By John Marshall

The 2014 National Special Olympic Games are coming to Princeton, and with them an incredible opportunity for local businesses.

Princeton University will play host to the aquatic events at DeNunzio Pool and track and field events at Weaver Stadium from June 16 to June 20, and an estimated 4,000 people a day will visit Princeton during the competition.

To help bring those visitors to local businesses, the Princeton Merchants Association has teamed up with the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitors Bureau to sponsor a shuttle between the venues to the downtown area.

“Clearly we have a great opportunity here,” said Kristin Appelget, director of community and regional affairs for Princeton University. “It’s fantastic that the merchants and the CVB are partnering to give our guests a chance to come to the historic business district.”

The PMA and CVB have contracted with First Transit, the company that the University uses on campus for its Tiger Transit shuttle, said Appelget.

The shuttle will be offered free of charge and will run in a continuous 30-minute loop during a five hour period on each of the days of the events, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m. The shuttle, which has 30 seats and standing room for 10, will stop at Lot 21, Princeton stadium, and Palmer Square.

The PMA welcomed the opportunity to share in a shuttle service because we wanted to provide a way to get people from the sports venues into the downtown area. We felt it was important to offer an expedient way to get them into town to a central launching spot that is convenient, and is essentially a short walk to any of the multiple services the town offers. The shuttle bus service is very convenient and very easy to access, and hopefully visitors will use it every day that they are on campus.

In addition, volunteers from the PMA and CVB will ride on the shuttle to “give a welcome message and talk about our area,” said Lori Rabon, general manager of the Nassau Inn, treasurer of the PMA, and active CVB member. “They will be talking about what visitors can find downtown and give directions to people who might have a particular interest in a specific shopping venture, restaurant they want to eat at, or place they might want to see.”

We are also hoping to have volunteers at Palmer Square to act as ambassadors to help direct visitors and give them direction when they arrive downtown.

The shuttle provides the opportunity for both visitors and town residents to attend the games without having to worry about driving to the venues.

The PMA is excited that such an event is in our own back yard and the local area residents don’t have to travel afar to be spectators. Whether they go direct, or ride the shuttle in the reverse fashion, we can participate too by cheering on and watching the events here in our own local community. The shuttle is not just simply for bringing people into town, it’s also a means to take people to the events.

Adam Perle, vice president of Princeton Chamber and the CVB, said their efforts are consistent with the bureau’s goal of maximizing the economic impact of travel and tourism.

“This was a great opportunity, not just in the figurative sense of marketing, but (also) in the literal sense of moving people, to work closely with the Princeton Merchants Association and Princeton University and physically move those visitors from their event venue into downtown where the restaurants, stores and businesses are,” Perle said.

Perle added that as membership organizations, the jobs of the PMA and the Chamber are to provide value to their members.

“If there’s an influx of people in town and we can deliver them to the central business district in any way possible, that’s going to make our members happier and our organizations stronger,” he said.

Mark Censits, owner of CoolVines and a member of PMA’s marketing committee, said that in addition to possible benefits of increased business in town, the Special Olympics can also help promote Princeton as a destination.

“In general, it enhances the reputation that Princeton has, and therefore all of its merchants kind of get carried with that,” Censits said. “I’m optimistic that the additional traffic can bring us exposure, and if not incremental business that day, at least an awareness, who we are, and possible returns in the future for these folks as customers.”

The opportunity the Special Olympic Games offer is not only important to Princeton, but to the entire region, said Perle.

“The experience a visitor has during the games and the reputation we’re able to present as a destination can have a huge ripple effect for people who want to come back because they think there’s more to see or they had an emotional experience or a great memory.”

For more information on the Special Olympics games and a schedule of events, go to

John Marshall is interim president of The Princeton Merchants Association. The Hometown Princeton column is provided monthly by the PMA. On the web: