By John Marshall

Up on North Harrison Street, the Princeton Shopping Center is getting a fresh new makeover and new businesses. It’s likely you’ve already seen our most delicious new businesses, Dolceria and The Taco Truck, which you can easily find by following the longest line of hungry customers in town. Soon to join The Taco Truck will be Lillipies, an artisanal bakery, and Nomad Pizza, which will reclaim and rejuvenate the old gas station on the Shopping Center grounds.

McCaffrey’s is updating its look to a more contemporary vibe of natural woods and colors, with the help of one of our favorite local architects and Princeton Merchants Association member, Josh Zinder. A few of the shops are trading places to put more retail outlets in the front of the center. Sherwin Williams Paints is moving next to Ace Hardware around back to help consolidate home repair outlets, and the grounds will be getting more trees and greenery to give the center a more park like feel.

The biggest and best change, however, will be the updated and upgraded parking lot. Soon, the flow of the lot will improve, with connections between rows that will reduce the sometimes risky need to back out into the flow of traffic. The lot will also be expanded a little closer to the street to increase overall parking.

In short, it will be easier to get in, get around, and get back out of Princeton Shopping Center, and it will be a lot easier to find a parking space and stay a while.

Parking, of course, is a big issue and one that Princeton is working hard to address. One of the largest hurdles for businesses downtown is customers looking for a place to park on the street, says Ron Menapace, who with his wife, Kristin, owns The Farmhouse Store in Palmer Square.

For Ron and Kristin, the parking issue is less troublesome, since The Farmhouse Store is actually surrounded by parking garages that put more foot traffic in Palmer Square and keep the doors opening all day. The town will also be upgrading garage systems and gates to further improve the downtown parking experience.

Ron and Kristin chose to open their shop in Palmer Square because downtown Princeton has a draw as a destination for families and individuals from across the state and into Pennsylvania. “The locals and visitors in downtown Princeton are looking for the uncommon and unique shopping experience,” says Ron. “The merchandise we make and artisanal products we carry fit nicely with the preferences of downtown shoppers.”

The Farmhouse Store is another place where change is underway. The store has expanded into its next door neighbor space, doubling its size. This, Ron says, is mainly for the practical reason that the store’s inventory of handmade furniture, crafts, rugs, and other home pieces “takes up a lot of real estate” inside a store space.

But growth is happening for The Farmhouse Store all around, Kristin says. New visitors are starting to get the word about the store. “It used to be that people would just kind of stumble across us,” she says. But lately the store is becoming more of a destination, with out-of-town (and often repeat) customers coming to Princeton to see them.

Other new “signs” or expanding businesses downtown include Jammin’ Crepes, Princeton Corkscrew, Arlee’s, Elements, Porta Via and Toobydoo.

Of course, foot traffic and random visitors aren’t the bread and butter of every business. Back at Princeton Shopping Center, one of the newest businesses is Bella Boutique, a high-end women’s clothing store founded by Christina DiDonato. Christina formerly ran a clothing store downtown, where the parking issue was a constant challenge.

With her new endeavor at the Shopping Center, Christina says the location is ideal for her because Bella Boutique is not reliant on general foot traffic and is part of a place where people go to do several things.

Now, she says, “When you want to do 10 things every time you go out the door,” someone can get some lunch (that line for The Taco Truck often stretches to Bella Boutique’s door, incidentally), do food shopping at McCaffrey’s, have a glass of wine at the Clocktower Cabana and come into Bella Boutique as part of a day out.

Like all of us, Christina is excited for the fresh new look and feel coming to Princeton’s only shopping mall. “Princeton Shopping Center has so much potential, and it’s not even close to that potential yet,” she says. “But those with the power to change it and reach that potential are doing something about it.”

In short, the Princeton Merchants Association and its members are creating and expanding exciting new retail experiences in all corners of Princeton, adding that many more reasons for locals and visitors to come to see us. And please remember to do your part when shopping in or around Princeton. We are a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) town, and hope you will help us to reduce, reuse and recycle wherever possible.

John Marshall is president of the Princeton Merchants Association. This column is provided monthly by the PMA. On the Web: princetonmerchants.org.