New Medical Facility Will Offer Specialty Services

Since Mayor Russell Felter’s announcement of a new 45,000-square-foot medical facility slated for the former Pathmark site on Route 15, social media have been buzzing. The mayor delivered the news at a candidates’ forum on May 17 at Camp Jefferson. The facility, he said, “will perform things like MRIs, CAT scans, and dialysis. Residents will be able to take advantage of these services without leaving town.”

As a follow-up to the story “Some Medicine for the Old Pathmark, The Jefferson Chronicle looks at why Lake Hopatcong could not secure a food store and presents reactions from residents and local businesses.

Since Pathmark closed in 2015, locals have been yearning for another food store. Hopes were high when Fresh Imperium took over the space in 2016, but customers were quickly disappointed. High prices, lack of inventory, and “less than fresh” produce and meat were a recipe for disaster and contributed to the store’s failure.

After less than a year in operation, Fresh Imperium closed its doors on May 15, 2017. Residents were then forced to shop at local convenience stores or drive about five miles in either direction to find a supermarket.

Why Lake Hopatcong Doesn’t Interest Food Stores

Based on social media posts, many Jefferson residents petitioned for Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Corrado’s, or Weis to occupy the vacant space. Some of these companies investigated the property and turned it down. The proximity of the former Pathmark site to other grocery stores is a factor in the lack of interest and was referenced by Mayor Felter at the candidates’ forum.

The Pathmark site has two grocery stores within five miles: ShopRite of Wharton and Stop & Shop in Sparta. In addition, an 87,000-square-foot ShopRite is being constructed on Route 15 in Sparta, near the Lafayette border. Regarding lack of supermarket interest, Mayor Felter said at the forum, “Nobody was interested in coming here due to the demographics and the fact that there will now be two ShopRites within a few miles of each other.”

Grocery stores have notoriously low profit margins, and more grocery options for consumers equates to less traffic. In a 2016 article titled “The 15 Least Profitable Industries in the US,” Forbes ranked grocery stores eighth lowest in profitability with an average profit margin of 2.5%. Thin profit margins, demographics, and proximity to other grocery stores all played a role in detracting potential tenants from the property.

Residents React

For the locals who have been holding on to hope that the site would generate interest by some type of food store since Fresh Imperium’s closure, the mayor’s announcement came as a disappointment. Others are just happy to see the vacant space being filled.

Lake Hopatcong resident Alyson Music tells The Chronicle, “I’m disappointed; I wanted a food store. I miss being able to shop locally.” Prospect Point resident Michele Baldwin states, “I’m happy that the space will be occupied and we will have more options for health care closer to home.”

Some took to Facebook to vent frustrations and ask questions. In a since deleted post, one resident inquired if Skylands Medical Center was considered prior to the transaction. Felter posted a full response on his “Ask Jefferson Township Mayor” Facebook page:

The owners of this property spent a lot of time marketing the property. They offered to lease it for half of the market rate. No one wanted it. We hired a redevelopment company to help revitalize the site. They reached out again to many grocery stores. Again no one was interested. The owner’s broker marketed the site nationally and still no interest. We asked the owners again to reach out to several grocery stores. No one was interested.fare

The owner did have two interested parties but neither was a food store. Neither would have been a benefit to the town.

The medical center proposed will be a more specialized operation. Skylands has been a part of our community for a long time and will continue to be so. As far as the sale of the property that is a private deal between the owner and client.

No one wanted a food store more than I did. This property is a $260,000 ratable. We need to ensure that we keep it viable. As more details are made known to us we will keep you updated.”

Nearby Business Owners Weigh In

Reactions from nearby business owners are equally varied as the residents’ views, but all agree it will be good to have “something” coming to the site. The Chronicle asked local business owners how the closure of Fresh Imperium affected their business and for their thoughts on the new medical facility.

Eric Schaberick, owner of True Value Hardware of Lakeside, tells The Chronicle his business has seen a decline since the closure of Fresh Imperium. He adds, “It has been great for local convenience stores, though, and they have really picked up the slack by stocking more items.” Schaberick adds that any new business to the site means more traffic for his store.

True Value of Lakeside owner, Eric Schaberick, pictured. (Photo: April Leaver)

Fares Abu, manager of Adam’s Bagels, was less fazed by the closure of Fresh Imperium. Abu tells The Chronicle, “We see less traffic in the afternoon now, but we have a loyal customer base.” When asked about the new medical facility, Abu says he is “all for it.”

The Lakeside Shopping Center, where Adam’s Bagels and PostNet are located, pictured, a neighbor to the former Fresh Imperium and Pathmark property. (Photo: April Leaver)

The Liquor Factory manager, Brian Tobin, says business has slowed somewhat since the property has been vacant. “I’m disappointed there won’t be a food store, but even a little more traffic is a good thing.”

PostNet owner Dan Thomas tells The Chronicle, “The Imperium closure never affected me. In my business, I have some customers I have never met face-to-face.” In regard to the new facility, Thomas says, “I am glad something is going in. The overgrown lawn and lack of aesthetics detract from the quality of the neighborhood.”

New business owner Mia Morella of Donagels Donuts and Bagels says, “I think it is great. It will bring jobs to the area and new opportunities for business owners like me.”

Mayor Felter promises that more details about the new medical facility will be forthcoming soon. Check The Jefferson Chronicle for updates.

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