Dollar Tree has opened its doors in part of the former CVS drugstore space at the Lawrence Shopping Center, moving the revitalization of the shopping center steadily ahead.
The discount store opened in its new space Aug. 7, across Brunswick Pike/Route 1 from its former location. It occupies 11,000 square feet of space next to the Auto Zone, which itself opened its doors a few months ago.
Dollar Tree is the latest business to have opened in the Lawrence Shopping Center at 2495 Brunswick Pike. Several stores have leased space and opened for business in the last two years.
Those stores include Petvalue, New Jersey Camera, the Cafe du Pain bakery; and Plato’s Closet, which sells trendy, second-hand clothing for teenagers and young adults.
City Electric Supply, which is a wholesale electric supply company, opened its doors in the former R&S Strauss auto supply store location. It is geared toward residential, commercial and industrial customers.
Meanwhile, the former ACME grocery store next to the Dollar Tree and Auto Zone stores, was leased last summer to the Germany-based Lidl discount grocery store chain, but work on the store is on hold. ACME left the shopping center after its lease expired in 2018.
Across the entrance into the shopping center, the former Huffman Koos furniture store was demolished in January to make way for the construction of the LA Fitness gym. The parking lot has been paved, but construction has not begun on the 34,000-square-foot building for the personal fitness gym.
While the paperwork and permitting processes for Lidl and LA Fitness have been essentially completed, Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said neither one has shown much interest in expediting the construction process under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines – and that accounts for the lack of progress.
“They are not planning towards having a grand opening now or in the near future because I imagine neither makes good business sense. Their timeline appears to be delayed and they have not informed us – nor do they have – when they expect to start construction,” Nerwinski said.
Nerwinski said he realizes that residents want to see more signs of work being done at the Lawrence Shopping Center, but there is a worldwide health pandemic occurring right now. These are “abnormal times,” he said.
“When there is an end in sight to this pandemic (of COVID-19), that is when I expect to see more activity (at Lidl and LA Fitness),” he said.
Lidl has opened other stores during this time, but the process to get the stores opened took place before the COVID-19 pandemic struck and Gov. Phil Murphy ordered restrictions on non-essential construction projects, he said.
The 393,430-square-foot Lawrence 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 Lawrence Shopping Center at a Mercer County sheriff’s sale in 2013. Lawrence Center LLC, which owned the shopping center, defaulted on a $39.5 million loan, which led to the sheriff’s sale to satisfy the debt.
JJC Operating Inc., the newest owner, is a family-owned real estate investment and management company based in New York City, according to its website, www.jjop.com.
In addition to the Lawrence Shopping Center, JJ Operating Inc. owns the Independence Plaza shopping center on S. Broad Street in Hamilton Township. It also owns shopping centers in Avenel and Toms River, plus retail and office buildings in Newark, Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx.
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. The shopping center underwent expansions and renovations several times between 1966 and 1997.
Among the original stores at the Lawrence Shopping Center were W.T. Grant, which was a 5- and 10-cent store; the Rexall drug store; Dunham’s department store; the Pantry Pride grocery store; and Lawrence Liquors, according to records on file at the Lawrence Township Tax Assessor’s Office.