Stafford’s Kmart Plaza: What’s Taking So Long?

Residents will have to wait to see what the owners have planned for the future of the retail space. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

STAFFORD – Stafford residents continue to ask themselves: what is going on with the Stafford Kmart shopping plaza? It has been nearly a year since the township announced new business would be making its way to the township, yet no significant moves have been made.

Back in November of 2017, Jersey Shore Online reported that the plaza would see the addition of newer businesses to the plaza following the closure of the Kmart department store located off of Route 72. Township officials stated that residents could expect an Old Navy, Burlington Coat Factory, and a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

So where are these stores?

According to township administrator Jim Moran, these things take time.

“Sometimes owners secure approvals and sit on them for years before starting the project,” he said. “This is not uncommon.”

Moran used the Barnegat 67 development as an example. The Barnegat 67 shopping center and apartment buildings are currently being built on Lighthouse Drive near West Bay Avenue in Barnegat Township. While development on this project has seen significant progress in recent months, this wasn’t always the case.

“They were approved over ten years ago but just now being built,” Moran explained.

Perhaps this is what is occurring in the Kmart plaza, however Moran could not confirm. He stated that the owners of both the Kmart plaza and the future Chick-fil-A have received approvals from the township’s planning board and are still working on plans for their respective sites.

The Subway restaurant was located within a smaller plaza in the Manahawkin Commons area. It is the most recent business to close their doors in the area. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

The real estate that the K-Mart sits on is also under new ownership; it recently changed hands from previous owner Dave Fredericks. Sears Holdings Corp., which owns K-Mart, did not own the property, it leased the space. While one company owns the rest of the plaza, each individual store is leased.

“The owners of the K-Mart plaza are struggling with tenant issues and so they have not finalized their project but the approval for what was originally proposed is still in place,” said Moran.

As it was reported back in November, the original proposal included an Old Navy taking the place of Kmart. The empty Kmart space would also accommodate TJ Maxx and Michael’s Arts & Crafts as they relocate from the opposite end of the plaza. Burlington Coat Factory would also take the place of TJ Maxx. But this original plan could be changing, said Moran.

“[Kmart is] looking at a number of ideas so what they finally come up with is anyone’s guess,” he explained. “The owners are in fact completely independent of the township until or unless they require approvals.”

The township has since amended ordinances related to the project as well as worked with the owners to accommodate any changes made necessary by the NJ Department of Transportation’s construction to East and West Roads. East and West Roads are located within the plaza, connecting it to the adjacent Walmart shopping center.

More empty spaces in the plaza. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

As for the Chick-fil-A, the owners are awaiting CAFRA (Coastal Area Facility Review Act) approvals before finalizing, said Moran.

While residents are eager to know what and when new stores or eateries will be added to the area, township officials do not have a timeline for them.

Moran explained that the business owners are not required to provide the township with updates on the projects aside from scheduled appearances before the planning board or zoning board for final design approvals. Neither of these meetings has happened yet, according to Moran.

 Old Business

Stafford may be in the process of bringing in new business, but the township has also continued to see closures.

Beginning with the 2017 closure of the Kmart, residents have since witnessed the Mandee clothing store adjacent to the Kmart going out of business. Mandee has also been in between empty retail spaces for some time now. With its impending closure, the west end of the plaza will be almost completely empty.

Spirit Halloween formerly set up shop in what used to be Atlantic Books. Moving into the old Five Below retail space, this location remains empty this season. (Photo by Kimberly Bosco)

Since Atlantic Books closed their doors years ago, that space near the east end of the plaza has been used seasonally by Spirit Halloween. Now, Spirit Halloween has taken up in what used to be Five Below, next to the Regal Manahawkin 10 Theater, leaving yet another empty retail space.

And more recently, the Subway restaurant, located in a smaller strip mall within the bounds of the Kmart plaza, has closed its doors as well.

While these closures are individual to the business or chain, not the township, Moran confirmed that it could just mean these businesses are outdated.

“The issue with all plazas of this type are that they are struggling to keep up with the trend toward online shopping and the rents are frequently being negotiated down just to keep a tenant, all of which does not bode well for the long term prospects of big box stores and chains or most of the current retail configuration,” he said.