Cooperative: Retail Grocers Group
Location: 431 CR-513, Califon, NJ
Photographed: March 2020
I was very excited to report on the opening of the Aqui Market here in Califon, a borough of just 1000 people, back in 2018
with excellent pictures from a contributor. In early March of 2020, I got to visit the store for myself and was, conditionally, impressed. The owners of Aqui Market (with other locations in Jersey City
, along with an older JC location
that closed recently) have done a beautiful job transforming this 25,000 square foot 1970s-era A&P
, but execution as far as product mix and pricing leaves a bit to be desired. As far as the name of the town goes, it is thought to be a shortening of "California"
but an amusing local legend says that the sign painters, having taken the train out from Dunellen with the sign's background paint, found that upon arriving in Califon the sign's background paint wasn't dry yet so they stopped by the bar at the local hotel, and "Califon" was as close to "California" as the very inebriated painters could get.
Aqui has significantly opened up the space, so I do believe there's probably less selection than A&P had but it's better allocated. We have the coffee shop/cafe/bakery and deli on the front wall here, and it does look like they do bake in-store, to answer my own question from my earlier post. A Cuban hot food bar lines the front left side of the grand aisle with produce behind it. Meat and seafood are on the back wall, with frozen in the second-to-last aisle and dairy in the last aisle.
This is really a beautiful hot food counter! If only there were any customers to enjoy it. I wonder how long this store can stay in business simply because the area is so sparsely populated. The other side of that coin, though, is that it's a long drive to the nearest ShopRite or other large supermarket so this store gets the convenience business. But like the other Aqui Markets, while the store is attractive and freshness is good, the prices are simply way too high across the board. I have to assume that's due to an unfavorable contract with General Trading, right? Because their rent can't be that high, and their costs can't be that much higher than everyone else. Even some of their sales can be pretty high.
But the store is beautifully designed and merchandised! It doesn't really come across in pictures but the big "THE FARM" lettering to the left is actually backlit with green LED lighting, making it much easier to read.
Looking back up towards the front of the store. Deli and bakery never did get department signage, which is a strange choice. But I really like the produce bins, since it ties in nicely to the theme of the agricultural community the store is located in. It really feels like a country store.
Nice local personality on the aisle markers, too. The feeling in the grocery aisles is very much that of a specialty store, with several of the aisles split up as we'll see.
Huge butcher (and a small packaged meat selection) on the back wall. I do wonder what the turnover is like here, because as we see there was hardly anyone else in the store when I visited.
Seafood is up next on the back wall, and again I love the decor and fixtures but have to wonder about the long-term health of this store.
I do think the green-painted polished concrete floor looks pretty good, too. Notice the Parade napkins seen on the right here, to answer another one of my questions. This store uses Parade, a jarring storebrand to see so far out of New York City. (Although I do realize the brand appears around the country at many supermarkets that are not in New York City.)
Here we can see the way that the grocery aisles are split up, actually not unlike what A&P was doing in its 2010-era remodels. It only works because the store seems to be so low-volume. If this were a busy store like a ShopRite, these would be nightmares to navigate around.
Frozen foods featuring cases that look left over from A&P, but still in good repair.
And we have dairy in what look like retrofitted older cases in the last aisle. Looking good, especially with the brightly colored decor! Moving onto the front-end, we see some nice local personality as well as the tree we saw in the first post.
Looking good -- but I do think they need some help with pricing and product mix. I'm not sure that Retail Grocers Group is the right cooperative to run this store under; I would have gone with Allegiance or Key Food for better execution. IGA also does quite well with these small-town rural community stores. But nonetheless it's a really nice small-town grocery store and certainly helps fill a need in this community! Up next we'll be heading about seven miles southwest to our next Hunterdon County town, Clinton, where we'll be for the next two days. Come back here tomorrow to check out two independent stores in Clinton!
The exterior is so unmistakably A&P's yet at the same time so incredibly plain and boring! Interesting that they went from their classic centennial designed stores to something like this in the 70's. I remember shopping in the Newton store which was identical to this one and thinking "why are there no windows in this store?" It's was so strange back in those days to not have huge windows along the front of the store. Now of course, having no windows is the standard for supermarkets.ReplyDelete
Looks like a really nice store. Hard to believe they put out all of the hot foods with so few shoppers around (as you noted and as we can see in the pics). When a grocery store is this dead and in an area with such a low population, you just have to wonder how they pay all their expenses and stay profitable.
Yes, the 1970s A&P stores were not overly exciting -- basically brick boxes with that simple awning structure across the front. I will say that Aqui has livened up the exterior just a little bit with the new stonework and wooden columns around the entrance/exit foyer, which is nice and a good fit for the rural location.Delete
It is a really nice store and I was confused about the hot foods too. I remember hearing on Facebook I think that the owner of the Aqui chain (who I believe is the daughter/maybe granddaughter? of the owner of Twin City) lives out here somewhere so she was interested in experimenting with this location because it was cheap and nearby. It's been what, almost four years, so I guess it's working at least pretty well so far.
That's a fascinating story about how the town of Califon got its name.ReplyDelete
By going to HistoricAerials.com, one can see that construction had yet to begin when the 1972 photograph was taken. The oldest references to the Califon A&P on Newspapers.com were several October 1973 newspaper advertisements mentioning employment opportunities at A&P locations on Route 513 in Califon and Route 22 in Clinton. So if the Califon A&P had yet to open in October 1973, it certainly opened very shortly thereafter.
Although A&P was constructing bigger stores (than Centennials) in 1973, I am a bit surprised that stores with the 70s-style awning were built that early. While the exterior appearance of these 70s A&Ps paled in comparison to the gorgeous Centennial stores, I don't dislike the standard design of A&Ps from that decade. IMO, A&P's most boring exterior design was the slanted-front Futurestore from the 1980s. (I actually like the initial "rounded greenhouse" look of the early Futurestores, so it was unfortunate that A&P dropped that look and instead built slanted-front Futurestores.)
On a different matter, I'm surprised that Acme didn't acquire the Califon location, due to the lack of nearby competition. However, I'm not all that surprised that Weis and ShopRite both passed on the store, since those chains would be unlikely to open a new supermarket in such a small building.
You make a lot of good points here. Thanks, A&P Fan!Delete