November 11, 2020

Plan for Downtown Holiday Village to “Activate the Streets”

By Anne Levin

As local businesses and restaurants struggle to stay afloat during the ongoing pandemic, plans for a downtown holiday village, from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas, are taking shape.

A joint effort of the municipality, the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA), the Arts Council of Princeton, Princeton University, and other collaborators, the plan will include four vendor chalets offering crafts, artworks, and gift wrapping. Two will be in Hinds Plaza, one in Tiger Park, and another in front of the Princeton Garden Theatre pending approval from the University.

The town’s Shade Tree Commission is purchasing 35 six-foot evergreen trees to be placed along Nassau and Witherspoon streets and strung with lights. The trees will be in burlap balls and planted in public parks after the holidays. The town has allotted $10,000 for the plan, which includes buying the four chalets.

“We want to activate the streets,” said Princeton Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros, who serves on the Economic Development Committee and is liaison to the PMA. “This will help generate business for local retailers and restaurants, by keeping people outdoors.”

When the idea was first broached at a virtual meeting of the PMA last month, some retailers expressed concerns that the vendors would take business away from them.

“I have assured everybody that we would not put in anything competitive to what they are selling,” Lambros said. “These vendors would have unique handcrafted items, and a lot of original art. McCarter Theatre will come up with something creative. It won’t compete.“

The plan is for the chalets to rotate artists and vendors. “Everybody will be doing something outdoors, because people need to be staying outdoors right now,” Lambros said. “The chalets will be spread far apart. We want to encourage people to walk around.”

Local businesses and nonprofits are invited to “foster a tree,” by providing a tree skirt, non-denominational decorations, and keeping the tree watered. There may be a contest for Best Decorated Tree, Lambros said.

Retailers can also take part in the PMA’s Holiday Market Days on Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6. The event includes outdoor music and entertainment and a prize drawing.

Those involved in planning the month-long winter village concept took inspiration from the winter market in the French town of Colmar, Princeton’s sister city, and other places.

“We’ve been inspired by what some of the other towns are doing,” said Lambros. “We want people to keep coming back to shop local. This is all about trying to help the businesses and nonprofits by creating an ambience.”