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Thursday, July 25, 2024

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RE UPDATE: Holiday Shoppers Enjoy Array of Stores

By C.M. Mattessich

During the Dec. 3-4 weekend, traffic at stores around the county appeared to be steady. Though a number of merchants observed in-formally that shopping seemed to be “up” from recent years, it’s too early to discern precise local holiday trends.
Some things are crystal clear, though. From the consumer’s perspective, just about everything that might be needed for holiday shopping is now available within county borders. And, judging from samplings taken by the Herald at four loca-tions last weekend, shoppers include both local residents and own-ers of second homes who are increasingly spending more of their off-season time in the county.
Development soars
Many local residents, long accustomed to trav-eling to destinations like the Hamilton Mall in Atlantic County for retail shopping, were delighted in recent years to learn that mid- to large-sized retailers were planning entries into the county.
One early wave of de-velopment occurred in Cape May Court House in Middle Township, when a longstanding Acme was redeveloped into an Acme “super-store” and surrounding shops were spruced up.
That center fell into the typical pattern of mid-sized community shopping centers (some-times called strip malls). These include one or more larger, so-called anchor stores, such as a supermarket, drugstore, and, as in the Court House location, larger retailers such as Mar-shalls and Staples. Then there are sub-anchors such as Radio Shack, Fashion Bug, and GNC, and smaller shops pro-viding the goods and services generally consid-ered desirable in a given community. Here, that might mean a pizzeria, drug store, shoe store, restaurant, video store, and hair or nail salon.
In Court House, the renovated Acme center was soon followed by another mid-sized center just across Courthouse-Dennisville Road, with anchors including Super Fresh and TJ MAXX.
Not coincidentally, as these centers were being renovated and re-developed, large town-home projects were be-ing planned and built in Middle Township by national and regional homebuilders.
More recently, major commercial development has occurred in the Rio Grande section of Mid-dle Township. Near the intersections of Routes 9 and 47, a regional devel-oper purchased large tracts of land and began developing Grande Cen-ter, a larger center than those previously built in the county.
On the west side of Route 9, retailers already up and running include Lowe’s, Bed Bath & Be-yond, Ross Dress for Less, Famous Footwear, and Michael’s Arts & Crafts Store, all of which were doing a steady business last weekend.
One Bed Bath & Be-yond employee told the Herald that customers appear to be “so glad we’re here. They say ‘it’s about time!'”
Grande Center also in-cludes smaller stores such as Pearle Vision, UPS and AAA Travel.
As with the develop-ment in Court House, the new center is sur-rounded by other facili-ties. Within one square mile of Grande Center, scores of additional stores may be found in several small strip malls and two mid-sized de-velopments (the Rio Grande Plaza on Route 47, and a center recently purchased by the Frank Organization, which includes the recently renovated K-Mart and is constructing a multi-plex theatre at the site previ-ously occupied by Sta-ples).
And next to Grande Center, a huge Walmart is under construction.
Acme enthused
National and regional companies do extensive homework before concluding that the county is appropriate for a new or additional lo-cation. Acme, which continues to build new superstores in the county, is a good example.
Acme currently has locations in Avalon, Cape May, Cape May Court House, Lower Township, Seaville, Sea Isle City and Wildwood. (The Wildwood store is being re-built in doo-wop style architecture.)
“Pretty much from ‘day one’ we wanted to invest in the county,” Colin McKeon, Vice President of Real Estate and Construction, East-ern Region, told the Her-ald. “We always believed the county would con-tinue to grow in popula-tion and demographics.”
According to McKeon, Acme categorizes its stores into the large “mainland” stores such as Cape May Court House, which are ex-pected to perform all year, and the “resort stores” which, “though they’re getting bigger, were set up predomi-nantly to get the seasonal trade.”
Acme’s new Avalon store falls into the latter category, and its research on that location provides some fascinating grist for land use buffs.
Together with internal research using census and other data, Acme relied on an external research firm which conducted special sur-veys and traffic counts to judge the need for an Avalon Boulevard store. That firm’s research, according to McKeon, showed that second home owners are coming to the shore more fre-quently than in previous years. In addition, in surveying second home owners in Avalon and Stone Harbor, the firm found that “a lot of those folks were shop-ping at home before they came down.”
“And now, they do it at our new store,” said McKeon, who also noted the “large number of new developments and rede-velopment” in the county. “People are making Cape May their year-round residence,” he said. “You can just feel that the area is going to continue strong.”
“This is not false excitement,” said McKeon. “We’re very bullish on Cape May and will continue to be.”
Locals Benefit, Too
At least some local business are benefiting from county real estate trends in the same man-ner as their larger cous-ins.
A prime example is Teaberry Antiques, a new business owned and managed by Louise Lloyd at a warehouse-sized structure built by her son Bill Lloyd on a tract of land that he bought several years ago on Route 9 in Dennis Township.
The 15,000 square foot facility houses both Louise Lloyd’s business and the sixth – that’s right, the sixth – county branch location of Avalon Coffee, owned by local partners Sean Ford and Michael Nestor. (A seventh, which will be operated as a franchise, also is in the works.)
“When I asked my son to help me start my own business,” Lloyd said, “I originally pictured a house with a little store on the first floor. In-stead …. This!”
She gestured with ob-vious delight to a mas-sive collection of an-tiques and collectibles, with customers examin-ing items throughout the store.
The store has been busy since its opening, said Lloyd, noting that a significant number of her customers appear to be second home owners getting ready for the holidays.
“Though one man from Exton,” she said, “bought a large piece of furniture for his home here and then decided to use it in Exton, and he asked if we’d deliver it to there.”
“We probably will,” she added.
Jacqueline Ciunci, a Malvern resident with a second home in Ocean City, said that she was visiting the store for the second day in a row. Ciunci, in the process of purchasing multiple items, said she’d also found items the day before.
“I don’t have to go up the road to the Mall,” she said. “I can do eve-rything here.”
Ciunci seemed to fit the bill described by Donna Fleck, who works at Avalon Coffee and is a resident of Cape May Court House.
“People are lovely here, pleasant and relaxed,” said Fleck, noting that many customers come from surrounding new developments. She noted, too, that custom-ers on Thanksgiving weekend seemed to in-clude a large number of weekenders.
As for customers exit-ing the Teaberry/Avalon Coffee location, they didn’t necessarily leave visual splendors behind. Across the street, on pines surrounding a collection of 15 “unique shops” known as Wood-land Village, white lights twinkled.

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