Goodbye to the local A&P and to America’s oldest supermarket chain

| 05 Nov 2015 | 12:46

The prospect of another supermarket chain taking over the A&P in West Milford doesn’t look very promising at this point.

The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) will close for good. Employees at the Hewitt store said they have been told the store will close and they will lose their jobs sometime around Nov. 26, right before the holidays.

There have been several auctions and a number of A&Ps and other supermarkets the company controls were picked up by rival food chains, including Acme, which is opening stores in Oak Ridge and Vernon. Several stores in Bergen and Passaic counties were not so lucky and it may be because the competition from nearby ShopRite stores is too strong.

End of an eraThis is the end of the oldest supermarket chain in the U.S., which, as The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, started in 1859 at the corner of Vesey and Church Streets in New York City. At its height in the 1950s, it had 4,200 stores, but in the past several years, competition from retailers like Wal-Mart, discount grocers like Aldi, and convenience and dollar stores has lured frugal customers away, as has competition from ShopRite.

A&P filed for bankruptcy in 2010. They filed again this past July. Many of its stores, operating under the names A&P, Pathmark, Food Basics, The Food Emporium, Superfresh and Waldbaum's, have been sold to other chains, including Acme, Key Foods and Stop and Shop. A number of stores still remain unsold, and some, at under-performing locations, will likely be closed, including the one in Hewitt.

The employees union, United Food and Commercial Workers, has fought to get severance for employees at both locations that have been sold as well and those remaining unsold. Many employees will be employed by the new owners, but many will be out of jobs.

Employees at the store in Hewitt know little beyond the fact that their jobs will come to an end sometime around Nov. 26.

“It’s disappointing, very disappointing; it’s been a wonderful shopping center for many years and it will be missed," said Lori Doherty, a shopper at the Hewitt A&P. "My concern is, will anything else be going in there? ShopRite is always much more crowded. I’m very sorry to see an establishment like that leave West Milford.”

Multiple attempts to get comments from corporate headquarters in Montvale and the plaza owner were unsuccessful.

Effects on other storesIn addition to A&P, the other stores in the plaza are Sears, the Hewitt Post Office, DeMarco's Pizzeria, Flags and Jewelry, Mr. Won Ton and the Plaza Liquor Store.

Andy Abdul, owner of Flags and Jewelry, said the closing of this anchor store will certainly have an effect on his and the other satellite businesses.

“It will affect business here because there will be less walking traffic,” said Abdul. “It is an anchor store that brings people here. I do have a lot of walk-in traffic. It would have been nice if the store had stayed open until Christmas, through the holiday season.”

He called the closing “unfortunate” but said the rumors he's heard about Sears and the post office moving are just that - rumors. The other small, independent shops in the plaza are not closing.

Mayor Bettina Bieri said there is no new tenant found as of yet, but she has offered her services to the plaza owners to help find a suitable store for the township.

“I’ve been in contact with the plaza owners. I provided a list of about a dozen establishments that could possibly be of interest to our residents and be able to sustain themselves,” said Bieri. “Some are doing additional research so there is a possibility that a lease could be worked out. That will obviously be up to the plaza owners, but I have offered assistance and am willing to reach out to potential tenants as well.”

Abdul knows many of the workers at the store. He said some are going to work at the new Acme that's opening in Oak Ridge. He said he hasn't heard anything on what might go in to the space, but he has his hopes.

“I really hope something comes in,” said Abdul. “I am optimistic that a grocery store or large retailer will set up shop here.”

- Additional reporting by Linda Smith Hancharick

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