By contributor Marc Monseau
Hinkson’s has survived a wide range of challenges in its 101-year history, from the Great Depression to stiff competition from big-box office stores.
Now office supply and stationery store, long a familiar name in downtown Princeton, is adopting new approaches as it strives to weather the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To serve the community, while protecting staff and customers, Hinkson’s is taking phone and e-mail orders, providing contactless pick-up, and delivering to some in-town locations. Though Hinkson’s is considered an essential business and does allow customers into its Hullfish Street store, those entering must wear a mask and practice social distancing.
“We’re trying to be there for the many people who are now working from home,” said Hinkson’s co-owner John Roberto. Roberto explained that many orders received recently are from people who are now working from home after their offices closed due to COVID-19. “If you call in, we’ll process your order and provide curbside pick-up or leave it in our hallway,” Roberto said.
Hinkson’s has operated in Princeton since the end of the 1918 flu pandemic, when Harold Hinkson purchased a longstanding Princeton-based stationery business from William Sinclair in 1919. Roberto’s father, Bert Roberto, purchased the business in 1960 and retained the Hinkson’s name. Today Roberto jointly runs the business with his cousin, Andrew Mangone.
In addition to its retail operations, Hinkson’s supplies commercial businesses, such as the Princeton Medical Group and Princeton Eye Group, as well as local schools, including the Chapin School and The Lewis School.
Roberto said that though Hinkson’s has received a small disaster relief loan, the business is still awaiting a loan under the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to businesses if all employees are retained and if funds are used for payroll, rent or utilities. In the meantime, the owners launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help Hinkson’s stay afloat as their business slumped due to COVID-19. Thanks to the campaign, which the owners use to cover operating expenses and payroll, Hinkson’s has continued to pay its full-time staff.
“It was hard for us to launch the Go Fund Me campaign, but at the time it was the only way at that time to save the store,” Roberto said. Over the two and a half weeks since launch, the campaign has raised more than $10,000.