Lidl signs lease to open grocery store in Lawrence Shopping Center

The no-frills Lidl grocery store chain has signed a lease to open a store in the former Acme location at the Lawrence Shopping Center, bringing an end to the grocery store drought in the southern end of Lawrence Township.

Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said Lidl, which is based in Germany, has signed a lease and is in the planning and design phase. It is not known when the store will open in the vacant 39,681-square-foot space.

The former Acme space has been empty since August 2018. The store’s lease was expiring and representatives of Acme Markets decided not to renew it because the store had not met the company’s goals, a spokesman said.

JJC Operating Inc., which acquired the Lawrence Shopping Center, 2495 Brunswick Pike, in 2016, had been looking for a grocery store to fill the void that was left when Acme closed. The owner has now closed on the deal to bring Lidl to occupy the space.

“This community has come to realize how important the convenience of a food store was at the Lawrence Shopping Center,” Nerwinski said.

The news that a forward-looking company like Lidl has chosen to locate at the shopping center is “tremendous” for residents, he said.

Since Acme closed, residents’ choices were to shop at ShopRite in the Mercer Mall in northern Lawrence Township, or at grocery stores in West Windsor, Pennington or Princeton.

“Though Lidl is a little different than the food stores we are all familiar with, those who have an open mind and are not afraid of ‘new’ will come to realize Lidl will provide us with what we need in a nearby food store,” Nerwinski said.

Lidl takes a no-frills approach to shopping, according to its website. The stores are efficiently laid out and 90 percent of the products are branded under the chain’s own label, according to the website.

Products are displayed in boxes on shelves and not stocked individually on shelves. Employees replace the boxes when they are empty, instead of restocking individual items.

The store does not provide shopping bags, which helps to keep overhead costs to a minimum and eliminates unnecessary costs. The cost of shopping bags is not built into the store’s prices, the website said.

Since its beginnings in 1973 in Germany, the company has expanded and now operates more than 10,500 stores in 29 countries. In 2015, Lidl established a U.S. headquarters in Virginia.

More than two dozen new stores are slated to open along the East Coast by next spring, company officials said. This includes stores in New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The former Acme is one of 49 retail spaces at the Lawrence Shopping Center, which is anchored by Staples, Burlington Coat Factory and Petvalue, according to a brochure and flier posted on JJ Operating LLC’s website.

The 393,430-square-foot shopping center was purchased by JJ Operating Inc. for $16.2 million in December 2016, according to the tax assessor’s office.

The prior owner, wbcmt 2007-c33 Brunswick Pike LLC, acquired the shopping center at a Mercer County sheriff’s sale in 2013. Lawrence Center LLC, which owned the shopping center, defaulted on a $39.5 million loan, which led to the sheriff’s sale to pay off the debt.

The Lawrence Shopping Center, which opened in 1960, was the first major shopping center in Lawrence Township. It consisted of 150,000 square feet and 13 stores. The shopping center underwent expansions and renovations several times between 1966 and 1997.

Among the original stores at the shopping center were the Pantry Pride grocery store; W.T. Grant, which was a 5- and 10-cent store; Dunham’s Department Store; and Lawrence Liquors, according to records on file at the tax assessor’s office.