Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bradlees Still Lingers In The Garden State

I'm not too familiar with the state of New Jersey.

As a lifelong Connecticut native, I've been here the amount of times I can count on one hand (that didn't include Six Flags, at least), mainly because travelling here is just one of many hassles not found in the many other states in the Northeast. Upon my foreign observations, I still find it odd how citizens still can't pump their own gas (actually questioned an attendant about this once) and that it'll cost the price of today's cheapest fast food meal to travel from one end of the state to another in highway tolls. In fact, I'm probably an outlaw in that state for reasons involving the myriad toll collection stations, seemingly on every highway in the state.

What can I say? I shoot pictures at malls, so I like to live... err... dangerously.

Aside that, The Caldor Rainbow has visited the state a few times in the last year for all reasons involving one of my beloved, childhood department stores: Bradlees. If not for Bradlees, I'd rip my hair out travelling down the always unpredictable I-95/dreaded toll-frenzied, congested Garden State Parkway and that godawful, dreaded George Washington Bridge (took me an hour and some change to board it, both ways, some kind of record?). All the while me thinking, we the people have to pay these guys eight bucks for having two cash lanes, hours lines worth of other motorists cutting off other motorists and E-Z Pass drivers' and their competiting 8 lanes.

Despite the migrane, we've found there's still a good handful of empty locations left by the late New London, Conn.-based discounter, who expanded vastly into the retail flushed state of New Jersey. We visited a couple just recently in Bordentown and Toms River.

We hit Bordentown first, along SR-206 and a good length off I-195. This store was in a bit of a dried up, mostly residential area. We found this store almost immaculately frozen in time; all signage up on the building and nearby road. A former Jefferson Ward, this Bradlees likely swooped up that fallen Montgomery Ward offspin in the early 1980's and had a fairly good run for almost two decades. This one made it all the way up until the 2001 liquidation, typically like the chain, no exterior remodels since opening. The skylight-cased, red-stripped building haunts the otherwise active ShopRite neighboring to the left. Sadly, the vacation of Bradlees incurred a plague of trickling closures to the building's subdivisions; an empty Fashion Bug and Blockbuster Video sit labelscarred beside the surprisingly clean vacant husk.



Next on the rundown was Toms River, a mere half-hour east, right off the Garden State Parkway and the ever traffic riddled US-9 artery. There's little to wonder why this rotting property can't be sold off: a great number of the plaza tenants are mired in vacancy and dilapidated storefronts. Aside the vacant Bradlees, which once prominently anchored the center, there's a checkered vacancy rate fended off by Staples and a discount furniture depot. Because the otherwise accessible location, the number of otherwise potential tenants are already situated nearby, including Walmart. The mere condition of this ancient shopping center will halt certain fertility in redevelopment, at least for now.


Having seen a good number of Bradlees in my own line of sight and in pictures, this one is by far one of the oddest looking stores I've ever witnessed. For one, there's no vibrant entrance at street level like most of their locations. Instead, you'll have had to walk down a small path, which seems like a side entrance. It also didn't help the building looked more like a distribution plant than a retail store, which had me baffled when I saw this one from the sky before getting here. Other odd traits with this one were the trio of windows out front, the abundant landscape area underneath and perhaps the coolest part: the "billboard"-like advertisements for a charge card and the later 90's "Savings on The Good Stuff" slogan adjacent the entrances. Probably not always a Bradlees, this Toms River location was likely one of many stores the chain snatched up in the early 80's boom the company experienced.

That's not all. Behind the plaza lies an entire strip of vacancies and a rather ugly rear portion of the "mall," filled with busted pavement and landscaping.

Who forgot The Dover Mall? A certainly aged outdoor mall, once could tell by the archaic sign on US-9, back unto the turn of the 20th Century, clearly will seek demolition one day soon -- or so the town hopes. The Dover Mall remains a prime example of how retail trends can turnaround a once bustling center into a dark, distressed abandon, with success and flourish surrounding all around it.


There are currently other buildings formerly held by Bradlees (and Jefferson Ward for that matter) in Stratford, Woodbury Heights and Hamilton, the latter a former later-era Caldor. We would've gone for Woodbury, but that one is more a bizarro cousin of both Bordentown and Toms River.

So what can I say about New Jersey? The same for both Vince Lombardi and Grover Cleveland, whose legacies are parallel in fueling the needs of many a Popeye's and Roy Rogers consumer with their own toll-free rest stops.



Anonymous said...

The gas law is almost 50 yrs old I believe. The main benefit of it is that it keeps the gas tax down. We have about 14.5% tax vs. PA's 27+ % tax. Also creates more jobs as well.

