RoomToRead with Nicole Smith, January 25, 2021

Joe Teti called the meeting to order at 12:05

Our Treasurer, George Pearson, reported $1514.21 in hand.  While George was unable to attend, his report was acknowledged. George did want us all reminded to pay our $35.00.  Joe has previously sent out this notice and the address to respond to.

Minutes from the previous meeting have been sent out and posted to the Website.

Shan then introduced our speaker.  Nicole Smith directs the New Jersey chapter of Room to Read.  She is a volunteer with this Global Nonprofit celebrating its 20th Anniversary.  Ms Smith has served 10 years with the New Jersey Chapter.

The organization is active in 16 countries. There are 800 million illiterate individuals in the world with 2/3 of them women. Under the motto “World change starts with educated children” John Wood the founder, started the organization after a visit to Nepal.

A former Microsoft executive, Mr. Wood started a program promoting Literacy and Gender Equality.  His organization goal is to reach 20 million children with 20 million books. The program is operated with Social Mobilizers setting goals and life skills for girls. 

State chapter leaders such as Ms. Smith hold book sales and other events to raise funds for the organization.  She also reaches out to build visibility for Room to Read. Recently, RoomToRead has begun a partnership with the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity to extend its work into African American communities. Information on that initiative is available at this link: https://www.roomtoread.org/kappa-alpha-psi/

We will meet again on Monday, February 22, to hear from Bernie Flynn of Mercer Street Friends.

Respectfully submitted,

Elizabeth Yull, Secretary

Managing the Trenton Farmers Market with Chris Cirkus, November 30, 2020

Pineland Farms flower, fruit, and vegetable stand at the “center” of the Trenton Farmers Market building. Pineland offers a CSA arrangement each year, with weekly boxes of what’s fresh on the farm.

As we continue to meet remotely thanks to COVID19, it was indeed good to gather again to catch up and to learn. Looking forward to returning to in-person meetings with more tasty lunches, sometime in 2021.

We began our meeting with business, approving the minutes from the October gathering and hearing that there would be no December meeting.  Joe Teti had hoped we could gather at Blooming Grove for a holiday luncheon, keeping distances as appropriate, but that turned out not to be workable. 

The Treasurer did not attend this meeting, so there was no treasurer’s report, but we were reminded to pay our 2021 dues of $35/person, and that we would meet again on Monday, January 25, still via Zoom.

Shan Holt, as Program Committee Chair, introduced our speaker, Chris Cirkus, and thanked her for sandwiching our meeting in at a very busy season.  Chris manages the Trenton Farmers Market (TFM) and the Windsor Farmers Market (WFM) as well, so the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas can be pretty wild.

Chris explained that when she began at Windsor Farmers Market she was not experienced with market management but with connecting folks in community.  She came to TFM with years of experience in Windsor to draw on.  Her first major move was to address the deteriorated infrastructure of the Trenton market.  After a deep cleaning, including the walls, ceilings, all the pipes, and the floors, she arranged to have all the striping repainted marking stalls and parking areas, then began the business of helping the market to thrive.

She’s very passionate about the history of the TFM and hopes to use an area in the market as a museum of the Market’s history.  She shared a number of historic photographs with the group that certainly would create a proud and memorable display.

The Market began around 1900 near the Trenton Makes Bridge but the area turned out to be too narrow to service all the farmers and wagons coming in.  By 1918, the Market had moved to S. Broad and 3rd street, just southeast of today’s Hamilton Light Rail station. 

The TFM is a cooperative, owned by the farmers who exhibit goods there.  Slowly the group shifted from selling to wholesalers to selling direct to customers, as the market location continued to shift around Broad St, to the Roebling Park, to Chestnut and Grand.  When Rt 29 was pushed through Trenton, the Market made its final move away from downtown; by 1948 TFM had settled in its current location on Spruce Street.  All these moves and the deliberations leading to them are documented in the Market’s archive, which should be preserved and could support museum interpretation.

Physical changes were not over for the Market, though, even after it settled in place.  The Spruce St site included numerous buildings, including a working abattoir where Halo Farms now does business.  (Chris doesn’t regret the loss of that function on the property!) As the number of farmers in the area declined, the remaining members of the cooperative decided to cut one of the Market’s long buildings in half and create today’s single (and distinctive) cross-shaped market building.  As one who has arranged to meet others “at the center” of the market, I’m glad they did.

Besides the cross-shape, TFM has always been known for its iconic red sign.  Chris has been working to restore the sign and perhaps remount it above the Market.  She has also developed a logo and some merchandise that features the historic sign.

Today, the Market has 6 or 7 members, a few descended from the original farmers who formed the cooperative, others of whom have joined along the way.  Chris recruits vendors actively, working to create a mix of raw and prepared food, some grocery outlets, and opportunities to feature local artisans and craftspeople.  There is fresh meat and seafood for sale, alongside vegetables, plants, coffee and tea, homemade baked goods, with restaurants featuring Haitian, vegan/gluten-free, barbecue, and Pennsylvania Dutch cuisines.  Two new farms are finishing their probationary year and will be eligible to join the cooperative soon.  Last year, Chris also added an antiques stall, a small bulk-goods retailer, and some personal care products.

Chris wants to see more young farmers in the group to keep the Market going as the original members age out of farming.  Many local farms have shut down in the last half century, with younger generations choosing not to continue to farm.  This is especially a problem in areas where property values encourage farms to sell out to developers. 

The TFM gets some financial help to sustain operations from the USDA.  They host Jersey Fresh tasting days, too.  Chris is working to get more farmers to accept SNAP funds, to address the need for fresh produce among Trenton’s poorer residents.  She’s reaching out to Polish and Hispanic vendors to broaden the variety available and attract new groups of customers.  She has developed marketing pushes with signs along Route 1 going through the city, working with Trenton’s own Zienowicz signs.

