Highland's Market by Shopwell
Owner: Nick Nasser
Opened: October 2020
Cooperative: Associated Supermarket Group
Location: 1938 Union Valley Rd, Hewitt, NJ
Photographed: July, September, and December 2020
Contributor: Laura E. (nighttime photos)
A store I've been keeping an eye on, Highland's Market opened in October in part of a former A&P here in Hewitt. I visited in July to catch the store under construction, and our contributor Laura E. returned in early September to catch the store near its opening. I finally returned just last week to check out the store for myself. Let's start with a look at the store before its opening...
The supermarket and its attached liquor store take up maybe 2/3 of the former A&P space.
This store is owned by Nick Nasser, who has revived the defunct Shopwell brand (a New York brand purchased by A&P in the 1980s) as a co-branding to this store. Nasser, a former Pathmark executive, has owned several stores including the Supermarkets Plus IGA in Elizabeth. Supermarkets Plus closed within two years, with a later attempt down in Middlesex under the brand Price Saver Fresh Marketplace closing in its first year of business. I never visited Price Saver when it was in business, although I did grab some pictures after its closure which we'll see when we're down in that area, but the execution at Supermarkets Plus was rather poorly suited to the neighborhood it was in. As we'll see, Highland's Market is better executed but there is still plenty of room for improvement, and it remains to be seen whether it will have a longer life than Supermarkets Plus and Price Saver.
I'd assume that the supermarket and liquor store take about 35,000 square feet of the approximately 48,000 square foot A&P space.
Now for a look inside, prior to opening!
Going for some Shopwell nostalgia here on this Welcome sign.
We can peek around the curtains for a glimpse of the interior prior to opening...
Looks nice, but as we found with Supermarkets Plus, an attractive store does not equate to a well-run store. My visit this month left me a bit confused but not thoroughly disappointed.
Now for our contributor's September pictures. The sign is up!
Now for our present-day, store open photos! The store finds itself in a very difficult situation with the nearest (and only) competition being a gorgeous and surprisingly well-run Inserra ShopRite about 10 minutes to the south, so this store is definitely the smaller, less full-service option.
The supermarket includes quite a few amenities, such as a Carvel shop (not yet open at the time of my visit), a pharmacy (also not open yet), a cafe, and basic groceries. You enter in the front right corner with the cafe to the right, with produce lining the right side. Deli-bakery is in the back right corner of the store, with the prepared foods section not yet open. Meat lines the back wall, with frozen in the second-to-last aisle and dairy and bread in the last aisle. The store looks fantastic, but the selection and merchandising confuses me. The produce department is probably about the size of A&P's, but the dairy department is probably less than half the size of A&P's. Grocery is down to just nine short aisles that are split in the middle, and there's no seafood. But there's a Carvel?! My complaints aside, the store looks great and my cashier was very friendly, so maybe shoppers will overlook that.
The small cafe in the front corner may have been where A&P also had a cafe (or else it was their floral department, probably). I'm assuming this is where the Carvel will be. Produce takes up the rest of the first aisle.
It looks like all the fixtures are left over from A&P and painted black, which looks very nice. The decor and lighting are new.
Regular readers of the blog know that I very, very much like polished concrete floors. They look great here!
Looking back up towards the entrance.
The execution is extremely professional, with consisted Highland's Market/Shopwell branding throughout the store. Deli is on the diagonal back wall...
Unfortunately, the prepared foods bar in the back corner (obscured by the rotisserie chicken case) doesn't seem to have opened yet, but there were some premade foods and sushi under the "Grab > Go" sign to the left.
Moving into the grocery aisles, we find them to be extremely clean and organized. They're also wide and spacious, making me wonder how much selection could there possibly be in this already small store. I did a few spot checks and liked the few categories I checked, but each category was very limited. Some of the prices were very good, and some were outrageous -- what we normally find in independent stores.
Quite a bit to see here on this endcap. First, although the store is affiliated with Port Washington, NY-based Associated Supermarket Group, the presence of ASG's Avenue A brand is dwarfed by the presence of Best Yet, which is strange to me but that's just because I'm a supermarket guy. Second, I don't think that "Price Lock Deals" sign is secondhand from anywhere, as I don't recognize it and they all look very new, so I guess they were created just for this store. Tops Friendly Markets does a Price Lock Guarantee, and I've heard of other stores doing Locked-In Low Prices, but not with this branding or logo before. And finally, those yellow signs are left over from A&P! I guess they were still hanging around the store five years after A&P closed up shop...
A look down the middle aisle of the store towards the last aisle.
In the grocery aisles, I don't think anything at all is left over from A&P. Everything looks brand new.
Back over to the back wall for the bakery and butcher departments. Again, fantastic decor! But everything in the prepared foods, bakery, and butcher cases was packaged and brought in -- very little is prepared in-store compared with the ShopRite nearby, for instance. The category signs (fresh cakes/fresh pastries) were brought in from Middlesex when it closed.
And you can see here how small the store actually is. The wall to the left is the wall to the liquor store, effectively the end of the supermarket.
More secondhand Price Saver signs in the meat department, although honestly they work quite well with the new decor.
Customer service and pharmacy (just out of frame to the left) set up exactly as A&P would've had them. But notice that even with the limited grocery aisle space, they take even more space out for sale items by shortening the last two aisles or so. A very strange choice.
More leftover A&P sale signs for large items on pallets in the sale section.
Aisle 9 is the last grocery aisle, with beverages. Aisle 10 is frozen, and 11 is dairy and bread.
The center dividing aisle cuts into produce, but ends in aisle 9. Frozen foods is not divided...
This is approximately where A&P would've had their frozen foods, although I have no idea whether these are left over cases or new. I like the category markers a lot though!
Dairy and bread are in the last aisle. I believe the dairy cases are new, although I guess it's possible they dragged them over here from the far end of the store when this wall was pulled in to accommodate the gym and liquor store.
An overview of the last two aisles. Great wall decor! The liquor store is behind the wall that says bread...
And the front-end has been shortened to just 6 registers. Notice the Avenue A sugar in the sale section below.
That wraps up our extensive look at this store! I think the store is beautiful, and the execution is definitely better than Supermarkets Plus. But given how badly that and Price Saver (along with Nasser's previous stores, such as a CTown-turned-Key Food in South Amboy, NJ, which then burned down -- twice) have failed, I'm doubtful this store will stick around longer than two years either. We'll have to wait and see, though! Up next, we have a surefire success story -- a large, newly renovated ShopRite in northern New Jersey -- of course it'll do well! Head over to The Market Report tomorrow to check out the ShopRite nearby.