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Special Report: Shop Fresh Marketplace - Hackettstown, NJ

Shop Fresh Marketplace
Owner: Nick Nasser
Opened: March 3, 2023
Cooperative: Great Valu Markets
 7 Naughright Rd, Hackettstown, NJ
Photographed: March 3, 2023
Welcome back to the former Hackettstown A&P, just reopened a week ago as Shop Fresh Marketplace! The independent grocery store is owned by Nick Nasser, whose stores we've toured before, and this time affiliated with Great Valu Markets, a small cooperative of about 13 stores in NJ, PA, DE, MD, NC, and VA. This is Nasser's latest supermarket opening in New Jersey, with past stores in South Amboy (2013-2015), Elizabeth (2017-2018), Middlesex (April 2019-September 2019), and West Milford (2020-2022). So while this is far from the owner's first venture into grocery, it's also not a great track record, with his longest-open store being open for just about two years.
I visited Elizabeth and West Milford while they were in business, and I saw both stores start fairly strong and quickly deteriorate. Obviously, a business failure in the past does not suggest that this store too will be unsuccessful, but I can't say I have the highest of hopes. That said, however, this store is by far Nasser's best-executed of his stores I've visited. The 40,000 square foot store is large, beautifully designed, well-stocked, and an interesting one-stop-shop format with a large DoItBest hardware/garden center along with a larger than average selection of nonfoods. The grocery selection is large, if a bit bland, and pricing seemed more or less in line with area competitors.
The store opened on Friday, March 3rd at noon, and I was there at around 11:40 that morning. I was the third person to arrive and begin waiting on the line to get in, but ultimately I decided to step out of the line so that I could photograph the first people going into the store as the doors officially opened at noon. A supermarket's grand opening (or, in this case, soft opening) is always exciting.
The crowd began to gather around 11:45 but started to be rather substantial in size around 11:50.
Right at 12:00, an employee and Nasser himself came up to the front doors and opened them up to the line of eager shoppers. Take a look at the first people to enter the store...
I believe, although I'm not positive, that Nasser is the one opening the doors in the beginning.
A few still shots from that video clip.
And then I got in line myself and headed into the new store.
Here's one more picture before we go in, the doors with the "opening at noon" signs posted.
And now let's head inside and check out the supermarket for ourselves! Here's the grand aisle...
...okay, and for a picture of the grand aisle where people aren't congregating right inside the doors...
The Shop Fresh only takes up about 2/3 of the former A&P, but feels very spacious. That's partially because the store was fairly empty, although I assume that there will be more stuff added as the store is brought up to full operation capacity. I should emphasize again that the store was very much in the soft opening phase when I visited, meaning that we'll see several departments that weren't fully stocked or functional when I was there.
Produce was fully stocked, but almost nothing had price tags. Plus, you can see the empty space on the bottom of the produce shelves filled by empty boxes or nothing at all. I assume eventually everything will be filled.
Now for a quick overview of the layout. Shop Fresh kept A&P's basic layout in the grand aisle, with the right side being filled with prepared foods, deli, cheese, and bakery, with seafood and meat on the back wall. Floral and an area not yet open but currently labeled Gift Shop are in the front, the latter I assume being where A&P had a pharmacy. Customer service is next to the gift shop, with the registers beyond that. The hardware department is in the first three aisles, with pet food and some other nonfood items in the fourth. HABA is at the far left of the store, along with frozen and dairy. There's a liquor store that I believe is an outside business, with an entrance into the supermarket from the last aisle. As we'll see, Retro Fitness -- which took about 20,000 square feet of this A&P -- shaved off the far left side of the store, meaning that since Shop Fresh left the layout of A&P intact, the meat department and front-end feel oddly small, since they would have both continued farther into the old supermarket.
This is a new decor package, not quite the same as what was in Highland's Market. It's quite attractive if a bit generic looking.
Floral not yet set up. And you can get an idea of the odd proportions of the front end from this picture -- floral is huge, the Gift Shop (under the orange sign) is pretty large, the customer service counter is pretty large, and then all the registers are stuck in the area between customer service and the gray wall at the far side.
Sushi and a Chinese food bar appear to be run by an outside vendor.
Again, we can see a lot of space around the deli department, which may be filled eventually.
And in the cheese department, most of the cheeses are in the island, not under the specialty cheese department sign. The selection of cheese overall was really mainstream, with the specialty cheese single-tier refrigerator case being filled entirely with Belgioioso and other similar middle-market parmesan cheeses.
Produce is on the opposite side of the grand aisle. Again, it's a large area with a relatively small but perfectly acceptable selection. There's nothing wrong with it for sure, but plenty of space in this store could have been put to better use.
Looking up towards the entrance at the front of the store.
I really do like the lighting, flooring, and ceiling in the grand aisle. In the rest of the store, there's a much less attractive drop ceiling.