Fresh mackeral and bronzini on offer at the Trenton Farmers Market

One of the challenges of managing the market is that there are so many “owners” with competing desires, all expecting to get their own way.  It’s the nature of a “cooperative,” I guess, for people not to cooperate.  But she’s determined to create an atmosphere that rewards shoppers, helps them get many of their shopping needs met in one place, and keeps the Market healthy for the city.

Symposium members expressed a great devotion to the TFM, while asking their questions after the presentation.  A question about Community Supported Agriculture brought the affirmation that Pineland Farms at the TFM does offer such a relationship.  We were also reminded of the small fish market out the double doors past the BBQ place. 

Chris was invited to compare the Windsor and Trenton markets.  Windsor, she indicated more actively participated in the USDA’s initiative to connect markets to schools, and to learn better market management techniques.  TFM vendors stayed aloof, feeling that they had a community they could count on.  Chris commented that the bylaws of the TFM cooperative can be both a strength and a weakness.  Other markets are making themselves into destinations, offering holiday meals, and restaurants that create reasons to visit the market.  TFM’s bylaws require agreement among many members before significant change can be implemented, so that can slow down adaptations to modern consumer preferences and modern marketing ideas.  The bylaws also give vendors control over their days and hours of opening.  The inability to guarantee the availability of the Market’s diverse goods at any one time does hamper efforts to recruit new customers.  

In response to questions about her future plans for the market, Chris indicated that she did a customer survey when she first arrived in 2018 and has been working to implement the desires expressed there.  One was to have a fresh mushroom vendor, which was added.  (I can say from experience that the ‘shrooms are marvelous!)  She also succeeded in adding a coffee and tea shop, where one can buy both prepared or in bulk.  She hopes to keep adding sparkle as well as staple goods to the Market’s offerings and more prepared foods that appeal to younger customers.

Wine tasting at the Terhune Orchards stall. Terhune makes and markets its own wines on Cold Soil Road near Princeton. They also make and sell sublime apple cider donuts, sometimes offering one free if you bring your own shopping bag!

So between recalling and exhibiting the Market’s history and exploring and developing its future, Chris certainly keeps busy all year round.

With thanks to Chris for her terrific presentation and great work, the meeting adjourned at 1pm. 

We will meet again on January 25, to hear from Nicole Smith, head of the NJ Chapter of the international girls literacy non-profit, Room to Read.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, with John Harmon, Oct 26, 2020

This was our second meeting since shutting down for COVID in March 2020.  The remote gathering shortened the meetings by eliminating the pleasant lunches we had so enjoyed at Blooming Grove Inn. 

Because our guest had an afternoon engagement elsewhere, we held the regular symposium business until after the presentation.  Shan introduced Mr. Harmon, who spoke more in a question and answer format than as a formal presentation. 

Harmon explained that he had helped found the Chamber in 2007, after serving as president of the MetroTrenton Chamber from 1999 to 2009.  The MetroTrenton Chamber remains, though many tasks also addressed by the new African American Chamber since 2009.  Joe noted with regret that collaboration could be so much more fruitful than competition for limited resources.

Tenth Annual Circle of Achievement Awards Gala, February 6, 2020

We started with questions about the impact of COVID on Black-owned businesses.  He indicated that, with high rates of COVID infection and mortality among African Americans, the impact had been severe.  Too many business owners had inadequate insurance and had been skipping regular preventative care.  The Chamber was working on improving health care among Black business owners and employees, as well as addressing underperformance in the sector on Education, Business practice, and Work Force management/development.

Rhett mentioned reading a Citibank study warning that some 30-40% of Black-owned businesses will not reopen after the pandemic.  Citibank cited a lack of equitable participation in the economy even in good times as a cause of this vulnerability.

Harmon affirmed that, in New Jersey, 93% of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietorships, and therefore very vulnerable to illness.  The net worth of these business owners averages about $4500, while white business owners average net worth of about $250,000.  The combination of racism and economic disadvantage leave Black-owned businesses very vulnerable indeed.

The Chamber lobbies for financial incentives and required government contracting with Black-owned business as part of their support for the sector.  Governments prefer race-neutral procurement laws, but these, through existing networks of friendship and business acquaintance overwhelmingly privilege white-owned businesses.  The Chamber wants to see procurement laws with incentives for Black-owned, and Woman-owned businesses (and of course, both).

We had heard in September about the Capital Philharmonic’s hard work to get Payroll Protection dollars from the Federal government.  We asked Harmon how PPP had worked for his Chamber members. 

Federal policy mandated that PPP funds be channeled through banks, which created a block for Chamber members.  Banks went to their best customers first, so PPP funds ran out before they reached most Black-owned businesses.  The Chamber worked with the NJ Economic Development Authority to provide technical assistance to get Chamber members and other Black-owned businesses into the PPP pool.  Out of 800 members, 300 got into the PPP program.

State aid did provide some help also by prioritizing 169 opportunity zones for loans.  This program targeted areas with many Black- or Hispanic-owned enterprises for loans and grants of $5000-$15,000.

Artists paint BLACK LIVES MATTER mural in Trenton, in front of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey headquarters on W. State St. in Trenton..

Harmon explored further what makes sole proprietorships so vulnerable to economic disruption.  First, he said, they cannot scale their businesses up or down to meet changes in demand or supply.  This makes it very hard for them to align their business practices with available resources.  He works through the Chamber to persuade municipalities to invest in these business owners, through training and contracting both.

He also pointed out that sole proprietorships may have higher production costs due to their limited access to capital.  Capital access is another barrier to “playing in the big leagues” of competitive government contracting.  Businesses need to be able to wait out official procurement and payment schedules, which many small businesses cannot afford to do.

