Witherspoon Street transformation seeks to aid reopened businesses

People gathered at outdoor dining locations in northern part of Witherspoon Street on June 23.

Princeton officials and local organizations have adapted Witherspoon Street for local outdoor dining, as New Jersey moves ahead in phase two of the state’s reopening plan.

The street transformation is not only for outdoor dining but for curbside pickup locations. Witherspoon Street now features repurposed parking spaces as outdoor dining locations and designated areas of curbside pickup for food, retail stores and businesses.

Along with designated areas, the northern part of the street has been made into a one-way between Nassau Street and Spring Street. The southbound portion of Witherspoon Street is now stop-controlled from Spring Street.

According to Princeton, modifications to Witherspoon will be in place for a maximum of 120 days.

“I don’t need to reiterate what has been publicized nationally; the devastation the COVID pandemic has wreaked and continues to do so, on our businesses, our employees and their families,” said Jack Morrison, president of Princeton Merchant Association. “With no end in sight, the idea of opening our business doors by utilizing and expanding outside public and private space is a life line and hopefully a chance to begin to bring back those who have been laid off.”

Additional bicycle racks have also been installed. Township officials, Princeton Merchants Association, Arts Council of Princeton, Sustainable Princeton, Princeton University, and local businesses collaborated to help the reopening of businesses on Witherspoon Street.

“Enhancing and expanding outside dining, retail and accommodating curbside is a national trend. The modifications to our town reflects a great collaboration of businesses, community stake holders of all walks, and our local government,” Morrison said. “A big shoutout goes to Councilwoman Michelle Lambros, who gathered the ‘cats,’ so to speak, created a plan, checked the boxes and ultimately created the framework for the improvements we see today.”

Social distancing guidelines and requirements continue to be in effect as Witherspoon Street businesses reopened.

“Please make a point for the rest of 2020 and beyond to support any and all local businesses, institutions and non-profits in our community,” Morrison said.

Princeton’s modifications to Witherspoon come as Gov. Phil Murphy has recently announced July 2 as the date when indoor dining at restaurants can resume at 25% of their indoor capacity.

Owner Michele Moriello of La Mezzaluna, an Italian restaurant located northbound on Witherspoon, said he is hoping for a additional step to the recent modifications to the street.

“I want to close the northbound portion of the street, but at least we got this. I was one of the biggest promoters to do the modifications we have now,” he said. “Michelle Lambros was a big part of this getting done. My hope is to close this middle piece here and make it become a big attraction for the town. What we have now is good already, but I am looking for more.”

Moriello added that it is too early to tell if the changes added an increase in foot traffic, because the modifications are so new or people are now just coming out of their homes since adhering to previous stay-at-home orders.

“We are already going to return to the financial profits we had prior to the pandemic. We had a great week last week and this week is going well too,” he said.

Kilwins is another business also located on the northbound portion of Witherspoon Street. The business provides chocolates, ice cream and confections for patrons. Taylor Frye, owner of the Princeton location, said overall the modifications look great and are bringing some people downtown.

“We opened at the end of September. We are kind of the new kids on the block and I don’t have a really good idea of what the summer looks like without the pandemic,” he said. “What I have seen so far is really nice. I think the restaurants have done a great job at putting the tents and seating out there.”

He added that the changes are catching people’s eyes.

“Not that Witherspoon did not have a lot of foot traffic under normal circumstances. I think the modifications give people more security in walking around. They can cross the street easier,” Frye said. “Personally, I’m ready for stuff to start returning to normal. Safety is still the No. 1 goal. We are still screening employees, everyone is wearing masks and we have a sanitization schedule.”