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Borough Moves to Acquire National Food Market

The Haddon Avenue corner store is too infrequently open at a prime retail location for the borough to allow the site to continue underperforming, Mayor James Maley said.

Perhaps the biggest announcement to come out of the borough commissioners meeting Monday night was the first reading of local ordinance 1529: “Authorizing the Acquisition of Real Property Located at 741 Haddon Ave.”—better known as National Food Market.

The corner store, which is best known in town for its infrequent hours of operation and as a repository for lottery tickets, also has had “a whole host of health code violations,” said Collingswood Mayor James Maley at the meeting.

In short, he said, the borough just isn’t getting its money’s worth out of the property.

“It’s no good for the rest of the block or the rest of the neighborhood. It’s closed most of the time; when it is open, it’s selling lottery tickets,” Maley said.

“We really think it’s a building that can have a great use as some food-related business,” he said. “That’s all it’s made for.”

Eminent domain

With the first reading of the ordinance, Collingswood is taking steps toward acquiring the property through its powers of eminent domain. Maley said that although the borough hasn’t filed any legal action in court, it has had the property appraised and has extended an offer to its current owner for an amount he would not disclose.

According to borough records, the property was last assessed in the fall of 2007, at a total market value at $477,000 ($160,000 land value plus $317,000 improvement value). Property taxes for 2011-12 were $14,209.83. 

The owner of record on the property is named Shinder Pal, and the latest listed date of sale is Feb. 4, 2000.

“We really hope it turns out to be no more than we facilitate a sale [to new owners],” Maley said, adding that prospective buyers were arranging times to tour and inspect the site.

'We've talked and tried to explain'

Collingswood Zoning Code and Enforcement Officer Mary Ellen Ries told Patch that the relationship between the Pals and the borough has been marked by a handful of issues over the years.

In the past, Ries said, she has referred to the Camden County Health Department “complaints for outdated food [and] general internal cleanliness.”

Ries also said that requests of the owners to maintain the property have often resulted in the issuance of letters: to repave the parking lot, repair a torn awning and to not use the lot to store out-of-service livery vehicles.

(Pal had, at one point, housed out-of-service taxis in the rear parking lot “some years ago,” she recalled.)

In addition to upkeep issues, National Food Market also has been cited under local vacancy ordinance for failing to stay open at least six hours a day, four days a week, 49 weeks a year—the minimum required by borough statute for an actively operating commercial business.

“Although we’ve talked and tried to explain” to owners that they need to keep the store open more often, Reis said, “it hasn’t worked.”

As if to underscore her point, the market was closed early Wednesday afternoon, when Patch stopped by speak with its owners.

Don't hold out hope for Trader Joe's

Like others in attendance at Monday’s commissioner’s meeting, Reis agreed that a new market or food-related business in town at that location would especially benefit seniors in the adjacent Collingswood Arms apartment buildings.

Although tenants of the building are supported by a shuttle service to help them get around to do their shopping, she pointed out that it would be “very beneficial” for seniors “to have a viable place nearby” in the event of inclement weather.

At the meeting Monday, some residents asked why the market has lingered for so long in its current condition.

“It’s obvious now that it’s not being used up to its potential,” said resident Bob Romano. “What is [the owner’s] position as to why he doesn’t clean it up and optimize the place?”

Maley responded that communications with the current property owner have been conducted mostly through attorneys.

“I haven’t spoken with him; there’s a little bit of a language barrier,” he said. 

The mayor also wouldn’t offer up any information on which business proposals the borough has fielded for the location, and outright nixed the idea that it could become a Trader Joe’s.

Maley said Collingswood had courted the popular grocery chain for a development parcel some years back, but that it preferred to expand into the southern United States, where it can also retail alcohol.

All Maley would say is, “We think everyone will be very, very happy if it works.”

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Mister Mike November 20, 2012 at 05:06 AM
Yes indeed as to the Mayor Maley. I feel he is just like Haddon Township's most recent past 20-mayor, Mr. Park. Lots of pet projects (hobbies, in fact. OPM is not limited to former PA officials), and heaven help anyone who opposes or speaks out against those projects.
Mister Mike November 20, 2012 at 05:07 AM
That's was supposed to be 20-year mayor as to Mr. Park.
Mister Mike November 20, 2012 at 05:40 AM
@Mike, no disrespect intended, but Collingswood is not a city, rather a relatively sized borough as most towns are in Camden County, especially in what I'll call the Northwest part of the county. While you make some good points as to a city, Collingswood has one long time taxi company that services it and several surrounding towns. While anything is possible today, I highly doubt they have anyone of questionable immigration status working for them. Also while anything is possible as to public officials today that too is doubtful in Collingwood and most surrounding towns, I believe Collingswood has one building inspector and also zoning board, not a large department of zoning inspectors like Camden, NJ right next door or Philadelphia, PA which as you may not know is literally just across the Delaware River from Collingswood. In the past I saw the "junk" that was stored in the small, narrow parking lot behind the National Food Store. To me it was akin to homeowners wanting to keep an old, non working lawn mover and having no place to put it other then in the open in their back yard. An eyesore for sure, but the storing of equipment for some other business, legal or illegal highly doubtful..
Will McGowan November 20, 2012 at 06:36 PM
many of the points here are detracting from the argument. i am NO FAN of the Mayor and the lack of insight, foresight and current vision of the Lumberyard is a nightmare BUT, I believe that any business that fails to operate under orderly and decent directives after being cited repeatedly for them earns the right for forfeiture. A business in that bad of shape affects ALL OF US. An eyesore is an eyesore and warnings are warnings. As with any actions of our mayor, I expect more transparency; the Lumberyard is a prime example of how that is NOT HAPPENING. One bedroom apartments are not the answer to the issue. Land banking was the most viable option and NONE OF US, as investors, seemed to have much of a say.
Charles Montgomery February 15, 2013 at 02:33 PM
I don't think that's a legal possibility in Collingswood due to the issues with Knight Park. At least that's my understanding of why Collingswood can't go wet.

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