He noted that 30% of his Chamber members are not Black-owned.  He has big and small businesses, and some large donors who support the Chamber.  He wants very much to increase the competitiveness of Chamber members by providing additional capital.

We asked what actions concerned citizens can take to support these efforts.  Harmon indicated that he appreciated the chance to talk about his work and his goals for the Chamber and encouraged us to spread the word.  He was open to building relationships with the Symposium and its members in this effort, thinking about the possibility of planning some actions together to introduce Black business owners to new opportunities.  He left us with an upbeat sense of how business in the state generally would improve by becoming more inclusive, leveraging rather than squandering Black entrepreneurial talent.

After Mr. Harmon signed off, members approved the minutes from September 2020.  George Pearson reported $1834 in the treasury, and annual dues coming due.  Members were asked to mail their $35 dues payments to George.

The meeting adjourned at 12:45. We will meet again Monday, November 30, 2020, (Zoom info below), to hear from Chris Cirkus, manager of the Trenton Farmers Market.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

H2Open from Trenton Water Works, with Michael Walker, February 2020

Our Treasurer, George, reported $1342.41 in hand.  His report was approved by voice vote.  Caswell Cook introduced his wife, Mary, who had come as his guest.

Shan introduced the speaker, beginning by thanking Rob Bullington for his help in reaching Mr. Walker and getting a date for this talk.  She also informed the group that she and Rob had been working successfully to load monthly minutes onto the web at TrentonSymposium.org.  Members were encouraged to invite people to join the group and steer them toward the valuable content recorded for each meeting.

Michael Walker indicated that he was chief of communications and community relations for the Water Works, and that the Water Works was now separate from the Department of Public Works.  It had not thrived under that umbrella, and Walker was pleased with its greater independence.

H2Open is the name of the public outreach push embraced by Trenton Water Works under Dr. Hsieh.

He described the TWW as a 200-year old organization with a “sprawling program” of water supply.  TWW has the capacity to deliver 60 million gallons of water, but currently demand is stable at about 20 million gallons.  They serve 63,000 accounts (250,000 people) in Trenton, Hamilton,  Lawrence, Ewing, and Hopewell through a network of 683 miles of pipe.  They maintain a reservoir in Trenton at Pennington and Prospect Streets that holds 100 million gallons of prepared water, and maintain water towers throughout the area that regulate water pressure. 

TWW operates in the black, depending for its revenue on customer payments and contributes 5% of its revenue to the Trenton city budget.  New Jersey has the highest water standards in the nation, according to Walker, and TWW maintains its supply to those standards.  TWW also connects with systems maintained by New Jersey American Water to assist each other in maintaining customer service in the event of a water emergency.  They prefer to invest surplus revenue into the capital and maintenance needs of the system to keep it up to date and fully functional.

For the last several decades, starting under Trenton’s long-serving mayor, Doug Palmer, the Trenton Water Works suffered some neglect and mismanagement.  Staffing was allowed to diminish, an original corps of ten engineers, for instance, collapsing to only three. Technology at the filtration plant fell behind without regular upgrades, and routine maintenance such as replacing, cleaning, and lining water mains, flushing hydrants and mains to clear out stagnant water, and maintenance at the elevated pressure tanks fell behind.  Governor Christie, never a friend of the capital city, endorsed the neglect of the Water Works, seemingly in hopes of selling the operation to a private concern.

Dr. Hsieh, the former director, came to the Water Works toward the end of Mayor Eric Jackson’s tenure.  He took the situation in hand and developed strategic approaches to bringing the TWW back to its former status as one of the great exemplary urban water systems in the country.  He had to retire with much still undone due to serious health concerns, but Mayor Reed Gusciora has picked up the challenge by making TWW a priority for his administration.

TWW is now engaged in a multi-dimensional plan (left) to become both effective and resilient, able to serve its customers in normal times and adapt swiftly and successfully in times of crisis.  The plan includes pro-active outreach and communication throughout the customer area, of which this talk, called H2OPEN, is one fruit.  TWW held community forums in January throughout its service area, and is available to speak to any community group.  It also offers tours of the filtration plant, by appointment, so that the public can see the works there. 

Summary of Trenton Water Works 6 year, $405 million, capital plan, 2020

TWW has also debuted an emergency line, TWW Connects, that can serve the whole system area (previously, emergency communication only reached Trenton customers).  Water customers can sign up for information and alerts as well as choose phone, text, or email communication through the TWW website link here.  https://www.trentonnj.org/453/TWW-Connects-Alerts

The plan also prioritizes controlling lead contamination in water at the tap.  They have begun replacing some 36,700 lead-compromised service lines. (right) TWW expects to replace between 5800 and 7200 lines each year, completing the full replacement in 5-6 years.  Currently, TWW is charging homeowners $1000/home to complete the replacement.  They hope that Trenton City Council will approve a proposed rate increase, so that the Works can use its own revenue to make these replacements free to homeowners. TWW is also adding a phosphate compound to the water that coats the pipes to seal lead in place and prevent it leaching from joints or pipes into the water as it flows.

Distribution of lead service lines throughout TWW service area. Hopewell lacks these because the community was developed after lead lines were prohibited.

The Water Works is also staffing up, filling the 65 empty positions that accumulated since the Palmer years.  Staffing is at about 95% now, so there is still some need for growth.  TWW tries to hire staff from Trenton, as City Council insists they do, but they must also hire professionals with advanced licenses, and those don’t always exist in our city.  With the re-staffing, the TWW is also looking to relocate its administrative offices to the Westside Plaza, now largely abandoned.  They think they could combine their renovation for administration with the creation of a new public library branch in the Plaza, which would be a considerable amenity for the city.

