The Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students is thrilled to announce its new program Tigers in Town. Tigers in Town is a program designed to encourage students to explore Princeton – on Nassau Street and beyond – while supporting local businesses. The University has partnered with local vendors to provide students with free items from stores and restaurants in the town, and to assist student groups with planning safe social events at off-campus businesses. The program will kick off on March 9th with “Tico Tuesday,” generously sponsored by Whig-Clio. Students may order up to $10 worth of items from the regular Tico’s menu; in order to participate, they must sign up for a timed slot between 9 AM and 5 PM to ensure social distancing.
Tigers in Town will offer all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, the best that Princeton has to offer, while businesses will get to reintroduce themselves to a student body overjoyed to be back home. Easily one of the most recognizable and picturesque college towns in the country, Princeton stands out not only for its historic beauty, but also for the strength of its community. The town’s residents, its businesses, and the University have a long history of working together to make Princeton a great place to live and work.
In recent months, the community has been tested. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the University had to send nearly all undergraduate students home, and Princeton’s residents had to adapt to a new way of life. Like so many places around the country and around the world, Princeton’s economy was battered by lockdowns, a national economic slowdown, and the ever-present fear of the virus. But unlike in other places, the businesses of this quiet college town had enjoyed a reliable customer base centered on the University. Hungry students would wander into town for meals; faculty and staff browsed in shops and markets year-round; University events usually came with hefty catering orders.
Unsurprisingly, when undergraduates were sent home and the University pared back its operations, local businesses suffered. Many relied on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to meet their payroll obligations. Too many were forced to lay off staff or even close their doors for good. Princeton businesses proved amazingly resilient, given the severity of the challenges they faced – they turned to online sales and adopted strict cleaning protocols to make customers feel safe again, but the pandemic damaged small businesses and the fabric of the town itself. Renee De Bernard, the owner of Tico’s said that she “basically lost 75%” of her business overnight; she shut down her store for almost two months, and worried about its future. When she found out that students were returning to campus, she was thrilled – not just because of the influx of customers, but because she had built relationships with students and knew many by name.
Business owners felt the vacuum left by students’ absence. Students, meanwhile, were trying to preserve their connections to campus and to Princeton itself during the virtual semesters. They refused to allow Princeton to be hollowed out as their favorite shops and businesses closed.
So, in a time of mutual need, students and businesses alike stepped up. Princeton students, through groups like “Tigers for Nassau”, helped vendors improve technology and marketing to reach new customers. The Senior Class Government created “Thesis Fridays,” where seniors get a $5 credit at participating coffee shops each week (provided they go before 9:30 AM) so they can get an early, energized start on their papers. Senior Class Government also organized “Taste of Campus” care packages of goods from Princeton businesses and mailed them to seniors around the world.
The Princeton community was tested, and did not disappoint. Inspired by the innovations made by businesses and students, the University decided to expand its efforts to support local businesses with Tigers in Town. Students can register for our first event, Tico Tuesday, here. New Tigers in Town events will be coming soon, so please check my.princeton.edu and the @ODUS social media for updates and information on how to safely visit participating businesses.