Walk inside Barnegat's A&P, and you don't need to be told the grocery store's end is near.
Marked-down Halloween merchandise pulled from storage has taken the place of most of the fruits and vegetables on the produce risers. Employees sort items into discount bins. Sale signs – 30, 40, 50 percent off – hang from half-empty shelves in every aisle.
A poster hanging in the Bayshore Plaza storefront, which is plastered with banners promoting deep discounts, says the store will shut its doors April 15.
And while customers are busily stocking up on everything from canned goods to paper towels at cut-rate prices, the scene is a sad one for some.
"This will probably be our last trip in," said Barnegat resident Pat Bloomer as she loaded groceries and her grandson into her car. The A&P is her neighborhood store, she said. "I go to other stores, too, but this is convenient."
Her grandson has milk allergies, and the A&P has always had lots of alternatives. "I'm going to miss that," she said. "It's just sad. I feel bad for the employees."
Several phone calls and emails to representatives from the Local United Food and Commercial Workers 464A were not returned. Union President John T. Niccollai that employees affected by the closure could be transferred to other stores based on seniority.
The closing affects 42 members of the UFCW 464A Union – 11 full-time and 31 part-time workers.
The union also said that they were working with the company to negotiate employee benefits, but no update has been reported.
A&P spokesman Eric Andrus declined to comment on the store and its employees. On February 15 the company issued a statement saying the decision to close 32 stores was difficult, but necessary.
"These actions are absolutely necessary as we work to strengthen A&P's operating foundation and improve our performance. We will help our affected colleagues pursue other positions across the Company should open positions be available."
David Silver, spokesman for Levin Management Corporation, which handles the lease agreements for the A&P and the other stores in Bayshore Plaza, said his company is already in talks with other retailers interested in taking over the more than 30,000-square-foot space.
"We've been in some serious conferences with some prospectives," he said.
Whether the new anchor tenant will be another food store is still up in the air, Silver said. The company has spoken with some grocery chains, he said, as well as other types of stores.
"While we would perhaps like most to put in another grocer, that’s not always possible," he said. "The world of supermarkets is shrinking. The number of players in the category is definitely getting smaller. It does make it a little tougher."
But Bayshore Plaza remains a strong location for a grocery store, Silver said.
"It's a very good center – very well located," he said. "It's been generally at full occupancy or nearly full for a long time, and we expect we'll find someone soon."
Others disagree. The store's fate is not surprising, according to Matt Casey of Matthew P. Casey & Associates, which studies the local market, offering advice to retailers in the pharmacy and supermarket industries.
"It's an old, tired, and beat-up store in a fairly dismal shopping center. They couldn't have been bringing in much revenue," he said in a phone interview.
Casey believes the store's fairly small client base will be divided up amongst other grocers in the area.
"It won't be too big of a deal. Their few dollars will just go elsewhere, but it won't be enough to really affect the local market," he said.