Trenton Reservoir

Another priority is to retire the great old reservoir and store the finished water more safely in sealed tanks.  Having all the service area’s prepared water in one place no longer meets Federal safety standards because that one collection point is vulnerable to attack.  However, as came up in the question period, building enough tank space to hold 100 million gallons could create unsightly blight in the customer communities.  One member of the Symposium expressed particular concern that these tanks would be concentrated in Trenton rather than spread equally through the service area.  Michael Walker affirmed that TWW would try to make the tanks more beautiful, perhaps with murals, and would spread them around in part for safety.

These changes are slated to take about 6 years to accomplish, and the TWW is asking for a rate increase that will average $11/month for customers.  It’s the first TWW rate increase in ten years, and they expect it will be followed by another rate increase in a few years.  Michael Walker made the case that the increased revenue is needed to recover from years of neglect and reestablish TWW as the water system the city needs for the future.  Also, the increase still leaves TWW customers paying about half what customers of NJ American water are paying.  Meanwhile, TWW is establishing new levels of effectiveness, including no lead violations in 2019 and only one, mostly precautionary, “boil-water” advisory in September. 

Walker admitted that the rate increase is a hard sell at City Council.  He commended them for making local citizens their priority, and affirmed that TWW has to do a better job being ready to answer Council’s legitimate questions about earlier appropriations and about the costs and value of their long-term plans.

The meeting adjourned at 1:40pm.  We will meet again on Monday, March 30.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

Civil Air Patrol in New Jersey, with Eliz Yull, January, 2020

Celebrating 75 years of service, Civil Air Patrol

Joe Teti called the meeting to order at 12:40.

Our Treasurer, George, reported $1167 in hand.  His report was approved by voice vote.  He reminded Symposium members to pay up with next year’s dues.

Mike Zuckerman, head of the Teti Prize committee, recommissioned the members for the 2020 Prize process.  He described the prize, mentioned that the first had been given to Patricia Hall and the Trenton Free Public Library.  He promised to send out a request for people’s suggestions for the 2020 prize.

Shan introduced Symposium member, Elizabeth Yull, who has for the last 20 years been in the Civil Air Patrol.  She holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, having retired at that rank from active duty.

Eliz discussed the founding of the Civil Air Patrol, which in fact began in Trenton under the guidance of Gill Robb Wilson.  Wilson, son of a Presbyterian minister and a WWI pilot in France, he became the pastor of 4th Presbyterian church (450 E. State St) in Trenton.  The 1919 flu epidemic killed Wilson’s wife, Margaret Perrine, who was pregnant with their second child.  The shock left him unable to speak, necessitating his withdrawal from the active ministry. 

Building a second career around his aviation experience, Wilson became state director of aviation.  In this post, he noted and worried about German efforts to re-arm as a nation.  To make sure that the United States was prepared, Wilson initiated what came to be the Civil Air Patrol.  The US Congress approved his plan on Dec 1,  1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war.  We also learned that Wilson was acquainted with Charles Lindbergh, another aviator concerned about the German build-up in the 1930s.

Civil Air Patrol planes flew the Atlantic coast scouting for German submarines (U-boats), and in 1942-43 sank two submarines and one unfortunate whale.  Most of the flyers were ineligible for active service, and so contributed to the war effort as civilians through the CAP.

Today, New Jersey Civil Air Patrol has 23 squadrons with 1300 members and there are 1200 squadrons across the United States.  Organized with the same rank structure as the Air Force, the CAP provides Emergency Service and Cadet Education. 

Emergency Services include search and rescue, locating drug traffickers, and other disaster recovery services.  Calls come from the Air Force through the State Police.  The State Police notify the whole New Jersey wing or individual squadrons, and often supervise their work.

Cadet Education has also been successful.  Boys and girls aged 12-21 are eligible to participate.  There are currently 50 cadets at the Twin Pines squadron in Mercer County, where Eliz mostly works.  She likes that size group, since it makes it possible to know everyone personally, and noted that Twin Pines has won awards as top squadron for 10 years running.  Cadets fly single engine Cessnas.  Some have gone on from Twin Pines to the Air Force Academy and the Coast Guard.  Some have also gone into ROTC programs, where they keep their CAP rank.

Twin Pines and other CAP squadrons also sponsor aviation education in the schools.  There are 4500 teachers involved with the program.  Twin Pines also collects food for Home Front, and works with Wreaths Across America to mark the graves of veterans.  Each year they sponsor a parade in honor of John Basilone, a US Marine and a Medal of Honor winner, who re-enlisted to fight in the Pacific and was killed there.

Questions from Symposium members drew out the information that the Twin Pines squadron flies from Lawrenceville airport, a grass field near Pennington circle.  The CAP is mostly Federally funded but individual squadrons raise additional funds.  The get some income each year from the Wreaths program, where $5 of the $15 charge goes to the squadron.  They also charge $49 annual dues.  While they expect each cadet to purchase the required uniform, they try to cover costs if this is a hardship, so that no one is prevented from serving by economic need.

CAP recruits mostly by word of mouth, and recruitment is a regular challenge to the organization.  Kids are attracted by the STEM education they receive, and also by chances to prepare for careers as engineers, in the military, and with NASA

Eliz kindly agreed to tell us about her own array of medals, before the group adjourned at 1:15, with thanks all around.

We will meet again on Monday, February 24, with a guest from the Trenton Water Works.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

Pimen Sofronov, tradition and innovation, with Dr. Roy Robson

We began with lunch service, typically tasty! 

Joe Teti was absent dealing with an illness, so he asked Shan Holt to Emcee the occasion on behalf of her invited guest, Dr. Roy Robson.  She called the meeting to order at 12:20.

Pimen Sofronov’s signature, as it changed through his career.

