By Laura D.C. Kolnoski • Photos By Premier Digital Photography

For a splendid fall excursion to an idyllic Jersey jewel, trek to picturesque Princeton, where a myriad of delights await the senses and sensibilities. The area’s history, ambiance, natural beauty, and wonders of Princeton University can fill a day or an extended stay, and one of the Garden State’s best kept secrets dwells at the center of it all: Palmer Square.

Located across from the university gates on legendary Nassau Street, Palmer Square boasts a unique collection of retailers and food emporiums set amidst tree-lined streets. There, shops offer exceptional apparel, shoes, jewelry, gifts, home furnishings, and more, complemented by specialty food and drink. Walking where American historic figures and illustrious Princeton visitors have for centuries adds to the allure.

Palmer Square was conceived in 1906 by Edgar Palmer, heir to the New Jersey Zinc Company fortune and a prominent benefactor of the town and university. He unveiled his vision of an innovative municipal center with retail, office, residential, a hotel, post office, and playhouse in 1929. Construction began in 1936, with the first section completed the following year. The Thomas Stapleton design was part of America’s Colonial Revival Movement, which incorporated Old Newport, Philadelphia, Annapolis, and Williamstown. The square also emulates Rockefeller Center, built about the same time.

Having stood the test of time while evolving into what it is today, Palmer Square is a noted example of exceptional town planning. The stores in the early portion along Palmer Square West are required to display their names in a historic typestyle to maintain the traditional feel. Located in the heart of vibrant downtown, the square boasts brand-name stores, including Brooks Brothers, Lilly Pulitzer, Ralph Lauren, Talbots, Urban Outfitters, Kate Spade, J. Crew, Bluemercury, and Zoe, for starters. Also bringing the charm are local merchants such as Bucks County Dry Goods, Cranbury Station Gallery, and the Farmhouse Store. Whatever holiday or special occasion one is shopping for, there’s certainty in finding the incomparable, unexpected, and extraordinary.

Hand & Stone SPREAD

The fabled Nassau Inn, built in 1756 at its original location, 52 Nassau Street, relocated to Palmer Square in 1937. Among its numerous distinguished guests were Paul Revere, Thomas Paine, members of the Continental Congress, and signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Nassau Inn features 188 guest rooms, a ballroom, event spaces, a tavern, and a patio featuring outdoor dining. Its famed Yankee Doodle Tap Room— named for the 13-foot mural depicting the historic character painted by Norman Rockwell behind the bar—offers an elegant American menu in a distinctive pub atmosphere…and with a cozy fireplace to boot.

“We are the core commercial element to Princeton, known as the northernmost southern town, with a charming, relaxed, easygoing atmosphere,” said David Newton, vice-president of Palmer Square Management, who has helmed the complex almost 20 years. “We offer affordable luxury. The square appeals to everyone in different ways. Everything has a worldclass quality to it. This is the closest thing to a cosmopolitan area between Philadelphia and New York.” Some eighty percent of the square’s primary market is within a ten-mile radius, while the rest are visitors. (A town of 25,000, Princeton is accessible via New Jersey Transit.)

Newton said the international flavor of the town is created by the university and various firms, including Johnson & Johnson, Dow Jones, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, enhanced by cultural offerings that include the acclaimed McCarter Theater, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, and Princeton University Art Museum.

“Princeton retains a very nice scale; it’s unusual to find a small town like this with such a rich array of offerings,” said Newton. “People can come here and have a seriously great day or a wonderful weekend. If they visited in the past, it’s time to see all that’s happened here since.”

One of the most recent additions is the new upscale Residences at Palmer Square, offering single-level and multistory homes with 32 different floor plans and a range of luxury amenities. Completing Edgar Palmer’s vision of the square offering residential space, the Residences is just steps from Palmer Square and mimics its architecture and style.

The Green at Palmer Square plays host to events throughout the year, including a popular Jazz Fest, summer block parties, a music series, and Girls Night Out. Fall is an especially opportune time to visit, too, with the university year in full swing, leaves exploding with color, crisp air, and the square adorned with traditional seasonal décor. At Christmas, the area is resplendent with fresh garlands, velvet ribbons, and twinkling lights; a festive setting for holiday shopping and dining. The annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony is held in late November, followed by a Menorah Lighting Ceremony. Musical entertainment, choral groups, trolley rides, and appearances by Santa Claus fill December.

“Things really shine in fall and through the holidays,” said Anita Fresolone, Palmer Square’s marketing director. “At Christmas, it looks like a postcard.” A 65-foot holiday tree graces the square, while more practical spirits are lifted by free parking, extended shopping hours, and more. Details are available on the square’s website, launching this fall.

“People who come in search of us find rare beauty,” Newton added. “All you have to do is open the door.”

Palmer Square
40 Nassau St., Princeton / 609.921.2333 / palmersquare.com