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Update: Highland's Market by Shopwell - Hewitt, NJ

Highland's Market by Shopwell
Owner: Nick Nasser
Opened: October 2020
Cooperative: Associated Supermarket Group
Location: 1938 Union Valley Rd, Hewitt, NJ
Photographed: December 2021
Anybody here watch the TV show Scrubs? It's a comedy show about a medical student (intern, resident, attending, and so on) going through his training in a hospital with his friends and colleagues. And at least one episode features the interior of a supermarket. It was on the air for many years and is on Hulu now. Well, season 4 episode 13, "My Ocardial Infarction," has our lovable but overly cocky protagonist, JD, gloating about how good he is at figuring out what's wrong with his patients. He calls himself Dr. Diagnosis. That's a rambling way to say that here at Highland's Market, I'm going to play Dr. Diagnosis.
The store opened in October 2020 in part of a former A&P, and we first toured it in December 2020. All of the features that I mention were still coming soon on that post did actually open, which is a good sign for the financial health of the business. The store is still in beautiful condition as of my December 2021 visit, but as we'll see as we move around the store, stock is extremely low. It's what I'd expect to see in a store preparing to go out of business, which is certainly a good possibility of what's happening here. However, a pinned post on the Highland's Market Facebook page discusses supply issues without pinpointing any specific problems: "We are struggling, we are fighting the fight to refill the store. High quality Meat & Produce should be refilled by Friday and we should have Grocery, Dairy & Deli full by the weekend. Please bear with us while we navigate through suppliers who are willing to come here and fill us up" (December 2). My question is why these problems are so severe in the first place, which we'll be seeing as we check out the store.
Zoom into the above picture and you can see how bad it is. Lots of empty shelves, and what is there is very limited. This aisle is basically bagged oranges, canteloupes, papayas, mangos, and pineapples, and that's it. The organic signage remains on the cases to the left, but there's nothing organic to be found there.
The deli was mostly empty, and the bakery service counter was entirely empty with only a few pre-packaged items in the self-service case. Gluten free breads in the meat case is not a good look, either. So if the Facebook post is true, why is Highland's Market having such trouble with their suppliers? I've visited at least one supermarket represented by Associated Supermarket Group and literally dozens of others, chain and independent, in the last few weeks and none have any stock issues beyond the items currently in short supply everywhere (such as cat food, which my cats are not happy about). As we head into the grocery aisles, there's not much to offer either...
Packaged grocery and nonfoods are equally empty.
I really did want this store to succeed -- and I still do -- it has a lot of promise and a good location, but I can't really envision any scenario here other than the store winding down its business either to close or to be sold. Or perhaps there's an in-between situation, with some other transition, such as changing cooperatives? Right now Highland's Market is part of the newly-invigorated Associated Supermarket Group, and I haven't heard they have any intentions of leaving.
Looks like the service meat department is gone too, with just packaged hams in the butcher case. The case next to it, which had packaged seafood, is mostly empty with just things like sauces and other seafood-adjacent things.
No nonfoods items, and even the sale item pallets are beginning to thin out seriously.
Not a whole lot to offer in the frozen food department, even, and dairy was a little better-stocked than some other departments, actually.
But not a whole lot of bread...
Well, Dr. Diagnosis believes this store is reaching the end of its life as much as I don't want that to be true. Does anybody have other thoughts? How can this store bounce back from this situation? And how is it possible that the stock issues here are caused by anything other than this business itself? I don't know, but we'll have to see. For a look at the other places we're stopping by today, check out the full list here!

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