Our Treasurer, George, reported $1397.41 in hand before today’s lunch.  His report was approved by voice vote.  He reminded Symposium members to pay up with next year’s dues.

We were also happy to welcome Dan Aubrey and Mike Smoliga new members of the group.  Dan has spoken to us twice recently, and it is nice to have him as a member.

As we were finishing lunch, Shan introduced Roy, with thanks to Rob again for setting up the audio and video service.  Roy is Shan’s colleague at Penn State Abington and a specialist in Russian history and especially interested in Russian orthodoxy.  He came to speak about iconographer Pimen Sofronov, whose work is to be seen decorating St. Vladimir’s on South Broad Street.

The talk was titled:  Pimen Sofronov:  Eastern Christian Art and Identity in Trenton.  Robson is interested in hybrid identity development for Sofronov both as an ancient and a modern artist and as an immigrant in Trenton.

Sofronov was trained at the absolute pinnacle of ancient iconographic tradition as an apprentice to Gavriil Frolov.  Born in 1898 to an Old Believer family, Sofronov was schooled the ancient Orthodox traditions, including a love of icons.  His teacher showed him the technique of using prorisi – paper patterns with pinholes through which the artist could apply colors, reproducing ancient images precisely each time.  The point of the art form was to freeze the image as it had earlier been rendered; the artist was not to add or change anything and indeed iconographers avoided drawing attention to themselves by signing their work, as indeed there was nothing individual about it.

Sofronov’s early work, Madonna and child

Caught up in the Russian Revolution and forced to flee, Sofronov traveled Europe between the 1910s and the 1940s, becoming the quintessential practitioner of the art of “great old Russia” while simultaneously soaking in the diversity of religious art across Europe. Exiled White Russian aristocrats patronized him generously while he executed works for church and political leaders in Paris, Prague, Belgrade, and Rome.  He was still using the ancient technique for his paintings, but in the 1930s in Belgium, he showed some impact of Western European religious art by decorating a shawl around the Virgin Mary with a prayer rendered in ancient Church Slavonic.  Elements of his paintings also soften in these year, especially showing more humanized figures, an influence perahps from his time among Serbian artists.

In 1939, Sofronov went to Rome at the urging of Pope Pius XI and his successor, Pope Pius XII.  His commission was to paint icons for an exhibit about “real Russians.” Again revealing Western influences, Sofronov combined Western and Eastern imagery in this Roman work, specifically by including Roman Catholic prayers rendered in Eastern Orthodox lettering.  Though Pius XII is notorious for turning a blind eye to Nazi atrocities against European Jews, he did choose to shelter Sofronov from Mussolini through the Second World War.  While under papal protection, Sofronov reached the pinnacle of his stature as the representative of ancient Orthodoxy.  Thus securely positioned, he began to experiment artistically, even making a sharply Europeanized self-portrait. 

In 1945, he left Europe to settle for a time at the Holy Trinity monastery in Jordanville, NY.  He was invited, and eager, to introduce Eastern iconography to Orthodox communities in the United States, where religious art had long been only Roman.  His greatest commission in this period was to decorate Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox church in Syracuse, NY.  Here he executed a striking image by including St. Veronica with her veil imprinted with the sweating face of Jesus as he carried his cross.  St. Veronica and her veil do not exist in Orthodox tradition, only in Roman Christianity, but Sofronov from this painting forward adds her to every Orthodox church he painted.  Robson surmises that he might have been purposefully bringing some ecumenical spirit to the churches, or he might have been making a visual joke…challenging priests and the faithful to actually see what was before them.

His next great work in the United States was St. Vladimir’s in Trenton.  There was a concentration of Orthodox immigrant communities in the neighborhood of S. Broad Street, sufficient to support a number of separate churches within blocks of each other.  Decorating St. Vladimir’s took Sofronov 4 years of painting night and day.  He adopted a special diet designed to sustain him through this rigorous practice.  He solved some architectural problems with wit and insight in his mural on the dome, locating the electrical anchor for the necessary chandelier on a book held by Christ at the top center of the painting, so that the chandelier actually represented the Light of Christ emerging from the Word. 

As further evidence of Sofronov’s own cosmopolitanism, he provided figures of St. Olga and St. Vladimir, though partisans of each saint competed for the honor of having founded Russian Orthodoxy.  His painting seemed to elide these conflicts, inviting immigrant worshipers from Ukraine and Russia to bury their differences.  As another gesture toward shared cultural traditions, he featured St. Cyril and St. Methodius, jointly credited with originating Cyrillic writing.  Finally, he mixes English and Church Slavonic in legible prayers, including the Roman form of the Lord’s Prayer.  Robson argued that by this point in his life, Sofronov was mixing his identity from elements of Orthodox, European, and American experiences, as did many of his immigrant contemporaries in the 1950s.

Sofronov’s last big commission was the tomb of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco, but the detail that marked his earlier work blurs noticeably, suggesting both his waning strength and his failing eyesight.  While formally retired in Millville, NJ, Sofronov continued to paint, including one striking icon executed (like a painting of Elvis) on red velvet. He died in Feb 1973, and was buried in Millville.

Robson finished the talk by showing us a triptych of Sofronov’s signatures, tracking his evolution from fidelity to ancient Orthodox icon principles to the hybrid artist he revealed in his New Jersey works.

He also noted the fate of the work Sofronov left at his death.  It was stored rather carelessly in Millville for decades and then nearly discarded when it was rediscovered and in very poor condition.  Ultimately, many of his books were auctioned by Sotheby’s and most of the art went to Ohio State University to be preserved and exhibited.  Ohio State offers a webpage devoted to their first exhibit of Sofronov’s oeuvre, called From Pattern to Painting at https://library.osu.edu/exhibits/from-pattern-to-painting-the-religious-iconography-of-pimen-sofronov.

