BRICK – The township’s business climate is booming, and there hasn’t been this kind of growth since the 1950s and 60s when the three large shopping centers were constructed on Chambers Bridge Road, said Township Zoning Officer Sean Kinneavy.
Kinneavy, 63, has lived in Brick all his life, has worked for the township for 38 years, and remembers when the land to the north and south of Brick Plaza was all cranberry bogs and marshland.
The three shopping centers he was referring to are Kohl’s/ShopRite, Brick Plaza and Riverwalk at Brick. A creek, which is the south branch of the Metedeconk River, runs through all three shopping centers and gets wider where it meets up with the north branch of the Metedeconk River near Hooper Avenue.
“Narrowing the stream and filling in the wetlands wouldn’t be allowed today,” Kinneavy said. “The land was sold cheap because you couldn’t farm on it. The owners got more money for the land than they made growing cranberries.”
Toms River, Point Pleasant Beach and Lakewood were all part of Brick in the 1850s, but as they each developed their own downtown area, they broke away from Brick, leaving the small farming villages of Osbornville, Laurelton and Herbertsville, each with its own general store, post office, gas station, church and diner, Kinneavy said.
Brick had no doctors, dentists or clothing stores, which required a trip to Point Pleasant Beach, he said.
When the shopping plazas were constructed, the land was cleared, the buildings went up and blacktop was put down. Now, 20 years later, shopping plazas are required to add landscaping and drainage and have become more pedestrian-friendly, he said.
With more people shopping online, the commercial market has changed over the past 10 years, and there has been a big shift in the types of stores that are opening, such as restaurants, hair and nail salons, medical care, fitness – the kind of things you can’t buy online, he said.
Many “mom and pop” stores like bakeries and florists have gone out of business since larger food and chain stores, like Target and Walmart, have expanded their offerings and sell almost everything, Kinneavy said.
Brick does not keep track of the number of empty storefronts. When somebody builds a new store they have to get a building permit, but there’s no requirement to let the town know if the business is closing.
“It’s a normal transition, there’s always some turnover, especially in smaller strip malls,” Kinneavy said. As an example, not one store in Brick Plaza has the original tenant, he said.
Most strip malls have one store empty, and most apartment buildings have one apartment empty; while landlords always want to rent the stores out as soon as possible, sometimes there’s a gap.
“Things are always changing,” he said. “In Brick and in Ocean County, you don’t see abandoned shopping centers with overgrown weeds, there’s a big demand, people are coming in all the time.”
The owners of larger national chain stores are more aggressive about marketing empty stores and even have their own leasing companies, but when individual stores close they usually just put a sign out, he said.
If a national chain store goes bankrupt, they all close, even the ones that are doing well and making money, which was the case with Joe’s Crab Shack and Bon-Ton in Brick.
The most obvious empty storefronts in Brick are at the Laurel Square Shopping Center, formerly the home of Pathmark and KMart.
“When Laurel Square was built in the 1970s, it was the largest shopping center in Ocean County,” Kinneavy said.
Sears (which used to be the only department store in Ocean County) and KMart did not modernize and were replaced by Target and Home Depot, he said.
With the economy doing well, and Brick being centrally located, more and more businesses are coming in, new strip malls are being built, and many of the existing strip malls are being renovated, he said.
“Some people ask, ‘why build when there’s empty storefronts?’” Kinneavy said. “Why build a new house when there’s an old empty one? Some stores are too small, or too big and they have special designs, like Wawa, who always build from scratch.”
Brick has the perfect demographic for New Jersey, in terms of age levels, income levels and educational levels, so when a nationwide chain comes into the area they look at Brick first because it has a medium demographic – it’s not a rich area and it’s not a poor area, he said.
In the past, smaller stores would come to plazas where there were anchor stores, but now small stores are too small and big stores are too big, Kinneavy said.
Another big shift is, shopping centers are being reinvented as destinations, especially for towns like Brick that have no downtown area.
“The owners want people to go there and stay for hours. Some have outdoor facilities – like Brick Plaza, there’s planters and Adirondack chairs all around. It’s pedestrian friendly,” he said. “People can go to Barnes and Noble, go to a movie, eat in a restaurant and stay for hours.”
Some changes coming to Brick include:
- The former Kmart will be the location for At Home, a big box retail chain specializing in home decor products, one of only two in the state. Construction should begin soon with an eye on opening by December.
- The former A&P at Brick Plaza has been divided and is home to DSW Shoes, Michaels Crafts, Ulta Beauty, and a new Home Goods will be the final occupant.
- Part of the former Sports Authority building will be dismantled to make way for more parking for a planned LA Fitness.
- The Wawa by Garden State Parkway entrance 91 is going to be knocked down and rebuilt. Owners have purchased the adjacent former Rice King restaurant which will be the site of Wawa gas docks.
- Jersey Paddler on Route 88 will be demolished to make room for Royal Farms, the second location in the state for the gas station, convenience store, and ready-to-eat food with indoor and outdoor seating.
- An application for a Wawa gas station, a bank, retail store and a preschool was denied in August for the site of the Laurelton Mobile Home Park. There is a hearing on May 30 since the developer has revised the application and has eliminated the daycare center.
- A new Wawa gas station and a drive-thru Panera Bread has been approved for a wooded site at the intersection of Duquesne Blvd. and Route 70.
- Nick Catone Martial Arts and Fitness will take much of the space at the former WOW on Brick Blvd. There will be some smaller retail stores for rent there.
- Developers planned to build a hotel at the triangle of land at Burrsville Road and Route 88 near Brick Hospital. Their application was denied and a revised plan is in the works for “Bay Point” would include apartments and retail, Kinneavy said.
“If there is vacant land in Brick, someone is looking at it,” Kinneavy said.