Princeton University is coming to Nassau Street in a big way. Its retail neighbors could not be happier, but some students and faculty members are not as enthusiastic. The university is buying Micawber Books, the 25-year-old store owned by Margaret Griffin and Logan Fox. That space, along with storefronts now occupied by the Foot Locker and the Children’s Place, will house the textbook, general book, and insignia clothing and gift departments of the Princeton University Store, popularly known as the U-Store. The U-Store will remain open, and will use two of its three floors to concentrate on other departments, including dorm furnishings and convenience foods.
The university has taken a partner in the deal. Labyrinth Books, which has a store serving Columbia University, and another serving Yale University, will run the book store.
The impetus for the sale, says Griffin, who has been a partner in Micawber for 12 years, and who owns one of the two buildings in which it is housed, was not economic. “The store is in good health,” she says. “We’re going out on top.”
While the independent book store has prospered despite the growth of big box book stores and the emergence of Amazon and its ilk, running it is all-consuming. “Just about one year ago, Logan and I decided that it was time to do something else,” Griffin says. It was a mutual decision. She doesn’t even recall who initiated the conversation.
“Logan founded the store 25 years ago,” she says. “That’s a long time. I decided I’d like a break, and he felt the same way at the same moment.” Neither is yet sure of what will come next in their lives, but Fox will stay on as a consultant for a few months after Labyrinth takes over.
After the decision to sell was made, the partners quietly went about the business of finding a buyer. Griffin says that they wanted to sell to another book store, but definitely not to a Barnes & Noble. There had been a number of suitors over the years, she says, but always something was “just not right.” And while they were adamantly opposed to selling to a chain, they were also leery of selling to an inexperienced entrepreneur wanna-be.
“We knew it was a tough business,” Griffin says. “We didn’t want a mom-and-pop who might say ‘it would be fun to run a bookstore.’ We wanted someone experienced.” After the university expressed an interest in buying the store and bringing in Labyrinth as a partner, she and Fox met with Labyrinth executives and became convinced that they would create a “great” book store on Nassau Street. The new store will sell text books, which Micawber has already been selling for many years, as well as general interest books, including a large selection of children’s books. Micawber is set to close in March, and the new store is expected to open in November, 2007.
Rumors of Princeton’s purchase of Micawber have been around for several weeks, but Griffin and Fox did not tell their retail neighbors of the deal until a few days before the news broke.
“I’m thrilled,” says Henry Landau, whose family has owned a clothing store a couple of doors down from Micawber for 90 years. Griffin and Fox dropped into the store he runs with his brother, Robert Landau, a few days ago. “It’s phenomenal for the street,” he says. “When Woolworth left we lost a lot of traffic.” Two chain stores took over the Woolworth storefront, and Landau says they have not been good neighbors.
“The Foot Locker and the Children’s Place don’t sweep their sidewalks. They don’t shovel their sidewalks,” he says. “They’re not part of the community.” He recalls trying hard to rally all of the borough merchants to get involved in the controversy over whether to build the parking garage that now sits next to the Princeton Public Library. “No one from any chain store went to any of the meetings,” he says.
Landau says that he and his brother will miss Fox and Griffin, and are very happy for them. They are also happy that a new independent book store is moving into their space. He has met representatives from Labyrinth and is convinced that “they want to be local. They want to be a part of the community.” What’s more, he is delighted that the university, whose U-Store will run the insignia apparel and gift store next to Labyrinth, is involved. “Guess what?” he says. “That means it’s going to be taken care of. It’s going to be kept clean.”
Kathleen Morolda, owner of the Cranbury Station Art Gallery and president of the Princeton Borough Merchants Association, agrees. “Although we’re sorry to see Micawber go,” she says, “we’re very excited that the university is coming to this side of Nassau Street. They’re always helpful and supportive of borough merchants.”