Questions included whether Sofronov continued to use the prorisi methods he had learned as an apprentice.  Robson indicated that he might have into the 1940s, because his library included a few hundred examples of prorisi, including ones he marked as from his own master.

Carol pointed out that the other churches around St. Vladimirs are also stunning inside.

Mike suggested possible layers to why Sofronov might have chosen St. Veronica as his “signet.” First, her absence from Orthodox tradition absolutely required that he invent something of his own.  Secondly, the Biblical story of St. Veronica concerns her making an image, and indeed the name “Veronica” means “true image” in Greek.

In answer to Stephen’s question, Robson indicated that Sofronov’s reputation had been eclipsed in the Soviet Union, but since the revival of the Russian church, interest in him in his native Estonia has begun to filter back into Russian circles.  Some guardians of Orthodox tradition feel that Sofronov strayed too far and sold out the tradition, and others scorn him for the entrepreneurial tone of his artistic life.  He remains beloved in Italian circles, though.

Dan mentioned that Princeton Theological Seminary invites iconographers to visit, and brings them to St. Vladimirs in Trenton to show them Sofronov’s work.  They are a generation removed from the ancient traditions, and the first working in America who were not trained either by Sofronov himself or by one of his students.  St. Vladimirs is, apparently, very welcoming of these visits and proud of the paintings on their walls.

Currently, Robson is exploring an exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum, since the Wyeths, like Sofronov, worked frequently in egg tempera.  The sulfur-smelling and complex egg tempera method did not remain popular once longer-lasting and clean-able acrylics became available, but Robson personally finds the acrylics less luminous than the old methods.

The symposium adjourned at 1:20, with thanks all around.

We will meet again on Monday, Nov 25.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

Orchid House, Hanover Street, with founder Elijah Dixon

Oct 23, 2017

Guest:  Elijah Dixon, The Orchid House and the Orchid Group

Joe Teti called the meeting to order at 12:10.

Joe asked for a treasurer’s report, and George reported that we had $1190.49 in the bank.  Joe reminded everyone that annual dues are payable now.  The report was accepted by voice vote.

After lunch, Joe called upon Shan Holt to introduce our speaker Elijah Dixon.  Elijah and Shan are acquainted through their mutual presence at the Trenton Monthly Meeting of Friends.

Elijah ran through the story of how the Orchid House project came to be.  The Orchid Group, named for the Ghost Orchid, is a group of Trenton artists fabricators and craftspeople who all want to use their skills within efforts to improve life and the future for Trenton.

  They are doing what they can to bring back the E. Hanover St. neighborhood, which used to house a stable professional population in now-empty apartments and homes.  Their headquarters is the new Orchid House, which opened this fall at 134 East Hanover St.

Elijah himself was born and raised in Trenton, in a family of educators and entrepreneurs.  His parents now live in Georgia but he came back to Trenton after college to work for Isles.  Over his 2.5 years with Isles, he moved from part-time to full-time employment and worked as a liaison connecting community organizers with organizations and with city government.  He learned in that practice that Trenton needed more commerce and commercial activity to sustain a revival.  He remembered the neighborhood as a place to find small businesses, like a tuxedo shop and a camera shop, and exploring the empty buildings, he found many old architectural plans from the 1940s that testified to the willingness of local residents to invest in their historic properties.

At the same time, Elijah and his colleagues began to feel that some bottom-up commercial development was important, rather than waiting for top-down development that frequently came in at the expense of the neighborhoods historic fabric.  Top-down developers frequently saw the city’s historic architecture as a liability rather than as an asset.  The Orchid Group, a very diverse group of people of different ages, multiple racial identities, who share a social mission, intends to keep skill-development and bottom-up rebuilding as its focus, so that local residents in the neighborhood they represent will maintain ownership of their place and its future in the city.

Saving and rebuilding Orchid House itself is a saga of time, money, skill and raw courage.  Concerned that the neighborhood was so tightly packed with people facing poverty and despair, the group talked about living out a new path for several years before deciding just to plunge in and act.  Just before they closed on the purchase of the building, which was in rough shape but with assets intact, the site was vandalized.  Pipes, radiators, and appliances were stolen, walls broken through and defaced, and about $50,000 of the buildings already depressed value taken out in one night.  The sellers, a private investment bank, refused the group’s request to lower the price, and so in the end, rather than lose their deposit, they bought the building on a Federally-insured rehabilitation mortgage, but for its pre-vandalized price.

The upside of this ordeal is that group members learned many new skills bringing the building back.  The worst moment was the murder of Mr. James Wells in 2015, after he had spent a day working inside the building.  Wells was known around the neighborhood as a fierce opponent of drugs and an equally fierce advocate for local young people and the city, and also attended the Trenton Monthly Meeting of Friends.  His murder by thugs right on Hanover St. was a setback emotionally and practically, for the whole area.   But the group rallied to its mission. 

In the years since, they redid the floors, salvaged a conference table from the YWCA next door that was closing, salvaged wood and metal and used it to create a uniquely rustic, cozy, and creative interior space.  Out back and in areas nearby, they maintain community gardens from which members and local residents can get fresh produce. 

They work hard to be visible, to discourage the drug dealers who otherwise control the tightly-packed neighborhood, and to inspire other people to see the value of getting an education and gaining a skill.  They offer advice and guidance to others who come by, wanting to do similar projects themselves.  The Orchid Group wants  to inspire people in the neighborhood to take up their own gifts and develop a vision for themselves and the city.

Today, 134 E. Hanover is an art and craft gallery and a social hub for the neighborhood.  They showcase hand-made furniture, hand-crafted soaps, and other items for sale, which helps to support the organization’s work and its members.  They also partner with the high school across the street, one of the five temporary locations for Trenton Central kids during the building of the new high school.  They do workshops with the STEM and hospitality program, and offer the teens network access inside the Orchid House.  They recently hired a new gardener, which offers the kids and adults in the area more chances to get involved.

