Huffman Koos demolition opens door for LA Fitness

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LEA KAHN/STAFF
Building demolition at the Lawrence Shopping Center makes way for an LA Fitness gym.

The former Huffman Koos furniture store at the Lawrence Shopping Center has been demolished to make way for the construction of the LA Fitness gym.

Demolition crews have been onsite for the past several weeks, knocking down the abandoned building and hauling away the debris.

The demolition of the former furniture store is one of the most visible signs of progress at the Lawrence Shopping Center at 2495 Brunswick Pike. The shopping center is bordered by Texas Avenue, Brunswick Pike, Princeton Pike and a small stream.

The Lawrence Township Planning Board approved plans for LA Fitness in September 2018 on the site of the former furniture store in the northeast corner of the shopping center. The plan calls for constructing a 34,000-square-foot building.

The LA Fitness club at the Lawrence Shopping Center will be one of the chain’s “signature” clubs, which will offer amenities not found in a standard LA Fitness gym.

The new gym will offer a hot yoga room and a high intensity training room, in addition to the customary weight room, group fitness room, cardio room and personal training room.

LA Fitness is planning to spend about $10 million on the club at the Lawrence Shopping Center, a company representative said.

There are other signs of progress at the Lawrence Shopping Center.

The former CVS drugstore space, next to the former ACME grocery store, has been leased to AutoZone. It is an automotive aftermarket parts retailer.

AutoZone recently placed its corporate sign on the newly redesigned facade at the Lawrence Shopping Center, and work appears to be under way.

The Lidl grocery store chain is in the planning and design phase for the store that it intends to open in the former ACME grocery store space. It is not known when Lidl, which is based in Germany, will open its doors.

The former ACME space, which takes up nearly 40,000 square feet, has been vacant since September 2018. The store’s lease was expiring and the company opted not to renew it because the store had not met the company’s goals, a spokesman said.

JJ Operating Inc., which acquired the Lawrence Shopping Center in 2016, had been looking for a grocery store to fill the void that was left when the ACME grocery store shut its doors. The owner closed on the deal to bring Lidl to occupy the space.

The former ACME and Huffman Koos stores are among the 49 retail spaces at the Lawrence Shopping Center, which is anchored by the Burlington Coat Factory, Staples and Petvalue.

Several stores have opened recently, including the Cafe du Pain bakery, the Plato’s Closet clothing store, Bury the Hatchet and City Electric Supply Co.

The 393,430-square-foot shopping center was purchased by JJ Operating Inc. for $16.2 million in December 2016, according to the Lawrence Township Tax Assessor’s Office.

The prior owner, wbcmt 2007-c33 Brunswick Pike LLC, acquired the shopping center at a Mercer County sheriff’s sale in 2013. Lawrence Shopping Center LLC, which owned the shopping center, defaulted on a $39.5 million loan, which led to the sheriff’s sale to raise money to pay off the debt.

The Lawrence Shopping Center, which opened in 1960, was the first major shopping center in Lawrence Township. It consisted of 150,000 square feet and 13 stores. It underwent expansions and renovations several times between 1966 and 1997.

Among the original stores at the Lawrence Shopping Center were the Pantry Pride grocery store; W.T. Grant, which was a 5- and 10-cent store; Dunham’s Department Store; and Lawrence Liquors, according to records on file at the Lawrence Township Tax Assessor’s Office.