Happy Cinco de Mayo! Hope you had fun! If you like Mexican food, or at least, a super-sized US-style take on Mexican food, you may like Chipotle Mexican Grill. With their jumbo-sized portions and highly-customizable build-your-own burrito assembly-line, the Chipotle brand has swept the US and beyond. Chipotle now serves 800,000 customers per day. Some people like the fresh ingredients, some like the firm’s commitment to sustainable practices, and others go looking for the secret menu. The brand has been so successful that if you had bought $100 worth of Chipotle shares 4 years ago, they would now be worth $600.
So with almost 2,000 restaurants around, where is the Chipotle in Princeton? Well, there is none. Unless you count the one which recently opened out on Route 1, in ‘The Square At West Windsor’ shopping center:
Why did Chipotle open out on Route 1 instead of in downtown Princeton? We’re confident that it would have been a massive hit here, with our walkable downtown area, large population of hungry students, and a significant local workforce. New Brunswick has a Chipotle now too, meaning that Rutgers students are getting the benefit of their tasty and reasonably-priced burritos, but Choir College, Seminary and Princeton students miss out. More worryingly, it continues a trend where downtown Princeton is by-passed in favor of a commercial location out on Rt 1. This should concern everyone in Princeton. Our downtown area should be the first place that a popular, rapidly-expanding chain should be looking to deliver their goods to the local area. The fact that Chipotle went for a Rt 1 mall instead of downtown Princeton is bad news for our town. An Apple Store is also rumored for the area. But is it going in downtown Princeton? Apparently not. Instead, it too, will land in a West Windsor Mall.
Princeton should do everything it can to make sure that it is an irresistible destination for retail. When Chipotle and Apple, both of which are likely to be incredibly popular with Princeton residents, are both skipping downtown Princeton, it’s clear that our downtown lacks the ability to compete for quality retail. We should not be willing to accept that in future, all our shopping needs will have to be fulfilled by driving down to the traffic inferno that is Rt 1.
We reached out to Chipotle to ask them why they chose Rt 1 for their Princeton area location. On their website, they have a list of things that they look for in a new location, and downtown Princeton could certainly provide them all. Here is the reply that we got:
Thanks for writing to us. As you noticed on our site, there are a lot of things that go onto our location decisions. The ability to find a suitable space one factor that isn’t really listed, but plays a key role. I’m not entirely sure what led to this final decision, but I’ll be sure to pass along your request to possibly consider a location in the downtown area. Keep your fingers crossed!
Well, we admit that we didn’t learn a whole lot there. In the meantime, if you want a fantastic burrito in walking distance of downtown Princeton, may we recommend Taste of Mexico, Qdoba, or [our favorite] Tortuga’s Mexican Village.
I’m not sure I get your argument here, Walkable folks. Why would we want another faceless corporate chain store here in the cute little downtown Princeton area, if we already HAVE three other stores (as you mention) that sell the exact same thing? I love being able to get what I need within walking distance. But if downtown becomes filled with the same kind of crappy chain stores you can find in a strip mall, it will no longer have any character (and it will drive out the independent stores).
Just a thought!
Local residents and students would probably quite like to have the chance to eat at a Chipotle. Downtown Princeton should aim to have the best dining and shopping options in the region. That will boost the vitality, vibrancy and tax base of our downtown. It should be up to the customer to choose between a local independent burrito-slinger and a ‘crappy chain store’ like Chipotle, which, incidentally, has a commitment to using sustainable local produce and has built a Platinum LEED-certified restaurant.
The most important part of this post is the last sentence: Three perfectly good Mexican restaurants, two locally owned, already are in Princeton. We don’t need Chipotle, which might have been a great stock buy but serves high-fat, high-calorie cafeteria food. They can stay out on Route 1 where they belong with the other national chains and junk food.
We support our local burrito-slingers but there should always be space in Princeton for popular retail options that draw customers and add vibrancy to our town. Local businesses have nothing to fear from new entrants if they are doing a good job, and local residents and students would benefit from additional places to get lunch. Chipotle has proven very popular in other markets, so many Princeton folk would probably really appreciate having one here in town.
Lets hope Chipotle isn’t the canary in the coal-mine for Princeton!
The big picture here isn’t whether we want a Chipotle, but whether downtown Princeton is going to survive as a shopping/dining hub long-term. Having chain stores set up in Princeton isn’t necessarily bad for independent stores: Princeton needs to draw customers in to be able to support local businesses and chains can be part of that equation. If more and more shops choose to set up on rt1 it could mean that Princeton looses out on foot traffic, and that isn’t going to help local businesses to survive.
For example, this weekend I went to Princeton Shopping Center to a chainstore (Ace) and popped into a local restaurant for lunch = win for local restaurant. In an alternative scenario I could have driven out to Home Depot on Rt1 and eaten in chain restaurant out there = lose for local restaurant.
Just so you’re aware, ACE isn’t a chain – it’s more like a buying group, using a single brand. The local ACE is locally owned and operated, and I much prefer going there to Home Depot or other larger stores with less advice, help and assistance.
Perhaps I don’t understand the nuance, but isn’t that like saying a particular McDonald’s isn’t a chain because its a locally-owned and operated franchise?
Either way the folks in Ace are very helpful and they certainly manage to fit a lot of useful things into the store, and anything that means I can avoid driving is a good thing!
You question the business decision to place a Chipotle within a viewing range of US 1 instead of Nassau St? A) The traffic to this mall location is off the charts (people complain about the length of the line and it’s true there’s always a long line), B) The rent in the mall is probably 30% of Nassau St for 2 times the space, C) Nassau St is a joke when it comes to parking, while in the mall there are a hundred spots. D) People who work for a living (and have more disposable income) tend to make the effort to drive to the Mall, while students who don’t have a car (or disposable income) stick to Nassau St. E) Trader Joe’s is next door at the Mall. In this case I don’t see why catering to Princeton students is a good business decision, at least for the first Chipotle in the area.
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Apologize my previous post got cut short. Chipotle is actively looking for a space in downtown Priceton but has not been able to find the right site/deal. As I said, Palmer Square was not interested in the concept and when you cut that out there aren’t many spaces left that would work and rarely any quality vacancy in the right size range.