In response to questions about city permits, Elijah admitted ruefully that city inspectors gave them close going over several times, and they more or less learned by trial and error what the regulations are.  They also struggled to stay within the historic preservation codes with their small budget and innovative ideas.  He expressed very great gratitude to Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson for her help and support.

Elijah and his brother both live in apartments above the store, and they try to spend time on the street, creating a friendly and safe presence there.  Police have increased their presence in the neighborhood as other big development projects have begun nearby, but the Orchid Group group is happier with local residents taking charge of their streets, and they mean Orchid House to help with that work.

The meeting adjourned at 1:20, with the announcement that we will meet again on Monday, November 27.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

Trenton Downtown Association, with new director, Tom Gilmour

Trenton Symposium, Nov 27, 2017

Freddie’s Tavern, Railroad Ave., Ewing

Guest:  Tom Gilmour, Director, Trenton Downtown Association

Joe Teti called the meeting to order at 12:45, after the usual fine lunch.  We had 22 people in attendance, including new member Stephen Fitzpatrick.  Stephen noted that he was glad to be among us, had lived 37 years in New Jersey, and loved the Scottish connection to be Trent and Mercer.  He works at UIH Family Partners, an organization that helps fathers rebuilt their lives so that they can be positive presences in their children’s lives and communities.

We also welcomed Liz Ewell, Director of the Salvation Army.  She has lived 40 years in Trenton, after a stint in the service.  She is particularly interested in Trenton’s historical resources.

Joe asked for a treasurer’s report, and George reported that we had $1415 in the bank.  Joe reminded everyone that annual dues are payable now.  The report was accepted by voice vote.  One member suggested that the Symposium consider donating some of its funds to the Rescue Mission, or Orchid House, or to a Trenton historical nonprofit.  That will need to be discussed at a later meeting, but there was a general murmur of approval for the idea.

Joe called upon Shan Holt to introduce speaker Tom Gilmour.  He applauded the Symposium’s focus on Trenton’s needs and the people who are meeting them, and indicated that he was well acquainted, even in a short time, with some of our speakers, including Elijah Dixon at Orchid House.

Gilmour came to Trenton Downtown Association (TDA) from Asbury Park.  He had a great run there, helping to put that community back on its feet culturally and economically.  He sees parallels, the most important being that he hit Asbury Park at what was “its time,” and he thinks that Trenton’s time is also now.  TDA wants to help re-position Trenton for sizable growth and is happy that there is momentum to build on.  The Roebling Lofts development, now 60% leased, is encouraging people to move back to Trenton, using the new transportation resource of the RiverLine and expects to continue developing additional Roebling properties once the Lofts are fully leased this spring.

TDA’s mission as a special services district is business recruitment and retention.  One key piece of that puzzle in settling people in Trenton to patronize local businesses, which is why he is so pleased with the Roebling Lofts project.  Safety is a big part of attracting people back, and Tom is confident that, with basic urban smarts, people can be safe in this city.  Eight new businesses have opened up downtown this year, including Maestro technologies in the old Wells Fargo building.  They currently have 140 people on staff and expect to hire another 70 in 2018.  They only use 30% of the building, so there is room for more comparable companies to come in.

He’s excited about the new Starbucks on Warren Str, not just because of its retail operation but because it is a regional training center for the company.  It also offers community meeting space, so it looks to be a multi-dimensional positive for downtown.  All Starbucks regional staff will begin by experiencing Trenton, and then fan out to outlets around the region.   They are also willing to create internships in entrepreneurship for local residents, continuing to build the small business base for the city.

He sees other powerful resources already in place.

Art is first (he built a lot of the Asbury Park work on its great music traditions).  Artworks, Art All Night, Art All Day all bring visitors to Trenton and support artists and studios in city neighborhoods.  AAD has grown from 22 to 38 sites this year.

                  Trenton is so cheap to live in that hundreds of artists can settle here.  TDA has the bank building and is looking to convert it to studio space and a Trenton-centric art gallery.

TDA also does façade improvements, and with a grant from TDA, Orchid House hired signage from a local artist, a three-level win.  He also sees impact from the Levitt-Amp concerts in Mill Hill Park, which mobilize Trentonians to vote for their city in the competition each winter, and then brings people in to experience the city again during the summer.  (ED update:  Trenton won the concert series again for 2018, so that will continue to build)

Historic heritage resources are another aspect of Trenton’s strength. 

Gilmour is impressed by how hard Boston works its resources … why can’t Trenton do as much with its own?  He thinks that Trenton actually has better Revolutionary History than Boston and cited Patriots Week and its many facets as the sound foundation.  He wants to create a marketing plan to follow up the PW events and strengthen year-round promotion of Trenton’s history.  He sees possibilities of partnership with, for instance, the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

Parking revenue is an untapped resource for cultural development in Trenton.  In Asbury Park, he was able to secure a bond issue to install a new system that boosted revenue by $4.9 million.  Not through ticketing, but just by metering parking effectively.

Gilmour sees the safety issue as a media problem, and again was familiar with the same problem in Asbury Park.  He recounted how his mother called him every day after he began working there, to make sure that he was safe.  Media have a taste for the negative.  His plan is just to keep making positive things happen, knowing the media will eventually pay attention.

He has also won a special projects grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation to create an unarmed foot patrol force for the downtown area.  The goal is to beef up official presence, and keep steady eyes on what needs maintenance, investment or law enforcement involvement.

