OPINION: Bursting the bubble: Craving affordable options off-campus

BY PRIANKA MISRA
Columnist

Some days, when the numerous tasks that await me do not seem daunting enough — or other times, when they seem too intimidating — I take a break. I walk off campus. As I exit the FitzRandolph Gate and make my way beyond the world of narrow footpaths, grassy expanses and gothic architecture, I find myself surrounded by many names which struck me as unfamiliar in my pre-Princeton life: Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor, J. Crew. I have almost never purchased items at these stores; although their chic items and artfully coordinated outfits are all equally alluring, I know I cannot afford what they have to offer. Perhaps in reality I can afford it, but my family has trained me to turn a decision to purchase a sweater into a 40-minute deliberation and convinced me that any unused item is an opportunity for return. I have to get a campus job and feel more comfortable with how much it costs to go here before opening up to the prospect of spending $85 on a skirt.

I often wonder whether the presence of these preppy, expensive clothing stores in such close proximity to the University contributes to its stereotype of being elitist and exclusive, but I do not think that you need to buy clothes from these stores in order to be a part of campus culture. I do, however, feel that these high-end stores and expensive boutiques are not financially sensitive to the needs of college students. Moreover, it appears that students must acclimate to the environment that the town of Princeton presents us, but the town does not exactly accommodate members of the University.

Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area has probably spoiled me. My friends and I explored UC Berkeley’s campus and its surrounding eateries and apparel shops as extensions of our backyards. Thrift shopping was not the clever subject of a satirical rap, but an actual hobby, interrupted by spontaneous trips to Top Dog and Naia, during which we indulged in the best local hot dogs and gelato. Along with many others, these locations provided us high schoolers (and more importantly, Cal students) lots of casual, affordable options and places to simply hang out.

Having a place to study off campus that isn’t a library is crucial to the unique feeling of belonging in your college’s environment. I don’t feel that Princeton has many of these spots, and I would love to see more local businesses geared towardsPrinceton students. Currently, the town seems to be a welcoming place for its wealthier, older residents. But what about the needs of students, who could use the town as a source of inspiration for their ideas and inventions? We do, after all, compose an integral part of the Princeton community. If the town of Princeton does not encourage us to explore its facilities and businesses, we will miss out on an important factor of our college experience: that is, relishing what lies just beyond Nassau Hall.

While I admit that I was excited about the opening of an Urban Outfitters within walking distance, I now look upon the store with a remorseful and regretful eye. A chain that is large enough to have its own website and idiotic enough to sell “fake dog poo” ($8, in the gift section) has taken the place of maybe two other local businesses that could have fit within the same space. Urban Outfitters, Kate Spade, Lululemon and Lindt are all interesting places with valuable products to offer, but they are not places where I can spend time with my friends or places that can add to my college experience at all. They do not contribute to the historical context of the town of Princeton either. But wouldn’t it be nice if the businesses that surrounded us did?

Granted, we cannot — and should not — expect the historic town beyond the gates to demolish its approach and cater to a different clientele in the hopes of pleasing us college students who, for the most part, will enter and exit this part of New Jersey in a frenetic flurry, only to make somewhat transient impressions on the school (depressing as this concept may be). I am not asking to insert a Forever 21 on Nassau Street or to change the identity of the town — which I feel is largely determined by the attractions and businesses it nurtures and boasts. We have our stores for basic necessities: CVS and the convenient Saturday Shopper provide us with most of what we need. The frozen yogurt, coffee and sushi options we currently have are certainly pleasant and convenient, but I think we could augment University culture and unity by incorporating even more of these cheap, cozy hubs where students can snack, study and socialize.

Prianka Misra is a freshman from Castro Valley, Calif. She can be reached at pmisra@princeton.edu.

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6 thoughts on “OPINION: Bursting the bubble: Craving affordable options off-campus

  1. You are obviously a freshman. Off-campus study spots? You’ve got Small World, Starbucks, InfiniTea, the Public Library, and many more. If students spend money, there would be more places geared at students, pretty simple. Since we don’t, there aren’t.

  2. Prianka, thanks for this very interesting piece. We agree that students and people in the town should work together to make an amazing community for us all to share. It would be great if more Princeton students could take the time to explore the town. In fact, there is a new University program to encourage them to do exactly that. You can find a link, plus our ‘top 10 town attractions for students’ at our blog at: http://walkableprinceton.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/10-local-sites/ (a big +1 on the recommendation for Public Library as a place to study!)

    As for the types of businesses downtown: although we value all of our Princeton stores, it is true that increasingly we have more top-end stores selling expensive stuff. This is a consequence of Princeton planning, which for decades has restricted new development in the town, leading to ever-higher home prices. This excludes moderate-income people, including University staff!!. Princeton students who have explored the private accommodation market will realize that it is crazy expensive. People working regular jobs live elsewhere, where there is more affordability. The customers that could support regular businesses downtown just don’t live in Princeton, hence we have more boutiques. We can increase the vibrancy of downtown retail by enabling normal people to live in Princeton by building more walkable and affordable homes. We will continue to make the case for this, in the interests of making Princeton an even greater place to live for everybody. Have a look around our blog for more details!

  3. Princeton is not a student town. The stay-at-home-mom wives of investment bankers are the ones who spend money here, and they are the ones the town caters to.

  4. Having said that there are three thrift stores in town if that’s what your craving: Jane, Green street consignment, and that weird one further down Nassau. Jane especially has some great finds!

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