Longtime flea market shutting down in E.B.

Unable to negotiate new lease, director says


EAST BRUNSWICK — After three decades of business, the Route 18 Indoor Market will close its doors next month.

The flea market, known for its abundance of vendors and moderate prices, was unable to come to terms on a new lease with Toll Brothers, the Pennsylvania-based developer that purchased the property known as the Golden Triangle, at Route 18 and Tices Lane, from the township in 2005. Toll Brothers has plans to develop the site, where Sam’s Club and Jason’s Furniture also operate, as a retail and residential community to be called The Cornerstone at East Brunswick.

“Our lease ended and the property was sold to Toll Brothers,” said Barbara Passwaters, director of operations for the market. “It was up to them whether to extend the lease or not, and the owner of the flea market and Toll Brothers did not reach an amicable agreement.”

Thus, the 60-plus vendors that do business at the Route 18 market will be forced to move or shut down, she said, noting that some owners have chosen to retire.

She said the whole philosophy of the indoor market was undercut by the sale of the property to the private development company. The market subleased its space to vendors at lower-than-market rates, so the businesses could in turn pass on savings to customers. The strategy worked, as for years customers knew they could not only find good deals at the flea market, but also have a wide variety of vendors to choose from in one setting.

Passwaters said a favorable lease price was not forthcoming in negotiations with the developer. She noted that if the market leased its space at the same prices that malls or storefronts charge, the entire complexion of the market would change.

The flea market tried to relocate, she said, but was unable to find another location at a reasonable expense, due to high real estate prices.

“This is the end for us,” Passwaters said.

Some of the vendors will move to other flea markets, and others are planning to move into storefronts on Route 18.

One of the vendors lucky enough to be able to afford the move to another Route 18 location is Mike Ward, owner of Mike’s Place. He said he will relocate to the building formerly home to Treasure Island, between Cranbury and Milltown roads. But he is not pleased with the turn of events for the flea market.

“I think it sucks,” Ward said of its impending shutdown. “I would be here another 20 years if the market would.”

Ward said the rent he will pay at the new location is more than three times what he pays at the market. On the bright side, however, he can stay open seven days a week, compared with the three days a week the market was open. In addition, his hours can be different.

“I can be open seven days a week and set my own hours,” he said.

Passwaters said she feels flea markets are a dying entity, especially in this region, due to the real estate prices. Indoor flea markets have been hit especially hard because they have higher overhead costs, such as electric bills. She said it is a shame, as the market offers customers a variety of unique businesses, such as an Army-Navy store, a sports collectibles shop, and an adopt-a-pet station.

“We have a lot of unique vendors, and a lot of personalized items,” she said.

Ward said his store is multifaceted in that it sold more than 4,000 items, including swords, incense burners, martial arts equipment and home security systems, as well as gift items.

Passwaters said it will be hard for the small business owners to find a new location, in part because they cannot be tied into long-term leases.

The flea market has drawn customers from all over the county, as well as New York and other parts of northern New Jersey. It is expected to close Nov. 2.

Toll Brothers is developing the Golden Triangle, which it purchased for more than $30 million, over three phases, the first of which is the recent commuter parking deck, which was to open yesterday. The township, which funded that aspect of the redevelopment at a cost of $32 million, will operate the facility.

The developer has not indicated when construction on the other two phases will be built. According to plans approved earlier this year by the township Planning Board, phase two will include 17,065 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The third and final phase calls for 168,700 square feet of retail space and 402 residential units.

There has been speculation as to when the development will occur, given the economic climate, and during testimony before the Planning Board last year, a representative of Toll Brothers said the project may be changed or not fully built out depending on market conditions.

Councilman David Stahl said it is important for the federal government to perform some bailouts so that credit markets can once again lend monies for projects like the Golden Triangle.

Toll Brothers has extended the lease of Sam’s Club, another company doing business on the site. However, that store and Jason’s Furniture would eventually have to vacate when Toll Brothers proceeds with development.