Guest: Michael Goldstein, creator HiddenTrenton.com
We were happy to welcome Joe Teti back to the helm, and to thank Firkins Tavern again for welcoming our group. We began with another terrific lunch and Joe called us to order at 12:39.
George, our Treasurer, reported a balance of $1635.49.
Shan offered minutes from the Feb meeting that she had constructed using notes Mike Zuckerman took at the time. A few errors were quickly sorted out with help from Steve Fitzpatrick who had arranged the speaker, Karen Andrade-Mims.
Joe asked Mike to introduce our guest, Ned Kolpan, whom he identified as a staff member at the Public Library, a board member at the Trenton Film Society, and a member of our extended family as our daughter, Elizabeth’s, boyfriend. Ned had asked to attend a Symposium meeting after hearing about it from us and from Patricia Hall, who spoke to us several months ago as operations manager at the Library.
Shan then introduced the speaker, Michael Goldstein. Michael, as part of his work developing and promoting residential real estate in Trenton with HHG Development Associates, some years ago created the website HiddenTrenton.org. About half the people in attendance had heard of the site, and some 5-8 folks had used it to find local resources. Michael explained that the site is unapologetically biased in favor of living in Trenton, and advertises itself as a “highly-opinionated guide to worthwhile places.” Though it is a review site, it only reviews great stuff, choosing to ignore anything that it can be enthusiastic about. Michael tried to offer newcomers or strangers to Trenton the benefit of insider knowledge developed over many years of “city-positive” living here. For people who aren’t raised with the skills and knowledge to live well in cities, HiddenTrenton is a big boost up the learning curve. It offers tantalizing places and experiences, great foods, and a reliable guide to what not to miss.
Originally, HiddenTrenton.org focused on the city of Trenton itself, but has recently branched out to include highlights of “greater Trenton.” Michael particularly noted all the great “dude stuff” there is to do nearby, and proposed that that is one of the real perqs of choosing a Trenton address.
HiddenTrenton addresses directly the perception of a lot of old-timers that all the good local restaurants are gone. Many of the old immigrant restaurants have given way, as things do, to new immigrant restaurants. HiddenTrenton features great Guatemalan, Mexican, and barbecue places that richly reward patronage well beyond the local neighborhoods.
HiddenTrenton also offers reviews of activities, offering ways of living a very full life in this community. From the Capital Philharmonic and Passage Theatre to hiking at Baldpate and the Sourlands, to enjoying historical experiences at Washington Crossing and Princeton battlefield, HiddenTrenton opens up a world of indoor and outdoor excitement within very easy reach of the city. HiddenTrenton supports these listing with “the best hiking guide for central Jersey on the web,” its own GPS linked app with downloadable maps and directions. You can follow it to a wide range of outdoor adventures.
HiddenTrenton promotes local entertainment, such as the jazz performances at the Candlelight Lounge on Passaic St. Saturday afternoons from 3-7, Candlelight features some great players who perform here while they are in the area for gigs in NYC and Philadelphia.
Shopping tips promoting local business are also part of the HiddenTrenton service to the city. The Trenton Coffee House and Roasters has grown from a cart to a shop, supported in part by promotion through HiddenTrenton, as has Artefacts Framing, the Sign shop, and the State Barber Shop on Warren St.
Historic sites are easy to find using HiddenTrenton’s tours, which include self-guided excursions on the Trenton and Princeton battlefields of the American Revolution. Michael emphasized that these tours were not for kids, but are available in a downloadable book with a driving tour included. The tour incorporates details of the area that George Washington himself used to move through the area and evade the British Army.
Michael promotes HiddenTrenton through Facebook and other social media platforms, and by word of mouth. The site currently has 287 reviews, and 48 pages of other content. It first went live in 2007, has been redesigned 3 times, most recently in 2013. Adam Immerwahr, an intern and then staff at the McCarter theatre, helped hugely with the most recent redesign. The team reenvisioned HiddenTrenton as a voice for an “alternative narrative” about the city from the mainstream media canards. The standard narrative has become that “all the restaurants are closing,” that the city is riddled with crime, drugs, gang violence, etc, and, in short, DON’T GO, DON’T VISIT.
The alternative narrative championed by HiddenTrenton is that Trenton is renewing itself, millennials are coming, restaurants are re-opening and providing memorable food experiences that make Trenton well worth checking out. Places like Champs Sports Bar and Grill (which Michael notes has no sports and no grill) does have an artistic chill night on Mondays, and he finds it very welcoming. There’s no discernible prejudice against him because he’s older than the standard crowd.
A lot of the renewing energy in Trenton is coming from Latino immigrant communities. They have, almost single-handedly, stabilized the city’s population, quadrupling in the last 4 decades while every other group continued to decline. Guatemalans are the largest segment of the immigrant group, with significant Mexican and Puerto Rican components as well. Many are evangelical Christians and their congregations are now preserving some of the city’s great older houses of worship with large memberships.
He also took a moment to present one of his favorite Mexican places, called Chencha y Chole. HiddenTrenton was there to review it just as it opened. It gratified Michael a great deal to find that, that weekend, the HT review drove six tables in the restaurant. That, along with comments on the site, help him know that the site is accomplishing its mission. He finds that the site can also compensate for a lack of marketing sophistication in new businesses by giving them a presence on the web that they don’t invest in building for themselves. He showed the unclaimed Yelp listing of Chencha y Chole, and focused our attention on how much they could make of their positioning if they knew and wanted to.
He also noted that HiddenTrenton is strictly private, and does not get or seek city money to operate, though its goal is to support the city. Taking city money would, he feels, compromise the trustworthiness and integrity that are key to making HT an “insider” knowledge base. On his own, he need only list cool stuff, and can freely express his opinions and insights, so there’s no drive to get public funds to work on the site.
Michael took questions, and he encouraged us to tell friends about HT. David suggested that it might be worth helping some of the restaurants take charge of their Yelp sites, and Carol told the group about a film From ‘Burg to the Barrio, which can be found on YouTube, that chronicles the change from one generation of striving immigrants to another.
We adjourned at 1:33pm