January 27, 2021

Reminding Community to Be Conscious About Choices, As They All Have Local Implications

To the Editor:

I moved to Princeton almost 12 years ago; part of what I immediately embraced about this community was its texture. We are nestled here in the heart of New Jersey, surrounded by great population density, and yet it is possible to know our neighbors, to have relationships with local businesspeople, to greet fellow community members in the streets. I likewise embraced the physical texture of our community, including a walkable downtown, an old fashioned outdoor shopping center, and the ways in which the campus of a great research university abuts and engages its downtown center — rather than being banished to the edges, as is so often the case.

This is a community in which town and gown are interwoven, in which the edges of each blend in dynamic ways. For my part, the Museum I lead has been a part of the blurring and blending of those edges. Historic Bainbridge House on Nassau Street became a gallery venue for our Museum in September 2019 as an intimately-scaled destination for residents, visitors, and students alike. The opening of a satellite Museum Store followed in November 2019 as a further way of integrating this particular cultural entity into the fabric of the town around us.

The public health crisis of the past ten months and the financial challenges that have ensued clearly remind us how fragile this fabric can be. Storefront vacancies sadly abound, reminding us that many of our local entrepreneurs operate on a shoestring of profitability even in good times. But these same months also make clear that this fabric has tensile strength: We CAN be here for each other synergistically through difficult times.

The Spring Street mural currently in place reminds us to “Love Local.” In times like these, we must BE the community we want to inhabit. We must be conscious about our choices, since every choice has implications. It is easy to regret the closing of a beloved retailer or restaurant. But unless we wish to occupy a landscape bereft of that rich mix, we must ensure that our actions align with our sentiments. Let’s all act on those feelings and buy local, support local, and indeed love local.

James Steward
Director, Princeton University Art Museum
Board member, Princeton Merchants Association