James Sykes
Princeton University Store

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get to where you are now?

I grew up in Seattle, WA and went to college at the University of Washington studying Economics. I have been married for 36 years to my high school sweetheart and we have raised three children together through college and into their careers. My father was a retailer which encouraged me to become a merchant and two of my children have become third-generation retailers.

Why Princeton?

I answered an ad in the Wall Street Journal in 1996 and was very intrigued to become involved with a small retailer which operated to serve its members, not to generate the most profit. The fact that the retailer was affiliated with Princeton University sealed the deal.

What is it that makes your business unique? 

We have been serving this community since the 1880’s and incorporated formally in 1905. Being a coop we are run by your friends and neighbors trying to serve the retail needs of its members the best way possible. Anyone can become a member and many thousands of Princetonians are members.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment so far?

Retail is an ever-changing field and I have been involved in transforming the U-Store over the past 20 years from an old-line junior department store to multiple specialty stores on the Princeton campus as well as Nassau Street. In addition, the U-Store has moved online shipping products throughout the US and over 60 foreign countries last year.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

I have had several mentors in my early life who helped me understand the difference between a job and a career. Since coming to Princeton I have had the opportunity to work with over a hundred volunteers on our board ranging from the youngest college students to accomplished senior executives in many fields. They all are united in helping serve Princeton University and making our coop the best it can be and I have learned something from every one of them.

How does being a PMA member enhance your presence in the community? How can PMA support or serve you better? 

PMA plays many different roles but serving as the voice of the business community in Princeton to the residents, town administration and Princeton University is crucial in creating the type of vibrant community we all want to live and work in.

Are you involved in any charitable / community causes that you are passionate about?

I have been involved for many years at the national level helping the college store industry navigate the dramatic changes in the retail landscape. Over 4,000 college stores have been evolving trying to determine how to best serve its students and other stakeholders in the future.

Does your business have any special holiday events / activities planned?

The biggest event of the year for us is Princeton Reunions in late May or early June each year. Having 25,000 Princeton Alumni and family members all visit on one weekend each year makes it the busiest weekend of the year for us.

Anything else that you would like to share?

Serving on the PMA board is a great experience and I would recommend it to all the businesses in town.