Mall retailers upbeat about supermarket

Retailers hope new Stop and Shop revives life at South Brunswick Square Mall.

By: Sharlee Joy DiMinichi
   Construction of a new 55,000-square-foot supermarket in the South Brunswick Square Mall has disrupted business for some merchants, while others say the torn up parking lot and construction vehicles have not had an impact on their stores.
   Business owners said they expect the inconveniences of construction, which includes repaving a section of the parking lot near the store and renovations to the existing building, to be worthwhile because of the foot traffic the completed store will generate.
   The Stop & Shop supermarket is scheduled to open in approximately eight weeks, said Rick Stockwood, a Stop & Shop spokesman. It replaces Grand Union, which closed in 2003. Stop & Shop was expected to open in the fall..
   Since renovations began, some merchants said potential customers turned away because of the difficulties in navigating the parking lot, which has construction crews and equipment present as well as a rough surface.
   Outside the future supermarket, the surface of the blacktop is removed from the curb to about 6 feet into the parking lot. Construction workers direct traffic entering the lot from Route 1.
   Ileene Yelo, owner of Pets, Pets, Pets, said the project has reduced business at the shop because potential customers assume that the end of the mall at which the construction is taking place is closed.
   "There’s definitely been an impact — the fact that people don’t even know this side is still open," Ms. Yelo said.
   Ms. Yelo said the lack of an anchor store and the construction project have combined to hurt business.
   A Macy’s department store located in the mall also closed in 2003.
   "I would say we probably did about a one-third of what we did last year," Ms. Yelo said.
   Ms. Yelo said that on Dec. 24 construction was a particular hindrance to confused customers, who drove around the lot looking for parking spaces.
   "The construction crew was not prepared for the fact that stores were still open on this side of the mall," said Ms. Yelo.
   In addition, Ms. Yelo said, construction crews did not initially direct traffic, but that problem was quickly resolved after she and other merchants called representatives of the mall’s landlord, WP Brunswick Associates.
   Chris Morosoff of the Hawaiian Bronze tanning salon said that on Dec. 24, he knew the repaving project was affecting his business.
   "As soon as the customers came in and started saying it was like a war zone out there," he said.
   Mr. Morosoff said the impact of construction was only noticeable on a few days, but that overall it has not reduced the number of customers who enter the salon.
   Mr. Morosoff said his usual clients continued to use the salon, but that the business did not grow as much as he would have liked to in 2003 due to a sluggish economy, lack of an anchor store at the mall and the construction.
   "This past year was very tough. The percentage of new clients we were getting was not there," Mr. Morosoff said.
   Other merchants said the project had no discernible impact on business.
   "We have a pretty loyal customer base and they seem to find us regardless of the situation," said Jason Fenton, manager of Halter’s Cycle and Fitness.