I might be nitpicking a bit here, but we see the same issue in the bread case here as the other departments so far -- fully stocked and what they have looks nice, but the selection is very limited and mainstream. I only count five types of rolls here, and this was the extent of the fresh bread selection (no larger loaves that I could find, no bagels, and so on). These may be product mix issues to work out in the long term, and they just wanted to have the place filled up for opening day.
An overview of the deli-prepared foods area from the bakery side.
And looking back towards bakery. I don't believe this store bakes in-store, as the breads aren't made in-store and the cupcakes, brownies, and other pastries in the service case (being stocked as I was there) came from Carousel Cakes, a wholesale bakery in Nanuet. Nothing wrong with that -- and in fact, the products were very good.
Nuts and bulk foods at the back of the produce department here.
And up next along the back wall is the seafood department. Highland's Market didn't have a seafood department, something that I commented on in my original post about that store and which Cosmo's Fresh Market, the following tenant, has added.
And opposite that we see the grocery aisles, including the hardware department in the first three aisles.
An overview of this area.
Now let's check out the hardware department! That, too, was not quite fully stocked for the soft opening, but most of the products were there. Price Saver also had a hardware department, but their hardware department was True Value affiliated. This one is DoItBest.
And it's a fairly complete hardware department, not unlike what you'd find in a small independent hardware store. We do, however, have a Lowe's two miles west and also five miles east of this store, plus a Home Depot three miles west.
But there's a little bit of everything here. As we can see, that didn't save the Middlesex location, which went out of business in just six months. But this store seems to be better executed overall than Middlesex, although admittedly I didn't get to Middlesex in that brief time that it was open for business.
A look at the gift shop and customer service counter on the front wall, and then back to seafood to continue our tour of the supermarket...
As we can see, they've left the bones of the A&P (see the store between A&P's closure and Shop Fresh's opening here) although the decor and fixtures are new.
The grocery aisles are divided in half across the middle. I must say that for that reason and for others, this store feels a lot like what Highland's Market would feel like if expanded slightly and a hardware department were added. That's partially because the setup for both Highland's and Shop Fresh is very similar, but also partially because both are or were in subdivided 1990s A&Ps.
I do really like the sleek black grocery shelving here, and the concrete floor looks great. I wish they'd either painted or removed the drop ceiling, though. We can see it's not in the greatest shape.
We'll see, too, how well this store can maintain its present order and cleanliness.
Now for the (rather small, as I mentioned) meat department on the back wall. As I said, A&P's meat department would've continued beyond where this store's side wall is, and the location of the walls within the store wasn't changed. A&P's butcher window was where this one is, although I'm not sure how much meat prep is actually happening in-store.
Very attractive decor again, though again a bit generic for my taste.
Soda aisle looking really pristine. I'm sure that'll never happen again.
Notice the UNFI rep behind customer service, assisting with setting up the store. Great Valu is supplied by UNFI and uses Essential Everyday and Wild Harvest storebrand products.
There was some really good vendor-specific merchandising in this store, too, such as this endcap.
The fixtures here are all new, and the frozen aisle looks very good. I'm not positive about this, but it looks like the ceiling tiles may be bulging a little, which is sometimes a sign of water damage. I hope that, after sitting vacant for eight years, the structure was appropriately renovated functionally as well as structurally.
And dairy/cold cuts are here in the last aisle, along with bread and related products.
I mentioned the store sells Wild Harvest brand items, which apparently are getting a redesign. (I later saw another poster for this in a Key Food store.) I think it looks nice but not particularly special. There's something a little bit cheap-looking about this design, too, although I can't put my finger on what it is specifically.
Anyway, here we're looking across the middle of the store back towards the grand aisle.
And in the front corner is the entrance to the liquor store, just like at Highland's Market.
I believe the liquor store is an outside business that moved here from elsewhere in the strip mall.
And now for the front end, which feels and looks exactly like Highland's Market...
Notice that there's only six registers, which was proving insufficient for the opening day crowds when I circled back here later in my trip to find rather long lines at all the registers. I'm not sure that'll ever happen again, though.
And again we see the store keeps A&P's bones, but freshens them up a lot. The trim and tile visible here on the front wall are left over from A&P, and just painted. Also a strange sign on the side wall, which says Shop Fresh Marketplace thank you for shopping with...
Overall I would say my assessment of Shop Fresh is mixed. It's a rather good store, though not really special in any way beyond its inclusion of the hardware department. I hope that this is the store that succeeds, I really do. I hate to see supermarkets failing, especially four in a row for this owner, and I can't help but wonder why that is. But that doesn't give me a lot of hope for the longevity of this store, truthfully. I guess we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, check out the transition at the Universal Food Markets in Orange here and the new Nyack Fresh Market here!


