Classics in the Trenton Times

Guest opinion column about the great things in downtown Trenton in the Trenton Times–including some nice thigns to say about Classics Books, by John P. Thurber

The Times’ editorial “A love of Trenton” (Feb. 23) invites readers to add their suggestions to the list of favorite things about our capital city. Ingrid Reed initiated this list with her guest opinion article “A valentine to the city of Trenton” (Feb. 14) by focusing on the city’s historic attractions, beautiful parks, graceful architecture and important nonprofits. Eliot and Patti Daley added several community organizations in their Feb. 18 letter to the editor.

It’s great that The Times has provided this opportunity to focus on the positive aspects of Trenton. The wonderful list that’s been generated is compelling but omits an important category: Trenton’s small businesses. Trenton continues to be home to many entrepreneurs and business owners who share the creativity, persistence and resilience that enable others in the capital city to be successful.

Many of these remarkable businesses are located in downtown Trenton, easily accessible to residents and those visiting from the suburbs. There are far too many favorites to mention, but a small sampling will suggest the range and distinctive qualities of these businesses. Few of them get the attention they deserve.

For example, one of the region’s best restaurants can be found in Trenton’s downtown. Settimo Cielo on Front Street is a gem of an Italian restaurant conveniently located across from a public parking garage. The manager, Henry Mendez, and his staff provide great service and the food is consistently outstanding.

Around the corner on Warren Street is the State Barber Shop, where Joe Festa has been cutting hair for 45 years. Joe is known as the honorary mayor of Warren Street and cares deeply about the city. He is not only a great barber but one of the most positive people you’ll ever meet. You’ll walk out of his shop in a better mood than when you walked in, and you’ll look better, too.

Warren Street hosts several restaurants that are local favorites, including Checkers, Hummingbird, Downtown Deli and Café Olé. Checkers owner Tom Fowler presides over his restaurant’s grill and ensures that every burger meets his high standards. Hummingbird offers authentic Jamaican food for either eat-in or take-out. Downtown Deli makes a great sandwich and offers delicious soup for a reasonable price. Café Olé is perhaps the best coffee house in Trenton and owner Kit Rivenburg serves a tasty breakfast and lunch as well.

Nearby on Lafayette Street is Classics Used and Rare Books, where owner Eric Maywar works on projects ranging from the distribution of free books to Trenton families, weekly Scrabble tournaments, author events and open mic nights. Eric loves books but is equally committed to strengthening Trenton’s social capital through his business. And he is making a real impact.

Trenton Kebab House on East State Street near City Hall is another favorite restaurant. Offering Middle Eastern, Turkish and Indian foods, this restaurant is a welcome alternative for lunch or dinner.

A short ride down Broad Street leads you to Trenton Social, a hip restaurant, bar and lounge located across the street from the Sun National Bank Center. The building was renovated by owner Roland Pott and his partners, who shared a vision that music, the arts and entertainment could be a catalyst for the revitalization for Trenton. Today, under the management of T.C. Nelson, Trenton Social attracts a diverse crowd of artists, musicians and young professionals. You won’t find anything like it outside of Trenton.

If you’re wondering where some of the best Italian restaurants in the area get their ingredients, you can find them at Porfirio’s, which is still located on Anderson Street in Chambersburg. In the 1950s, the Porfirios were pasta makers, specializing in ravioli and gnocchi.

Today, their wholesale and retail business provides a wide range of food products for more than 100 restaurants. Their fresh pasta (including at least 10 kinds of ravioli), sausage and marinara are incredible, and you won’t find better meatballs anywhere.

The home of Italian Peoples Bakery is located nearby on Butler Street in Chambersburg. Italian Peoples Bakery serves more than 450 supermarkets, restaurants and other outlets with their products. This business dates to 1936, when Pasquale Gervasio first started baking bread; his family continues the business. It’s well worth a visit to the birthplace of this renowned bakery and deli.

These and so many other small and independent businesses in Trenton provide great reasons to love our capital city.

Those mentioned here are just an arbitrary few. So many other small businesses throughout Trenton offer equally compelling reasons to seek them out.

Trenton’s small businesses provide jobs for many residents while serving the needs of the broader community. One of the best valentines we can give Trenton is to find more ways to patronize and support these small businesses. Go enjoy your own favorites and discover new ones.

John P. Thurber is vice president for public affairs at Thomas Edison State College, a board member of the Trenton Downtown Association and board chairman of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Classics News Update

It was announced at Classics open mic that one of the singers that sang in January was called back for The Voice.  You heard him at Classics first!

The Classics Scrabble club (notably Tim Walker) has mounted bookcases in wheels so we can easily move it for Scrabble and for the Open Mic.  Come down and check this out!

