Retailers hope new signal green lights more customers

Retailers at the Shoppes at Hamilton received the top item on their wishlist, just in time for the holidays.

Installation of a long-awaited traffic light at the Route 130 shopping center was completed in late November, allowing motorists on the highway’s southbound side to make a quick left across the road and into the Shoppes. Previously, motorists on Route 130 South were forced to take a detour through Yardville several miles long to get into the center on the other side.

The light will eventually need to be removed for a permanent signal that would provide access to the center from all directions. But the temporary light is still considered progress. Shoppers and shop owners alike had complained about the lack of easy access to the center, ever since the Shoppes at Hamilton opened almost three years ago.

Some retailers have theorized that many people abandoned their plans to shop and went home in frustration. Several businesses in the center have closed since then, including Italian restaurant Bensi, Nathan’s Hot Dogs and two Asian restaurants.

Business owners, including the former Nathan’s franchisee, Tom Park, had repeatedly asked the township and the center’s developer, Stanbery, for a traffic light, saying it would improve the Shoppes at Hamilton’s fortunes. Stoltz Management acquired the center from Stanbery in May, and agreed to foot the bill to install a temporary traffic light.

While the traffic light arrived just in time for the holiday shopping season and shop owners are glad to spend less time helping customers navigate their ways in, many of the owners said they haven’t seen a significant jump in sales—at least not yet.

Jane Quigley, owner-operator of Color Me Mine pottery paint shop, said it was about time the light was installed. She said the traffic light has definite potential to increase activity, but it was too early to tell in early December what kind of difference it has made in business so far.

Like many of the other shop owners, Quigley said she was happy to be spending less time on the phone giving directions and more time interacting with her customers. She recalled a particular phone call during which a distraught shopper called up for help, winding up in the middle of a corn field somewhere.

Jos. A. Bank store manager Bruce Silfan said he was grateful for the convenience of the light, but wasn’t optimistic about the impact it will have on business.

“These shops left over a year ago and have been empty ever since,” he said, pointing to empty storefronts next to his. “We are down to one restaurant (Cheeburger Cheeburger), and we are just about the only men’s store in the place.”

Silfan said convenience is key to the male shopping experience, and the light helps with this. However, he speculated that being the only men’s shop in the center isn’t enough of a draw for a male crowd.

“When we first came into the Shoppes at Hamilton, there used to be car shows and other events to draw male shoppers in,” Silfan said. “There used to be a wider variety of food. A man could come for the show, enjoy lunch and do a little shopping. But it’s a lot less likely he will stop into a plaza to visit only one shop.”

While Jos. A Bank continues to have its regular customers, Silfan guessed a bit more than a convenient left turn would be necessary to generate new business.

Perri Matarese from Necessities Day Spa & Salon, a newcomer to the Shoppes at Hamilton, said people are very happy to be able to make the quick left into the shops. Like others, she’s thrilled to spend less time giving step by step directions over the phone.

She says business at the salon has been pretty good, but thought the Shoppes needed a bit more variety to draw customers.

“[The Shoppes] could really use a good coffee shop,” Matarese said. “We have some really great stores in here. Hopefully they’ll fill the empty spaces with other good places to get more people in here.”

The Shoppes at Hamilton are located on Route 130 North in Hamilton, across the highway from Body by Mule. For more information, go online to theshoppesathamilton.com.

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