  1. Nice tour! Really cool that you got to attend the grand opening! I also found it interesting how many specialty departments this store had, considering it's an independent/co-op store. I was especially surprised by the gift shop and hardware section.

    1. I agree! With this operator's other stores, these specialty departments go by the wayside quickly, usually with only deli remaining after not that long, but we'll see how this store fares. I wish them luck but remain somewhat pessimistic given the track record.

  2. Thanks very much for the tour. Like you, I hope this store succeeds. However, I have serious doubts given this operator's track record and the fact that there was some empty shelving. I simply cannot understand why anybody would open a supermarket unless all the shelves are fully stocked.

    Like The Retail Connection poster above, I like the fact that this supermarket has a gift shop and hardware section (although the gift shop did not yet appear to be open for business). Supermarkets today have become too large in size, IMO. For supermarkets that are massive in size, I think they should have "unique" departments. (Here, I am speaking generally, since the Hackettstown Shop Fresh Marketplace is certainly not a massive supermarket.)

    On a different topic, I believe there is some news regarding the former Budd Lake A&P on Route 46, which was replaced by the former Naughright Road A&P. I read somewhere on the internet that HomeGoods (which occupies the former Budd Lake A&P Building) will relocate to where the Flanders Babies R Us used to be. I forget where I read this bit of information, and I could not find it doing a Google search, so it is possible that I am mistaken.

    --A&P Fan

    1. The track record of this operator concerns me more than the empty shelves. It's not uncommon for grocery stores to have a soft opening and then a grand opening thereafter, especially for independent stores that need to begin getting cash inflow before they finish their setup. I agree, and I love to see specialty or unusual departments in supermarkets!

      Thanks for the update, too, about the Budd Lake store!

    2. Zachary, your explanation regarding why grocery stores sometimes have empty shelves during a soft opening makes good sense, especially in the case of an independent store. I should add that I was mistaken when I thought this was a grand opening of a new supermarket, when you clearly stated that it was a soft opening.

      Getting cash inflow is obviously of paramount importance, but too much empty shelving has the potential to leave a bad first impression among customers. However, I do think that having some empty space (upon opening) is understandable for independent operators or small supermarket chains. But in my opinion, it is truly embarrassing for a company as big and powerful as Amazon not to have a fully stocked supermarket on day one of operations.

      --A&P Fan


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