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Amid rising inflation, Nassau businesses reopen after prolonged construction closure

The Graduate Hotel in Princeton under construction. A fence surrounds a metal building being constructed. A construction truck sits behind the fence.
Construction on the Graduate Hotel
Jean Shin / The Daily Princetonian

From catering to textbooks to providing off-campus dining options, businesses on Nassau Street are an essential part of the Princeton student experience. Ongoing construction on the Graduate Hotel, located at 20 Nassau Street, has indefinitely displaced five Princeton businesses, including Jammin’ Crepes, Milk & Cookies, Nassau Barbers, Small Bites by Local Greek, and Sakrid Coffee Roasters. The last two have yet to reopen in their original locations. 

After buying property in Princeton in 2019, the Graduate Hotel, a company that owns 35 properties across the United States and two in the U.K., announced plans for renovations in 2023. Kathy Klockinbrink, owner of Jammin’ Crepes, said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian that 20 Nassau only had two bathrooms in the building and needed to completely upend plumbing and related systems. 

Klockinbrink, along with Lauren Ariev Gellman, the founder and owner of Milk & Cookies, and Jackie Witty, the manager of Nassau Barbers, expressed frustration at their businesses being closed but also understood the necessity of construction at the Graduate Hotel. Klockinbrink also added how the Graduate Hotel offered accommodations.

“We negotiated some support [with the Graduate Hotel],” she said. “It’s a fraction of what it cost us to stay open. But we’re appreciative for the support we got.”

All three businesses emphasized their reliance on customers from the University. Klockinbrink explained that there is a noticeable difference in volume when students are on campus, as it brings secondary foot traffic from the University and students’ families that come into town to visit. Likewise, Gellman told the ‘Prince’ that over half of her business comes from students and University events. 

“Do you know what percentage would be from the University? It’s probably 50 to 60 percent,” Gellman said.

“We look at [Jammin’ Crepes] as University-related, yes, student-driven, but we definitely see an impact on the student part as well,” Klockinbrink added in terms of where much of their traction comes from.

The Graduate Hotel, Sakrid, and Local Greek did not respond to a request for comment from the ‘Prince.’

The closures have had varying effects on the businesses’ ability to retain employees. Jammin’ Crepes employed 33 workers before displacement and kept 90 percent of their employees through the displacement at 80 percent pay. They currently operate with 27 workers. Milk & Cookies employs 10 part-time workers and one full-time worker. They were able to pay their part-time staff for three out of the six weeks that they were out of business, while paying their full-time worker the entire duration. Nassau Barbers was able to keep all staff at full pay while it was closed.

Exacerbating the impact of displacement are national inflation trends. Klockinbrink explained that rising inflation has inevitably meant increased prices due to the fact that Jammin’ Crepes sources locally. Gellman expressed that the price of chocolate has doubled in recent years  — their cookies started at $1.75 and are now $3.25. Meanwhile, Nassau Barbers has increased its prices by 10 percent in 2022 for the first time ever since opening 16 years ago.

Initially meant to be a six to eight week project, the Hotel’s plans kept changing, keeping the affected businesses in limbo. According to Klockinbrink, Jammin’ Crepes, which opened back up at its original location on Sept. 8, was closed for a three-month stretch. During that time, they operated out of a space owned on 301 N Harrison Street.

While the Graduate Hotel helped move equipment to this space and negotiated some support for lost business, Klockinbrink said that the majority of storefront business was lost. She also emphasized that, amidst the displacement, the Graduate Hotel looked like “they were completely rebuilding.”

After opening a shop on Chamber Street, Gellman explained that Milk & Cookies moved two stores down when the Graduate Hotel bought the property and were moved to their current location in January 2023. From the last week of July to Sept. 6, Milk & Cookies was closed entirely.

Nassau Barbers, which opened back up on Sept. 19, was closed for 10 weeks. Although Witty was initially under the impression that Nassau Barbers wouldn’t have to close, she is excited for the increased business that she hopes will come from the opening of the Graduate Hotel.

Local Greek and Sakrid have yet to reopen their Nassau Street locations. 

Gellman emphasized how local support has helped her business.

“The people who live around here are terrific with local thing like, local places, as opposed to chains,” she said. “They’re very supportive, and the University is great.”

The Graduate Hotel plans on opening in 2024, according to its website. The website used to say that the Hotel was opening in late 2023.

Abby Leibowitz is a staff News writer for the ‘Prince’

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