In recent weeks, a dwindling amount of merchandise — spices and vitamins and gallons of milk — has migrated to a small section at the front of Genuardi’s supermarket in Egg Harbor Township.
Along with the employees gathered in the Signature Cafe, numbly eating their lunches, the holdouts are like castaways in a sea of empty shelves and gleaming vinyl floor.
Empty refrigerated display cases still hum underneath a sign that reads “Fresh from the fields.” Three employees say goodbye to a lone customer at the check-out counter.
“It’s been depressing,” said Eric Patriarca, who has worked in food service at the store for 12 years. “You just watch the store empty out, cleaning and getting ready.”
Genuardi’s stores are closing Wednesday in Egg Harbor and Barnegat townships. Between the two stores, more than 150 people will lose their jobs, and the communities will lose popular gathering places.
Tom Burns, who left with a baking tin Tuesday, said the Genuardi’s marked a decade in the life of his family in Egg Harbor Township.
“I had three children born in the span of this store,” said Burns, 37. “It became a part of my life.”
The closings also mean shoppers in both areas have to drive farther for their groceries. The closest traditional supermarkets in both Atlantic and Ocean counties are about four miles away.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Maureen Stone, who left the Egg Harbor Township store Tuesday with a Kindle gift card. “I’ll have to shop in Somers Point, I guess.”
The Egg Harbor Township resident said Genuardi’s was the only grocery store at which she shopped because of its convenience and courteous employees.
“I was friends with these people,” Stone said. “They knew my name and I knew their names.”
John Carney Sr., 76, of Northfield, said he and a group of about six to eight friends sat in Genuardi’s cafe drinking coffee and sharing conversation each week after service at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish.
The group will find a new meeting place, Carney said, but he’ll miss the atmosphere.
“The staff was very pleasant,” he said.
Store manager Paul McCloskey, who has worked for Safeway, Genuardi’s parent company, for 36 years, said the store was special.
“It was one of the most easy-going stores I’ve ever worked in, from a customer perspective and an employee perspective,” he said.
“The customers are very sad to see the store go,” he added. “They’re concerned with the employees being out of work this time of year; their neighborhood supermarket is gone now.”
Earlier this year, the Genuardi’s supermarkets had been put up for sale. Safeway has decided to exit the Philadelphia market to concentrate on other areas, a company spokesman said in January. No buyers were found for either the Egg Harbor Township store, which opened on Fire Road in 2001, or the Barnegat store, which opened off Bay Avenue in 1999.
Patriarca, 51, who also lives in EHT, said the employees had known the store was up for sale but its closing was still a shock when it was first announced 60 days ago. The co-workers are like family, he said, sharing parties and playing volleyball together on the beach.
“A lot of people, 85 percent, have been here 12 years since the opening,” he said. “It’s really hard.”
While the employees do have unemployment to fall back on, he said it’s still a difficult time to be without work.
“If they can’t find a job right away, they’ll be in dire straits,” he said.
In the meantime, Patriarca said he managed to get a part-time position at a nearby Home Depot to support his family. He hopes the position will become full time soon.
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