If you walk into a local restaurant in Trenton more than three times, the people there are going to, at the very least, learn your name, says TC Nelson, the owner and general manager of bar and lounge Trenton Social.
“[Trenton] is big enough where there’s enough people there where you can have constant action, but it’s small enough that you can get to know a lot of people,” he said during the panel “Keys to Attracting Business to the Capital City” on Tuesday at Trenton Country Club. “And [the business] community, it’s a great community.”
This sort of “Cheers”-like vibe where everybody knows your name should be a big draw for business in the city, said Nelson and other panelists. The issue Trenton faces, though, is bad PR.
“One of the biggest problems I have is the perception that Trenton’s not safe,” said Maurice Hallet, owner of 1911 Smokehouse BBQ. “It’s such an untrue thing. I’m sure you guys remember the Pokemon [Go] craze a year and a half ago, where there were people going downtown late at night chasing Pokemon. If you can come down at 1 o’clock at night, going down alleyways and bushes, you can come into the restaurants during the daytime and early evening.”
Hallet’s restaurant hosts a drinking social every evening at 7:11 pm — or 1911 military time, hence its name — where everyone in the house gets to try a specialty beverage. On the first Friday of every month, Nelson’s restaurant hosts art openings, and he said, it has hosted more art openings in the seven years it’s been open than any other local eatery. Cool places and events exist, but interested businesses shouldn’t see them as competition. More, they say, will make Trenton even better.
“Business owners [should] understand that we’re not in competition with each other and that it’s more about collaborative economics,” explained Bert Dumas, executive chef and owner of Studio B Bakery & Bistro, who opened his restaurant in 2016 after moving from New Orleans. “If we get people out of the mindset of saying ‘I don’t think that’s gonna work here,’ and just tell them to accept, I think that would help a whole lot more. The more options people have to come to a city, the more people will come.”
Something Trenton has on its side: affordability.
“The thing that I’m taking advantage of is there are tons of grants and funding to help revitalize the city,” said Hallett. “The time is coming now to get your buildings and get established because once we realize what a gem we have, it’s going to be an amazing place.”