Virginia France, marketing director of the U-Store, says that a new configuration for the existing store on University Place has not yet been totally worked out. Among the early decisions, however, is to expand casual food offerings. “The convenience area is so popular,” she says. “It’s been really well received since it’s been open 24/7.” In addition to traditional snack foods, such as chips and candy, the store has been “focusing on healthful alternatives,” she says. It also has a “heat and eat” section with meals from a number of local restaurants, including Mehek and Olives, and she expects that more will be added as the area gets more space.
Dorm furnishings and school supplies will continue to be sold from the U-Store’s University Place location, and their departments could be expanded. France says that she hopes that the pharmacy in the U-Store, which is independently run, will want to stay on. The third floor and the mezzanines of the building will be returned to the university for “uses that have yet to be determined,” according to a press release.
The U-Store will continue to sell textbooks through next fall, when Labyrinth will take over. Book selling in general is the retail segment that has been most affected by chain stores and the Internet, says France. “When Barnes & Noble came in in 1985 that was tough,” she says. Then, a decade later, the Internet turned into the ultimate book lover’s destination. “It’s huge when people can sit at a desk and have access to all the books published,” she says. But selling text books is, if possible, even more difficult than selling novels or bedtime stories.
“The margins are lower,” says France. It is also difficult to know what to stock. Class enrollment can fluctuate at the last moment. Demand is often greater than a professor anticipated. These difficulties could be part of the reason that the university is outsourcing this function. There has also been speculation in the Daily Princetonian that the university does not consider the U-Store a first-rate academic book store.
Students and professors have expressed misgivings about Labyrinth’s take-over of the textbook function, and about its ability to create a first-rate book store. At least some of them are also unhappy about the fact that there was little or no input from students or professors on the new arrangement.
Anthony Grafton, a history professor at the university, wrote recently in the Daily Princetonian that Princeton is full of scholars who are experts on book stores, but that, to his knowledge, none were consulted.
Furthermore, he writes, “Labyrinth — at least to judge by its two existing shops — is not a great academic bookseller. The shops are spartan: No effort here to suggest that going to a bookshop could be fun. They carry a solid but unspectacular stock of current university press titles, a much larger number of academic paperbacks, some older hardbacks, and a lot of remainder books. Labyrinth doesn’t remotely compare to the greatest academic bookshop in the United States, the Seminary Coop in Chicago.”
Grafton, however, is willing to give Labyrinth a chance. “Our administrators are very canny,” he writes. “Maybe they and Labyrinth, working together, can produce something better in Princeton than what Labyrinth has managed to create in New York and New Haven.”
To create the new book store and insignia store, the University is buying the building at 112 and 114 Nassau Street that Micawber currently leases, will assume responsibility for its lease on the neighboring property at 110 Nassau Street that houses its used book business, will seek another tenant for 110 Nassau Street, and will lease 114 Nassau Street to the U-Store. It will also lease 116-122 Nassau Street, the former Woolworth building. The U-Store will occupy part of the space and Labyrinth will lease the remainder.
A number of employees of both Micawber and of the U-Store will be affected. Micawber has 18 employees, all but two part-timers, and, at a minimum, they will be out of a job during the seven-month renovation. Griffin says that she hopes some of them will go on to work at Labyrinth. The U-Store has 75 employees. France says that some of them will be affected, but that it is too early to speculate on how many.
Speaking for town and gown, professor Grafton says that “I am very fond of Micawber Books and its staff and owners, and would be very sorry to see their wonderful shop leave Nassau Street and be replaced by another chain.”
That isn’t going to happen, and it appears possible that Labyrinth, the independent newcomer, will be a big hit if becomes a first rate academic book store with a welcoming atmosphere — and if it keeps its sidewalks clean.
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
Freedom to Insult?
A Court May Decide
Websites who allow postings of derogatory comments are theoretically protected by the Federal Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996 to protect portals like Yahoos and AOL that maintain public bulletin boards. But a Princeton Overlook-based job search company is suing an Arizona-based website, www.ripoffreport.com, and two individuals.
