February 6, 2019

Hinkson’s: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; This Princeton Favorite Marks an Anniversary


HERE TO STAY: “To survive in business today, you have to adapt and offer convenience for people. We provide the convenience of an in-town establishment, where customers can stop in and quickly get what they need — cards, office and school supplies, printer cartridges, pens, FedEx shipping, etc. And of course, we also offer our commercial online business.” John Roberto, left, and Andrew Mangone, co-owners of Hinkson’s, The Office Store, look forward to the store’s 100th anniversary under the Hinkson’s name.

By Jean Stratton

Hinkson’s, The Office Store at 28 Spring Street, is not only a Princeton favorite, but it has become a tradition for many shoppers. Independently owned, it is one of the town’s few remaining genuine family businesses.

Co-owners (and cousins) John Roberto and Andrew Mangone actually grew up in the store. Roberto’s father, the late Bert Roberto, purchased Hinkson’s in 1960 from then owner Harold M. Hinkson. A much smaller operation in those days, the shop offered newspapers, greeting cards, and a small selection of writing supplies.

As time passed, the merchandise greatly expanded, and the store became an essential resource in town.

It has a long and storied history in Princeton, and is now about to mark its 100th anniversary under the Hinkson’s name.

Mid-19th Century

Its history extends back even further, however, and it is thought to date to the mid-19th century, notes Andrew Mangone. Around 1900, it was known as Rowland’s Stationery, he adds.

Always located on Nassau Street, at one time it was housed in the historic Upper Pyne Building, which was later demolished to make way for the establishments on One Palmer Square.

Although it always focused on stationery and paper products, at one point in its history, according to The Princeton Recollector, the store also sold baseball bats.

While it was still known as Rowland’s Stationery, one of the clerks, William O. Sinclair, purchased the store, giving it his name, The Recollector also reports. Sinclair’s clerk, Harold M. Hinkson, later bought the store in 1919, upon his return from serving in World War I, and he changed the name to Hinkson’s.

Mom’s Lap

In 1960, the store changed hands again, when it was purchased by Bert Roberto, and it was ultimately relocated to 82 Nassau Street, where it remained for many years. It flourished as a stationery store, offering all the needs from pens and pencils to all paper products and more. Greeting cards, notebooks, writing paper, planners and journals, school and office supplies, clipboards, and calculators were all popular items in the store.

Both Roberto and Mangone grew up in the store, and helped out after school, on weekends, and in the summer. “I used to sit on my mom’s lap as she would ring up people at the register when I was real young,” recalls Roberto. “Then when I was 8 or 9, I would help my father on Sundays, stuffing newspapers in front of the store, and I worked there all through high school.”

Andrew Mangone also remembers helping to sell newspapers in front of the store when he was a boy. “I really grew up in the business, and it was a learning experience. I joined full-time in 1972 when I was 18.”

After a stint in Atlantic City working in the casinos, John Roberto returned to Hinkson’s full-time in 1982, and the family tradition has continued.

After many years on Nassau Street, Hinkson’s moved to Spring Street in 2005, and it has been a good location, reports Mangone. “We have been very pleased. We get good walk-in traffic, and, of course, we continue our online commercial business.”

Changing Times

“The challenge is to keep up with changing times,” says Mangone. “With technology and online shopping, there has been an evolution in the business, and also, change happens much faster these days than in the past. Shopping is very different today, and the tone is different, with less face-to-face interaction.”

Adds Roberto, “With online shopping, and to a degree, the big box stores, the changes have been very challenging to adapt to. But we try very hard to offer what our customers need, and I think we are succeeding.”

Convenience is the key, agree the owners. Offering products that customers need and can quickly come in and pick up is crucial. “People want to come in and get a card, or printer cartridges and inkjets, or electronic supplies, such as chargeable cables for phones, as well as pens and paper, journals, and notebooks. A customer just came in to buy several reams of printing paper the other day. They know they can count on us for good, reliable service, and quality products.”

Their online commercial business, with more than 40,000 items available including office furniture, remains strong, adds Roberto. “For the most part, our commercial accounts are very loyal to us because they know we do give as good, or better, prices than the competition. We set our prices so that we compete with the big box stores, and our knowledge of product, I think, is second to none.”

Popular Products

Even in the world of constant communication and digital networking, many believe there is still a place for hand-written notes — whether to send a special message, jot down a quick thought, or simply to feel the paper and hold something tangible.

For the customers who fit into this category, Hinkson’s offers an array of fine writing paper, journals, notebooks, and every kind of writing instrument — ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pens (including ink cartridges).

Among the popular and quality products are those from Quo Vadis, Claire-fontaine, Rhodia, and Leuchtterm, among others. The latest in trends and new advances, including dot paper (instead of lined), are all available in every size, color, and format. Artists and writers can also find sketch pads, art supplies, and the indispensable reporter’s notebooks.

Hinkson’s is dedicated to maintaining the vibrant downtown shopping scene that Princeton is lucky to have. Bricks and mortar establishments are closing in many areas, and John Roberto and Andrew Mangone do not want to see that happen here.

“We want to thank all of our customers, old and new, because they are not just customers, they are friends. We also want to thank them for buying locally. That is very important because if the community does not support local businesses, they will not be in business.

“And regarding our commercial accounts, we want to remind all the offices and businesses in town that we offer very competitive prices. Please give us an opportunity to earn your support. You will find our services, products, and prices to be just what you need.”

Hinkson’s is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (609) 924-0112. Website: www.hinksons.com.