By David Newton and Joshua Zinder

Shopping is a social experience. This is why people think of shopping as a fun activity, as opposed to ordering things online, and it’s one of many reasons why people prefer shopping in Princeton to shopping at the mall.

What makes Princeton so special is the complete experience our town offers, to shoppers, to visitors, to students, to everyone. You see, Princeton is a unique hybrid: part downtown, part college town, part suburb. We have a world-class university; a broad and rich cultural base that features art and theater and music; excellent restaurants; and tours that take you through the history of our unique town.

There’s so much to do here that visitors should plan to enjoy more than a few hours in the Princeton area. “Even for our guests who are staying at the Nassau Inn for weddings and bar mitzvahs, it’s not just a one-day trip,” says Lori Rabon, general manager of the hotel. “There’s so much to see and to explore. You can plan a whole day here, or more.”

One of the best parts of this is how affordable Princeton is to visit. As the Princeton Merchants Association, we feel that we’re about affordable luxury. Of course our locale offers world-class dining and high-end shopping, but there also are many free and low-cost activities to do with the family. Visit the Princeton University Art Museum, relax with some java from Small World Coffee or ice cream from Thomas Sweet, tour the elegant architecture of Princeton University or simply stroll the streets and take in the vibe.

We’re proud of the breadth of experience we offer visitors and shoppers. We like to think of Princeton more as a quilt than a blanket. There are many textures here that offer visitors an experience they won’t find anywhere else.

We in the Princeton Merchants Association are also working hard to give visitors that complete experience, not just a unique one. You might remember a time when Princeton’s image was that of an old-time postcard, a step back in time to Princeton’s past. Today, Princeton is decidedly more cosmopolitan.

We haven’t forgotten — and won’t forget — where we came from, but visiting Princeton is no longer about strolling through the past. Our downtown merchants and businesses are taking huge strides into a vibrant future, putting modern living and old-world feeling together. So many of our merchants are embracing green and sustainable design and healthy lifestyles. Just look at some of our newer businesses that promote a healthier, brighter world, such as Arlee’s Raw Blends on Nassau Street, where you can literally drink to your health with fresh, natural juice blends, or Origins Palmer Square, where beauty and skincare meet natural and sustainable ingredients.

The philosophy of what these and so many other shops offer in Princeton weds with what we as a town and as the Princeton Merchants Association want to convey to everyone who visits: we are the entire picture, the complete experience.

Of course, when it comes to shopping, you can’t forget that the holiday season is upon us. If you’ve visited Downtown Princeton in the past couple weeks, you’ve already noticed the festive atmosphere, which will continue throughout the holiday season. The annual tree lighting, sponsored by Palmer Square Management, and Black Friday sales bring in thousands of visitors. However, visiting and shopping in Princeton are more than one-event activities.

Visit us throughout December and you’ll be treated to strolling choirs of Princeton University singers, or you can take one of the many great holiday trolley rides. Take part in Palmer Square’s first Guys Shopping Night Out, a twist on their traditional Girls’ Night Out, where guys are encouraged to find the perfect gifts for the holiday season on Dec. 3, from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Palmer Square also offers strolling musicians and Santa every weekend.

You’ll also see the festive wreaths around town that set the holiday spirit. It’s a tradition among the Princeton Merchants Association to create a festive appearance downtown and to make wreaths that our friends at the Princeton Public Works Department hang for us, as well as to decorate our shops to get everyone (yes, even ourselves) into the holiday mood.

“It’s just a fun, festive atmosphere,” Rabon says. “And if it snows a little, all the better.”

So yes, we at the Princeton Merchants Association try very hard to give our visitors, and even ourselves, the complete experience, where there is something for everyone and so much to see and do. We think that’s part of the reason people prefer to come here over alternative choices that they may have.

In fact, of all the social media messages we’ve ever seen, we can’t remember any of them talking about how great a time someone had at the mall. But when people leave Princeton, we see all over Facebook and Twitter and Instagram how great an experience they had downtown. That’s not an accident. And it’s something we’re very proud to be part of. Come see for yourself.

The Princeton Merchants Association column is provided monthly by the PMA. On the Web: princetonmerchants.org.