,” recalls founder Sue Simpkins. “I thought Princeton was missing that middle range of unpretentious food that is approachable. We offered healthy eating, using the freshest and best ingredients, and everything was made from scratch.”

A hands-on cook in the beginning, Ms. Simpkins included many of her own recipes, and the Kingston location quickly became the place to go for those looking for wholesome, great-tasting food.

Catering Division

In 1987, Main Street became a true family business, when Ms. Simpkins’ son, John Marshall came on board. He has continued, becoming co-owner and president, focusing on the business operation.

As the demand for catering increased, Main Street established a catering division, which has become a major part of their business. Main Street Catering includes everything from corporate functions to informal dinners to the grandest and most elaborate parties and weddings.

For many, a lunch or dinner at the Bistro is a continuing pleasure. Diners know they can count on consistently good food and a relaxing congenial environment.

“We have an especially big ‘Monday through Thursday’ group, a very loyal clientele,” reports Ms. Simpkins. “Some customers come three and four times a week.”

Keeping up-to-date and adapting to changing times is necessary for any business, and as John Marshall notes, “We continue to evolve, but always retaining our focus on the classic comfort food we are known for. Main Street has always done well during challenging economic times because of this. People know they can count on us.”

Adds Ms. Simpkins: “We never wanted to get in a rut. We always want to be better. Better than we were the year before, or the day before!”

Modern and Classic

Nick and Jennifer Hilton, owners of Nick Hilton Princeton on Witherspoon Street, offer expert design, and quality for people, who, as Mr. Hilton says, “simply want to look nice.”

Opened in 2001, their establishment is at the same time modern and classic: offering superb collections for men and women. Sophisticated and elegant, the Hilton look has something unique for clients who care about stylish clothes.

“We specialize in customized menswear, featuring comfortable, softer tailoring, and subtle patterns,” points out Mr. Hilton. His designs emphasize an international updated traditional style.

Quality is the hallmark here, both for men’s and women’s apparel. “Comfort is key,” adds Jennifer Hilton, who oversees the women’s side of the store, which includes jackets, blouses, T-shirts, dresses, and scarves. “Garments should move with you, and the texture should be pleasant to wear, both for men and women.”

A special feature — and a customer favorite — of this attractive store are the displays of coordinated ensembles showing how different colors, textures, and patterns can work together.

Princeton has been favored indeed to have such a variety of long-time establishments that offer enduring quality, value, and service.

The “Ghosts”

And then, there are the “ghosts.”

As one walks through town, there are countless reminders of long-time family businesses that once enlivened the Princeton shopping scene for so many years, and yet have now closed their doors.

The handsome leather wallets, luggage, and handbags from Luttmann’s; the superbly tailored suits from Harry Ballot and The English Shop; the many choices, from handbags to sewing needs to special boiled wool jackets, at Clayton’s; the special outfits and Lanz of Salzburg nightwear from the Piccadilly; those wonderful ball gowns from Merrick’s, and La Vake Jewelers had just the beautiful ring, bracelet, or necklace to accompany them.

Princeton Army & Navy offered great prices not only for military surplus but for a wide range of items from Swiss Army knives to bandanas to Levis. Of course, anything could be cleaned at Verbeyst, the unique French dry cleaner.

For classic French cuisine, dining at Lahiere’s was a must, and for do-it-yourselfers, Davidson’s Market always offered an array of grocery choices. Painters, amateur and professional, could find whatever they needed at Morris Maple, and Princetonians went to Urken Hardware for all the tools and gadgets necessary for a smooth-running household, not to mention that all-important Flexible Flyer sled in winter. Furniture and interior design were the specialties of Nassau Interiors, and to keep everyone on track, the Better Business Bureau always had two pages in Town Topics.

Footprints in time. It seems like yesterday, and how well we remember.