Impraxxa Business Services (formerly known as Career Moves, or Executive Career Moves, and now called iX) claims that “false comments” influenced potential clients to cancel their appointments and “eroded” public confidence. The firm offers fee-based executive career services. “Impraxxa has suffered significant injury to its reputation, goodwill, character, and economic prospects,” says the suit, filed by Hill Wallach attorney James G. O’Donohue (Upsala College, Class of 1981, and Western New England Law School).
One of the two individuals named in the suit, former Career Moves employee Elida Howell, denies that she made the derogatory comments attributed to her.
The other person named in the suit is retired marketing executive Donald Kobes of Dances with Words Inc., who responded to a classified advertisement published in U.S. 1 and other newspapers. In an E-mail to U.S. 1, he said Impraxxa had asked him to recruit executives under his own company name and pass on their resumes “so they can make sales calls for their rather vague services.” Objecting to what he called a “bait and switch” business plan, he had filed a complaint on www.ripoffreport under the deceptive advertising category.
Impraxxa’s attorney says that the federal law protecting a portal’s free speech does not apply to www.ripoffreports.com, because it is not an open chat forum, a blank slate, but merely a single purpose forum where consumers can obtain information about the validity of a business.
Ripoffreport comments “are edited and dressed up by ripoffreport, and if you use their services, they will assist you in being removed from the website,” says O’Donohue. “You cannot create a website where you purport to be a validator of businesses and do it with no facts.”
Impraxxa is a Bedminster-based holding company owned by New York-based investors, including T. Michael Struss, CEO of Impraxxa Business Services at the Princeton Overlook office, and board chairman Allen Hilly. It bought Career Moves from the firm’s founder, Ken Levinson, earlier this year. About that time the company doubled its space with a move from 1,100 square feet at Regus (a shared office environment) to a 2,300-square foot first floor office at Princeton Overlook.
“The reason I sold my business is I was unable to grow this at the rate I wanted to and grow it nationally,” said Levinson in a July interview. The buyer “has aggressive plans on growing in major metropolitan markets. It seemed to make sense for me,the people here, and for my clients.” Levinson has left the firm.
The website’s parent company, based in Tempe, Arizona, is Xcentric Ventures LLC, and its editor/founder is Ed Magedson, also owner of BadBusiness.com. Magedson positions himself as a fraud fighter. He encourages consumers to donate to his company, which he says is a nationwide consumer reporting agency, but the donations are not tax deductible.
On the website Magedson writes, “The Rip-Off Report and badbusinessbureau.com work very hard to preserve civil and human rights. In response to reports placed on the website, we research abuses and help individuals defend their rights. our inception, we have helped consumers collect hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In response to the Impraxxa suit, Magedson has filed a motion based upon what he alleges to be immunity under the federal communications decency act, which offers immunity to portals on which people post information, and it seeks to dismiss the case. In two previous cases, federal courts, including one in Arizona, have disagreed with this argument.
The case is scheduled to be heard in Superior Court in Trenton on Friday, December 15.
Job search companies offer fee-based services to help executives find jobs, and complaints about them are nothing new. In some companies, if a job does not come through, the disappointed jobseeker must still pay for the contract he has signed, and the cost can be in the thousands of dollars.
“Even top-level execs fall to this scam because they want to believe you can pay for anything you need — including a new job. The bottom line: it’s a waste of money, and it’s virtually impossible to get your money back,” says Nick Corcodilos, who has monitored the career management industry for a decade; he publishes an E-mail newsletter (www.asktheheadhunter.com).
Angry jobseekers had attacked this company before, when it was known as Career Moves and headed by Levinson. Attacks had been made on www.ripoffreports.com, and by E-mails and phone calls to U.S. 1, and Levinson always had a reasonable reply.