FaceBook did a video of Classics activity.  Check this out!!/photo.php?v=10151816520737434&set=vb.660327433&type=2&theater

Friends of Classics Bruce Bentzman and Roger Long have distributed their children’s book.  Read it for free here!


The Unknown Poet and Hafeez Da Poet

The Unknown Poet and Hafeez Da Poet from the Capital Area Open Mic in Trenton, NJ at Classics Books & Gifts

Classics News

In case you haven’t been able to make it in the Classics lately, here’s what you may have missed.

16 of the best Scrabble players in the area met at the 14th Annual Classics Scrabble Invitational.  Megan Iurilli reclaimed her crown as Grand Champion, Sarah Ohls came inches of winning her third Championship and Arthur Iurilli went from being a seat filler to coming in third.

Classics Open Mic comedian McKelle Kellz Barksdale went to Florida and won the 2014 Winter Shine Overall Standup Comedian. Says Kellz “I started in a bookstore with 13 people. If that isn’t a Testament to following what God puts on your heart I don’t know what is!!!”  Guess what bookstore he was talking about?

Classics Open Mic musician Quincy Stallworth video performing one Saturday.

Shoppers at Target had hackers steal data from up to 40 million credit and debit cards during the first three weeks of the holiday season.  Shoppers at Classics Books & Gifts had no data stolen.  Shop local!

Megan Iurilli

Friends of Classics

For all the folks who have supported Classics in the past and will in the future, we wanted to find a way to say “thank you.”

For $100, friends of Classics can get the following

  • $100 gift certificate for used and rare books
  • 30% discount on any cash purchase of used or rare books in 2014
  • $100 in credit will be donated to the Trenton Books at Home Program, which provides FREE books for Trenton kids
  • An invitation to the annual Big Shots Thank You Party which features food, drink, books, games and the best people in New Jersey

New study says books at home increases educational attainment

Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.
For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain
Knowing this, Classics Books & Gifts provides FREE books for the home libraries of Trenton kids. Information about the Trenton Books at Home Program, including how to donate, can be found at

Sleepy Mad Mad

My current favorite inscription in a book at Classics Books & Gifts.

Scrawled inside If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,

“Mama mama sick in bed.  She really a sleepy mad mad.  PS I love mom, love Katie.”

Bookstore People: Muralists and Doodlers

Will Kasso

If you have driven through Trenton and seen a mind-blowing portrait painted on a wall, you have already met Will Kasso.  Painter, portraitist, graffiti artist, Kasso is a national presence in our small town.  Curator at Gallery 219 on Hannover Street and founder of the Sage Coalition (which supports public art festivals and street beautification projects).

When you catch him at Classics, he is usually hunting for books with his daughter in the kids section


“My daughter curated her first artshow opening at the “Kids Bridge Arts Camp”…she just texted me saying: “Dad, the artshow is tonight…wear something nice without paint all over it”…lol”

Roger Long

Roger is a retired art teacher, a habitual doodler and a transplanted Californian.  Good natured and easy going, Roger always lends the room an atmosphere of fun.

When you catch him at Classics, he will be hunched over a Scrabble board on Friday nights.


“Jefferson made the New Testament readable by cutting out all the nonsense, making it readable and worth reading.”

Trenton Literature Year in Review: 2013

Pulitzer Prize winning Trentonian Poet Yusef Komunyakaa published Testimony, a collection poetry inspired by Charlie Parker

Trenton Poet Laureate Doc Long had reminiscences published in Volunteers in the African Bush, a collection of essays about the early years of the Peace Corp in Africa

Capital City Open Mic celebrated its one year anniversary in April

The New Jim Crow Committee of Trenton met and discussed Michelle Alexander’s book and mapped out ways to put responses to the book in action.

The Trenton Books at Home Program handed out thousands of books for Trenton kids.

Trenton author and radio host Yolanda Landy Robinson published Don’t Be Bitter Be Better, a book of inspirations.

Trenton author Natasha Buckalious Parker published her poetella, Ah Hood Romance

Trenton author Will Foskey published Poeticine

In November, Trenton author Marie Murf Antionette, author of The Struggle and A Girl Named Job, was bookseller for a day at Classics.

In February, Barbara Keogh became the reigning Classics Scrabble champion.

volunteers sierra leone

Book Store Manifesto

This is a book-shop

Cross-roads of civilization
Refuge of all the arts against the ravages of time
Armory of fearless truth and unrelenting beauty against the craven forces of ignorance and pettiness and ugliness of the soul.

From this place words become real
not insubstantial digital ephemera but solid crafted artifacts
not drowned in the constant torrent of status updates and tweets, but fixed in time.

In this place you are a community made manifest–a community of friends, thinkers, lovers, citizens and appreciators of beauty.

Friend, you stand on sacred ground.

This is a book-shop.


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