Although the plans are very preliminary and lots of hurdles have yet to be cleared, Collingswood could soon be trading in the often-dark National Food Market for the second location of an up-and-coming neighborhood grocer.
Janet Stevens, who together with her husband Pete Burgess owns the Merchantville-based McFarlan's Market, said that any formal announcements about purchasing the property would be premature.
But the couple is bullish on Collingswood as a second location, and would be very excited about the prospects of bringing their grocery business there.
"We’ve been working on this for a year," Stevens told Patch. "It’s going to still involve some time."
If the plans hold up, McFarlan's would be the second-latest Merchantville-based business to come to Collingswood (children's play place Duck Duck Goose will open in April).
Although she has "a lot of business interests in Pennsauken," Stevens said she's not surprised that businesses that are successful elsewhere bring their models to Collingswood.
"As a business owner, I’m very interested in having these towns and the downtowns come back and be supported by the people that live there," Stevens said. "Collingswood is certainly the idea that everyone looks up to.
"I’d like every downtown to be like Collingswood, and if we can get people to start supporting it, it could happen," she said.
McFarlan's Market offers butchered meats, a deli counter and homemade salads, as well as some prepared meals and "some of the really basic grocery items," Stevens said.
"We’re looking for the concept of a community store," she said. "The location’s perfect, it’s a good size.
"Certainly Merchantville required a much larger renovation than what Collingswood would do, but we would be really interested in investing in the place to make it have the same feel that the Merchantville store [has]," Stevens said.
Doing their due diligence
"I’ve been talking to them for a long time, and when I first heard that they were opening in Merchantville, I rode them pretty good about coming to Collingswood," said Collingswood Mayor James Maley.
"They’ve been through the building, they’re working through their financing; they’re doing their due diligence," he said.
If everything pans out, the move would ouster the property owner, Shinder Pal of Philadelphia, whose storefront has been the subject of scrutiny from borough officials for its failure to maintain regular hours and a handful of assorted violations.
At borough commissioners meetings last year, Collingswood officials introduced resolutions to acquire the property from the Pals, although Maley asserted that the borough is more interested in brokering the sale of the property than in invoking eminent domain.
Maley told Patch that attorneys for the Pals provided an appraisal "with plans of a number they were willing to sell at” just last week. Previously, he had said that conversations with the family were slow in coming.
Ginger, the wife of property owner Shinder Pal, told Patch that "We're very close to renting" the store to the Cherry Hill-based Y.A.L.E. School for children with developmental and behavioral issues. The plan apparently was for the market to be used as a vocational setting for its students.
But although Y.A.L.E. School Director Chris Sarandoulias confirmed that his organization had explored the possibility of renting from the Pals, he said they had abandoned the idea some time ago.
"We met with them last year, but right now we have no plans for it," Sarandoulias told Patch.
Ginger Pal also claimed that the storefront is often dark because "I live in Philadelphia [and] sometimes my husband needs help" managing his other businesses.
Maley said that any use of the market for such an application "would need a use variance because the Haddon Ave. frontage stores need to be retail."
Readers of Collingswood Patch noted earlier this year that a local grocery store would be on their 2013 wish list for the town, and that the property occupied by the National Food Market would be an ideal setting to serve the senior population of the nearby Collingswood Arms apartment building.
Connect with Collingswood Patch on Facebook.