As for tolls they are avoidable if you know your way :).

And for traffic, blame that on the shoobies during these summer months. Winter time is a better time to visit NJ. Which I wonder why everyone makes it the butt of a joke despite EVERYONE just needs to come to our beaches... Anyhoo I live in southern NJ and there was a Bradlees on 322 as well.

Phil said...

don't forget about the over long and thin dotted white lines dividing the lanes on the thruway.... after a few hours of driving thru new jersey (9 out of 10 visits for me) those can be absolutely hypnotic in my peripheral vision......


mandy_Reeves said... here from a life long Ocean County NJ resident...Mom and I are debating wether Toms river bradlees was anything before Bradlees. I thought Grants...but that was the plaza across the yeah, Bradlees it has been since at least 1980...I used to get all my Barbies there and pretty ponies. I lived down the highway from there from age 5 to 6

There was a Deli caddy corner them, called Wolfies. It was there as long as Bradlees, then it moved. There used to be a Jewelry store I think, a Staples, a shoprite that moved and a restaurant called Old Time Tavern and the movie theater. They used to show Rocky Horror at midnight for a long time when I was a little girl.

There was a treasure Island store that moved down the highway to the shopping center by the mall.

Bradles is now a distribution center for Boscov's at the mall, but it may have moved its location, since the monmouth mall boscovs closed. And usually one of the stores in that strip mall is a halloween store.

greg8370 said...

nick is back!!!

Mela said...

There's a Bradlees that was sloppily converted into a scary medical clinic on Route 30 near Berlin. They just threw a fabric banner with the clinic name over the Bradlees logo on both the street sign and the building. Every time I see it I laugh.

Oh, and the gas thing is for tax reasons (apparently self-serve can't be taxed but full-serve can); still, I never would've learned if I didn't have to do it for my Great Adventure summer job.

Anonymous said...

Bradlees / Jefferson/Ward of Bordentown and Woodbury Heights were both built as Two Guys. As were Two Guys in Delran, Marlton, Cherry Hill-38&Cuthbert, and Turnersville.

The US-30 Bradlees is in Stratford, built as JM Fields, Jefferson/Ward in Summer 1980, then Bradlees -- an early one to close. Now a medical clinic. Had an Eric Movie twin in front of it, which later was a Chineese Buffet. In an older part of the same Center was a former Penn Fruit arch-roof, which became "Rx Place", and is now a Goodwill Trift Store.

There was a Caldor a couple miles west on US-30 in the Lions Head Plaza, along with a Cinemark movie, an OW/Office Warehouse-OfficeMax, and a Shop -n- Bag Supermarket. Lions Head was redeveloped with a Walmart, after Walmart was rejected from Echelon Mall.

Maire said...

Before the last anon commenter posted, I was also going to say that I remember the original 2 Guys store in the Bordentown location. It was quite a store to visit as a kid! At one time, it had a family fun area, plus a grocery store. Over the years, when Bradlee's took over, of course the quality of merchandise also deteriorated.
The reason business has dried up in that particular area, is because there is a very large Hamilton Marketplace on Rt 130, about 10 min away.
Going to now check and see if you have anything about the Caldor on Nottingham way in Hamilton.
Great blog!

Scott said...

Apparently the Dover Mall was going to be demolished and a new shopping center was to be built with a side-by-side Toys R Us/Babies R Us. That fell through due to the economy.

Gimmeanatari said...

Any chance of an interior shot of the TR Bradlees? I'm too scared to get that close. Maybe a through the windows of the doors shot?

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APW said...

The Dover Mallwich house the ugly Bradlees has been torn down in 2011 and now there is a Brand new super Shop Rite, a new Staples & a new Sprits liquor store to menton a couple. This "new stripmall is not yet complete with mor stores coming soon.

Anonymous said...

Most recently the Bradlees in Toms River was demolished (along with the rest of the dover mall) in order to build a new shopping center. I know this because I live in New Jersey.

John said...

A friend took a photo of a Bradlees truck going down the interstate this week with (I think) the last logo.\

Anonymous said...

I lived in Toms River from 1971-1978 as a young lad. The Dover Mall also had a Kay-B toy store at one end. After we moved away I never really made it back until 2000 and touring the town was like a neuron bomb had hit: ancient abandoned store fronts still there but all the people gone. Even the Ocean County Mall still had the 70’s style brown motif interior with a single 2-screen cinema. The mall was updated when I visited again in 2009 but the town still feels like a ghost town.

Development and growth just died and it probably had something to do with the legacy of chemical pollution in the 60’s and 70’s that set off a firestorm in the 80’s. Now it's just lifelong residents waiting to die and their adult children who never left.