Gilmour is also excited about the group Greater Trenton, which is offering tech help to developers and to City Hall to attract large businesses to the city.  George Sowa (a recent Symposium speaker), has made a bid to Amazon noting 5 areas within the city that the city owns and could be turned over for their HQ.  Trenton has powerful location and transportation advantages, and the Greater Trenton proposal showcases what could be done here.  The proposal can also be shared with other large concerns that might be attracted here.

Gilmour has made efforts to increase TDA’s political clout at the state level.  By conferring with both gubernatorial candidates, TDA won the ear of Gov-elect Phil Murphy.  Gilmour’s plan is to engage the state in reanimating the War Memorial.  It used to have almost constant bookings, which supported the hotel and downtown eateries.  That stopped under Christie, but can be re-started.  Gilmour is also imagining a production company with its base at the War Memorial, so that film work could be brought to and coordinated within Trenton.

Gilmour is very optimistic.  He likes Trenton people and finds it easy to get connected here.  That open, welcoming attitude, he says, is the best thing a city can have going for it in undertaking revitalization.

Several folks had questions and suggestions, including Lolly O’Brien who asked about encouraging our restaurant scene through somethink like Top Chef or Restaurant Week.  Gilmour mentioned Tastes of Trenton, which has been successful in the Burg and is now reaching downtown. 

There was also a question about the future of the hotel.  Gilmour indicated that the situation was complicated by family ownership and an estate wrangle within the family.  He thinks that city and state incentives can make a resale attractive, and that revitalizing the calendar at the War Memorial will make the hotel a paying proposition once again.  Jane affirmed that, back in the day, the War Memorial attracted big name acts that brought thousands of people downtown.  She likened it to the Count Basie theatre in Red Bank, NJ.

George brought up the problem of voter apathy in Trenton, noting only 25% turnout in recent election.  Gilmour responded that they are trying to make voter registration one of the things offered at the Levitt-Amp concerts in the summer.

Steve also mentioned Detroits’ Slow Roll, a bicycle tour effort that brought people back downtown and slowly gained momentum.

The meeting adjourned at 1:30, with the announcement that we will meet again on Monday, January 22.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, Secretary

Washington’s Crossing with Trenton Ferries, June 3, 2019, with David Price

We began with lunch, and Joe Teti called us to order at 12:30.  George, our Treasurer, reported a balance of $1604.91.  Acceptance of the treasurer’s report was moved, seconded, and voted affirmatively.

Carol Rogers kindly reported on the May meeting, as I was not able to attend.  Thanks,  Carol, for stepping in!

David Price joined us again to follow up his presentation in 2018 about unsung Continental heroes during the “Ten Crucial Days” of 1776-77.  His presentation today examined the “rest of the story,” the other resources that made the crossing and the successful engagement at Trenton possible for Washington and his army. 

He began with comments on The Crossing as rendered by artists, citing Paul Staiti’s 2016 book Of Arms and Artists.  Staiti argues that the paintings and prints of the Revolution, including the Crossing, were a key medium for educating a public of high but not universal literacy.  Of course, they also added mythic drama to national memory.  Major painters of scenes and portraits of the Revolutionary era include

Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of George Washington
John Singleton Copley, portrait of Paul Revere
Benjamin West, Benjamin Franklin catching the lightning
Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Jefferson

Mythmakers especially sought to create George Washington as a national icon. Peale’s painting of Washington at the Battle of Princeton , showing the victorious Commander as cool, composed, and approachable, was used to recruit new troops and inspire civilians to resist British gold and sell their foodstuffs, horses, and cloth to the Continental Army.  Peale’s portrait was a composite evocation of Washington’s generalship at Princeton, showing events that did occur simultaneously, the aftermath with prisoners, and all of it framed by the rising sun behind him.

Price invited us to compare Peale’s Washington (right) with Allan Ramsey’s portrait of George III.(below)  Price suggested that Peale was in some degree “quoting” Ramsay, but to show the greater manliness of Washington along with his republican modesty.

John Trumbull, Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Similarly, but later, Price argued, the famous painting of the Crossing itself, done in 1851 by Emanuel Leutze, was designed to persuade liberal German reformers that they could win their own battles against entrenched power, that “untrained people” could prevail.

Lloyd Garrison’s version of the crossing, shown below, is actually a great deal more historically accurate, showing the artillery and horses crossing the river on a ferry moved by visible cables, and this version points to “the rest of the story.”  Building on Frank Dale’s book, “Delaware Diary: Episodes in the Life of a River,  Price let us know that the Delaware

hosted several ferries in 1776.  These were specially built to accommodate the rivers fast current.  They were moored to the opposite banks so that the ferry itself travelled across at an angle, mobilizing the force of the current to push the ferry barge across.

A 1777 sketch of the Bristol Ferry by Charles Willson Peale (below) illustrates the cable system more clearly than Garrison’s painting. 

Price emphasized that, without the ferries, Washington’s army would have had to make the march to and attack on Trenton without horses or artillery.  Lacking those resources, and the ability to carry all that to Princeton too, the “Ten Crucial Days” might have ended very differently.

Editor’s Note:  Symposium members’ attention is directed to the Riverwalk near the Riverview cemetery.  Signs posted along the walk offer additional history about Trenton’s ferries and the work they did to help the city to prosperity.  Renewing the scarred Plexiglas to make the excellent history more readable might be a worthwhile philanthropic target for the symposium.

Discussion with Mr. Price included the overall duration of the Crossing (12 hours) and an extended discussion of 18th century ferry mechanics, which I have not reproduced.  Perhaps interested parties could have a look at Frank Dale’s book noted above.

We adjourned at 1:22 pm. 

We will meet next on Sept 23, at Blooming Grove Inn.

Respectfully submitted,

Shan Holt, secretary

Hidden Trenton, presented March 28, 2018 by Michael Goldstein

Firkin’s Tavern, 1400 Parkway, Ewing

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