Not so long ago, people were afraid that the old-fashioned downtowns in their communities would turn into empty storefronts, and if you wanted to buy anything you would have to drive out to the highway and make your way to the big suburban mall.

Well that never happened. While downtown retail stores still have their challenges, Princeton this month installed new smart meters and raised its rates at all the parking spots in the downtown. We didn’t notice any fewer cars in town over the holiday weekend. The big malls on the highway, meanwhile, have their own problems. Earlier this year Sears closed at Quaker Bridge Mall. And this month, as we report in this issue, the Nassau Park “big box” mall is applying to the West Windsor Planning Board for approval to tear down two of its existing buildings, build several other new ones, and rearrange some of its parking.

At Nassau Park the big vacancy is in the space formerly occupied by Sam’s Club, which apparently lost favor after a Costco opened on Quakerbridge Road.

Now mall owners and developers across the country are pondering what to do with these mega-structures. Paint ball parks, ice hockey rinks, mega-churches, schools, municipal offices, a mix of residential and commercial office space, fitness centers and physical therapy facilities, co-working spaces, libraries — the possibilities (hopefully for the owners and the towns to which the mall once paid property tax) seem endless.

In a commercial space close to a strip mall on Route 33 in Hamilton Township, retail space is now devoted to activities space: An escape room, in which teams pay to get locked in a room and then follow cryptic clues to determine a way out, now shares space with an activity that is just beginning to catch on: hatchet throwing.

The company, called Flying Hatchets, describes the activity as “an individual sport played with and against other members of a group. Individuals throw hatchets at wooden targets marked with a bullseye and score points based on where on the target they stick the axe.” Just to make it even more fun, participants are invited to bring their own wine or beer to the event.

Attention Princeton shoppers: Another hatchet-throwing company, called Stumpy’s, is said to be looking for retail space in the Palmer Square area.

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