“I don’t guarantee people a job,” Levinson had said in an interview last July. “I say we will work with them until they get a position of their choice.” The firm receives payments from individual jobseekers for research, marketing, cover letters, resumes, interviewing strategies, and proprietary marketing techniques. “We get individuals in front of decision makers that they would not be able to get in front of on their own, and we help them beat out their competition,” he said then.
A Brooklyn native, Levinson majored in geology at City University of New York, Class of 1979, and was a regional recruiter for Prudential. After a stint with Parsippany-based Merrill-Adams, he opened Career Moves in 2002 “to do for individuals what I did for Prudential.” At one point Career Moves had offices in Philadelphia, Saddle Brook, New York City, and Phoenix.
Levinson said that his company asked for half the fee upfront, and 90 days after the client is in the new position “we would like to be paid the balance.” The fee varies, he said. “If the market is hot, we charge a lot less. If someone is in a small market, we may have to charge them a little bit more. A CEO search is more challenging than for a vice president of sales.”
Levinson said he was averaging 260 clients a year, at the time of the sale, and the average client paid $4,700. For that the client received, he said, one on one career coaching, creative material including resume and cover letters and other proprietary marketing documents, assorted research on industries, companies, and individuals, information on appropriate recruiters (headhunters) and appropriate networks that they should be involved in, and coaching on interviewing and negotiating strategies.
Career Moves was licensed and bonded with the state, Levinson said, but the state did not require certifications. “It is called a regulated business,’ he says. At the time of the interview in July, he had 15 employees.
Asked how many clients found jobs within the year, he said he did not have accurate statistics but “the vast majority of clients get placed within the year.”
The people currently being sued for their comments, however, were not jobseekers. Kobes had gone to Levinson looking for a consulting contract. “Ken Levinson is using U.S. 1 for a fishing expedition to seek out and pick the brains or marketing people, and companies in an effort to revitalize his business, which has taken some hits from bad PR of late,” wrote Kobes in an E-mail.
Impraxxa’s Michael Struss referred all comments to his attorney, O’Donohue, known for winning a landmark case at the state supreme court level, when he represented a husband, who lived in Georgia, being sued by a wife, who lived in New Jersey. The husband would have had to pay for the children’s college expenses, under New Jersey law, but not under Georgia law. The husband prevailed.
O’Donohue insists that Ripoffreport is not a forum like aol.com, but a single-purpose website. He has represented Impraxxa “which owns a number of different entities” for about two years. “Impraxxa is operating this company in what they believe to be a manner that is open, honest, forthright, and in accordance with the highest business standards, says O’Donohue. “They believe the postings are improper, inaccurate, not factual, and are contesting them.”
Several dissatisfied clients complained to U.S. 1 newspaper about Career Moves over the past several years. Three complaints were filed with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs between 2005 and 2006. “Five percent of our clientele are not happy and we make accommodations — we switch advisors, re-create marketing session, or have a brainstorming session,” said Levinson in July. If all else failed, he said, a refund is made, but only 2 to 4 percent of the clientele get a refund.
— Barbara Fox
Impraxxa Business Services Inc, 100 Overlook Center, Suite 102, Princeton 08540; 609-524-0600; fax, 609-951-0175. T. Michael Struss, CEO. Home page: www.executivecareermoves.com
New in Town
JP Morgan Chase Bank NA (JPM), 103 College Road East, First Floor, Princeton 08540; 609-936-3061 (commercial office). 609-936-3066 (private client services): fax, 609-936-3071. Home page: www.chase.com
In an expansion from Morristown, JP Morgan Chase Bank has opened a 10-person office on College Road. It is the second commercial office in New Jersey, and it also has a private banking component. The retail branch of JP Morgan Chase Bank is on Nassau Street; no retail banking takes place on College Road.
Five commercial bankers provide financial services and cash management solutions to companies with annual sales of approximately $10 million to $250 million.
Three advisors from JPMorgan Private Client Services offer wealth management solutions for private clients with a net worth of more than $1 million.
