The doors of Kings Super Market remain open with shoppers trickling in to scoop up a few, heavily discounted items, but there's perhaps more construction debris in front of the registers than fresh baked goods.
Kings will likely be closed by mid-May, but renovations are already underway for the Stop & Shop that plans to open by the end of the year, officials from both companies said Monday.
"Stop & Shop has begun preliminary renovations and improvements," said Howard Cannon, a spokesman for the grocery.
Meanwhile, Kings will shutter its doors permanently "on or about May 15," said Cheryl Good, manager of consumer affairs for Kings.
Cannon said that Stop & Shop would move in "soon after that."
Inside Kings, which has slashed prices by 50 percent, the bakery and meat departments have been closed off to shoppers. All display fixtures are now empty.
The interior of the former Walgreens location, adjacent to Kings, has been almost completely gutted and will also be taken over by Stop & Shop. This was the previous site of Medi-Mart, when the Kings space was first a Stop & Shop in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Stop & Shop, which leases the space, has sublet to Kings since 1981. Stop & Shop declined to renew Kings' lease in 2005 after Kings applied nine months late for a renewal for its sublease.
Kings then sued Stop & Shop to try and remain open, claiming it had invested $6 million in the space and was counted on by its customers. After years in court, Kings eventually lost.
A fixture in the West Caldwell community for a generation, Kings garnered a reputation as a higher-priced grocery store that specialized in a host of premium items.
While the store relied on thousands of loyal customers, many of whom earned decent salaries and didn't mind paying Kings prices in return for its ease of shopping, the grocery was regularly undersold by the ShopRite grocery store on Passaic Avenue just a few blocks away. Many days would find ShopRite's aisles packed with shoppers while Kings had only a few.
There are more than 20 other Kings Supermarkets dotted around New Jersey. The three remaining Kings closest to West Caldwell are in Montclair, Verona and Livingston. Most of the employees at West Caldwell's Kings were offered positions at other locations in the area.
Stop & Shop's eventual move-in could make for a price showdown with neighboring ShopRite, as both stores are geared toward offering shoppers the most goods for the lowest prices, rather than focusing on higher-shelf goods as Kings has.
On Monday, April 12, Kings slashed prices on its remaining inventory by a third. By that time it had already closed its bakery, deli, seafood and meat departments.
On that same day, representatives from Stop & Shop went before the West Caldwell planning board and requested to modify signs around the store, West Caldwell officials said.
Some of the new exterior signs that were approved say "Stop & Shop," while other sign requests were not approved, officials said.
"I think overall they were happy," West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta said.
Tempesta said he believes that Stop & Shop plans to be fully open and operational by Nov. 1. But he cautioned that the building process often takes longer than anticipated.
"If they open by Jan. 1, I'll be pleasantly surprised," he said. "But if they open by Nov. 1, that would be great."