Lidl to join Lawrence Shopping Center businesses

Lea Kahn/Photo

The transformation of the former ACME grocery store into a Lidl grocery store at the Lawrence Shopping Center is well underway, with an anticipated opening date in mid- to late summer, according to Lawrence Township officials.

The renovation has been taking place in spurts since demolition work on the vacant space began in August 2020. Behind a chain link fence that bars entry to the work site, signs that promote Lidl’s impending opening have been attached to the plywood covering the storefront.

The former ACME grocery store space has been empty since 2018, when the store’s lease expired. ACME Markets decided not to renew the lease at the Lawrence Shopping Center at 2495 Brunswick Pike because the store had not met the company’s goals.

Lidl signed a lease for the nearly 40,000-square-foot space in August 2019.

The new Lidl grocery store will occupy one of the 49 retail spaces at the Lawrence Shopping Center, which is anchored by Staples and the Burlington Coat Factory, according to shopping center owner JJ Operating Inc.’s website at www.jjop.com.

But the former ACME grocery storefront is not the only one undergoing renovations at the Lawrence Shopping Center.

The former Wells Fargo Bank building, across the parking lot from the former AMCE grocery store, has been dismantled and will be rebuilt to hold a Starbucks coffee shop and an Aspen Dental practice. An opening date for them is not known at this time, township officials said.

When the renovation work is completed, Lidl, Starbucks and Aspen Dental will join the growing list of businesses that have begun to fill the shopping center. Several stores have leased space and opened for business in the past two years.

The Dollar Tree discount store, which opened its doors in August 2020, moved across Brunswick Pike/Route 1 from its former location. The store occupies about 11,000 square feet.

The Auto Zone automotive parts store also has opened for business. It is located next to the Dollar Tree store. The two businesses occupy part of the space that was formerly occupied by the CVS drug store chain.

The Island Sports Bar and Grill opened for business in late 2020 in the space formerly occupied by the Fusion House restaurant. Next door to the Island Bar and Grill is the Heavenly Hounds dog training business.

City Electric Supply, which is a wholesale electric supply company, occupies the space that used to house the R&S Strauss auto supply store in the same one-story building as Island Sports Bar and Grill and Heavenly Hounds.

New Jersey Camera, the Cafe du Pain bakery and Plato’s Closet, which sells trendy, second-hand clothing for teenagers and young adults, also have opened for business.

The former Huffman Koos furniture store was demolished in January 2020 to make way for the construction of the LA Fitness gym. The parking lot has been paved, but construction of the gym has apparently been put on hold.

There are still a few vacant store fronts, and signs advertising those vacancies have been taped to the storefront windows.

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.

JJ Operating Inc., the current owner, is a family-owned real estate investment and management company based in New York City.

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.