“We are providing additional convenience for mid-size companies in the Princeton area,” said Joseph Dempsey, president of New Jersey Middle Market for Chase, in a press release. “Our bankers know the local market and have many existing relationships with companies located in central and southern New Jersey.”
“Our new Princeton office reflects the growing demand for wealth management expertise in New Jersey and allows us to provide a local service for existing clients and to create new relationships throughout the area,” said Robert M. Stanchak, managing director of JPMorgan’s Mid-Atlantic Private Client Services, in a press release.
Chase is the U.S. consumer and commercial banking brand of JPMorgan Chase & Co. It has 136 million credit cards issued and serves consumers and small businesses through more than 3,000 bank branches, 8,300 ATMs and 280 mortgage offices. Chase’s other New Jersey commercial banking office is in Fairfield.
JPMorgan Private Client Services, the wealth management unit of JPMorgan Chase & Co. has nearly 900 private client services’ advisors in more than 100 offices in 19 states. Its other office is in Morristown.
Flaster Greenberg, American Metro Boulevard, Suite 126, Trenton 08619; 609-695-4000; fax, 609-695-5111. Michael Simon, shareholder. Home page: www.flastergreenberg.com
Flaster Greenberg, a general practice law firm, is expanding into Mercer County. Projecting a February move-in date, the firm is fitting out a space in the historic building that formerly housed the American Standard Plumbing Company. The new office will open with five attorneys and plans to grow eventually to 15.
Fresh Wave Studio, Straube Center, PO Box 6588, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-818-9359. Helen Liu, owner and principal designer.
Fresh Wave Studio, a design and manufacturing consulting firm with customers in the United States and China, recently opened an office at the Straube Center. Founded in 2004, Fresh Wave Studio is run by a husband-wife team, Douglas Brown and Helen Liu.
Before starting Fresh Wave Studio, Brown worked in equipment design for North Face and later in toy design, and he handles the “hard” sides of design, for example, metal and plastics. Liu, a 1985 graduate of Parsons School of Design, with a bachelor of fine arts in fashion design, has worked in fashion design for Kenzo, Ellen Tracy, Geoffrey Beane, and Simplicity Patterns, and she does the “soft” sides of design, including surface design of sheets, linens, and textiles, clothing, fabric accessories, and bags. Liu also has a professional and bridal wardrobe consulting.
Elan Software Systems, 103 College Road East, Princeton 08540; 609-419-9000. Home page: www.elansoftware.fr
Elan Software Systems has moved from 212 Carnegie Center to 3,400 square feet at 103 College Road East. Headquartered in Toulouse, France, the firm computerizes FDA/GMP manufacturers’ manufacturing expertise and operational practices. Vince Marano and Tom Stange represented National Business Parks in this lease and C.J. McCourt of NAI Fennelly represented Elan. The company could not be reached for comment.
Law Office of Kevin A. Pollock LLC, 112 West Franklin Avenue, Straube Center Suite I, Pennington 08534; 609-818-1555; fax, 609-818-1556. Kevin A. Pollock. Home page: www.pollockatlaw.com
Kevin A. Pollock, formerly of Thompson & Pollock, is now a single practitioner at the same Straube Center location as before. Pollock does estate planning work in New Jersey and New York.
Pollock grew up near Asbury Park, the son of a gynecologist. He majored in history at Rutgers, Class of 1996. He met his future wife at Tulane, where he earned a law degree, and he has a master’s degree in taxation from New York University. His wife, Asako Yoshino, makes bilingual DVDs for children with her separate company, International Baby Company, and they have a preschool child.
John Thompson, Pollock’s former partner, can be reached at 609-460-4011.
Acre Mortgage, 370 Wall Street, Princeton 08540; 609-587-6003; fax, 609-683-4883. Barry Leifer, branch manager. Home page: www.acremortgage.com
In November, Acre Mortgage moved its office at 2279 State Highway 33 in Hamilton to 370 Wall Street in Princeton.
AnswerNet Network, 345 Witherspoon Street. Princeton 08542; 609-921-7450; fax, 609-688-8709. Gary A. Pudles, CEO,president. Home page: www.answernet.com
AnswerNet Network has purchased two additional call centers this year. The most recent, RSVP Call Center/S’il Vous Plait Message Center, is in New York City. RSVP’s clients include catalog and E-tail companies, New York City retailers, government agencies, and nonprofits. The second firm, Proxy Communications, is in Plano, Texas.
“RSVP is a continuation of our strategy to acquire more blue chip order entry and customer relationship management clientele,” says Gary A. Pudles, CEO of AnswerNet Network, which bills itself as the world’s largest telemessaging firm and a leading contact center services provider.
Verge180 (Alan Brooks Design), 20 Nassau Street, Suite 125, Princeton 08542; 609-924-3838; fax, 609-924-0088. Rocco Iacobellis, CEO. Home page: www.alanbrooks.com
Verge180, a creative and strategic marketing communications agency formerly known as Alan Brooks Design, won a contract to create the online and offline presence for a national wine store, CoolVines, set to launch early next year. Verge180 focuses on corporate identity, marketing/sales materials, and website design.
Rockwood Holdings (ROC), 100 Overlook Center, Princeton 08540; 609-514-0300; fax, 609-514-8720. Seifi Ghasemi, chairman and CEO. Home page: www.rockwoodspecialties.com
Rockwood Holdings, a specialty chemical firm based at Princeton Overlook, sold its Groupe Novasep subsidiary for $563 to private investors. The subsidiary focuses on pharmaceutical ingredients, purification processes and chromatography. GLobally, Rockwood employs about 10,800 people, and 25 people work at the Princeton Overlook office.
VaxInnate, 3 Cedar Brook Drive, Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512; 609-860-2260; fax, 609-860-2290. Alan Shaw PhD, CEO. www.vaxinnate.com
VaxInnate, a private biotechnology firm at Cedar Brook Corporate Center, won $1 million in federal funds to collaborate with the U.S. Department of Defense on malaria vaccine research. The firm was already working on new ways of producing vaccines for influenza and the West Nile virus.
The technology is best on the firm’s Toll-like receptor (TLR) platform, which can improve vaccine immunogenicity and efficacy. “The current egg-based method of vaccine development and production is outdated and unreliable. The groundbreaking R&D occurring in Cranbury holds real promise in improving the health of all Americans,” said U.S. Representative Rush Holt.
Alan Shaw, president and CEO of VaxInnate, said that his company’s methods have the potential “not only to improve potency but also reduce costs and greatly expand the scale of production to better protect the military, and reach vast underserved populations.”
The firm has two dozen employees in 20,000 square feet on Cedar Brook Drive and another dozen workers in New Haven, Connecticut. Its investors include New Leaf Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, HealthCare Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners, MedImmune Ventures and CHL Medical Partners.
MISTRAS Holdings Group/Physical Acoustics Corp., 195 Clarksville Road, Princeton Junction 08550; 609-716-4000; fax, 609-716-0706. Sotirios Vahaviolos, CEO. Home page: www.pacndt.com
Mistras Holdings Group bought Caliber Inspection, a Pacific Northwest-based nondestructive testing provider and inspection laboratory. Doing business as Physical Acoustics, the company has more than a dozen international offices. It offers acoustic emission (AE), ultrasonic, and eddy current testing instrumentation and inspection services.
Crossroads Personnel Inc., 4105 Route 1, Suite 11, Monmouth Junction 08852; 732-438-6699; fax, 732-438-6689. Bill Grober, president.
Crossroads Personnel Inc. has left the area. The phone number has been disconnected. It specialized in permanent placements for office support, accounting, technical, scientific candidates in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and manufacturing industries.