Amid a 90%-off sale, and little other fanfare, the Union, N.J., Pathmark closed its doors for the last time last week.The store, located on busy Route 22 in my hometown, was one of the original locations in the Pathmark chain, and for years the company’s most profitable store.
Originally located across the Union Plaza Shopping Center, next to sister store Rickel Home Center, sometime in the early 1970s Pathmark moved to its own building, becoming the largest supermarket in town. It originated 24-hour shopping at a time when most area stores closed at 9 at the latest, and offered hosts of other ammenities, including Union’s first in-store bakery department and first scanners. I remember it initially sold clothing and records, sort of a precursor to the Walmart Supercenter, and a much smaller version of the Two Guys store a mile down Route 22. It used to operate a gas station out on the highway, which is still there today but operating under a different banner. I can remember my father pulling for a fill-up and complaining that the price went up to 59-cents a gallon! But for that 59-cents you also got your windshield washed and a free drinking glass.
The Union Pathmark was said to be the most profitable in the chain. It was so successful they even filmed the Pathmark TV commercials there. One of my classmates in grade school actually got to appear in one of them. He was shown grabbing a box of cookies off the shelf. We were all jealous — not only because he got to appear on TV, but also because he got to meet “Mr. Pathmark” (nee James Karen, nee Jacob Karnofsky), a B-list actor who did the Pathmark commercials for 20 years, and who also appeared in Poltergiest, As the World Turns and All My Children, as well as being a love interest for Dorothy on an episode of The Golden Girls.
For years Pathmark was Union’s go-to place for groceries; on Saturdays the place was a madhouse, but then the store began to lose market share to ShopRite, Stop & Shop and the new A&P that opened in neighboring Kenilworth. Pathmark’s prices went up, the locals will tell you, and the strip mall where it was located gained a reputation for being somewhat dangerous. In fact, a couple of years ago Pathmark made the news when its in-store bank was struck by a mask-wearing bandit who was captured when an alert customer made note of his license plate number.
I think the final nail in the coffin was when new owner A&P did away with much of what made Pathmark unique, including its red, white and blue private label.
I paid a farewell visit two weeks ago when everything was 40% off. Most of the good stuff was already gone. The only thing in the meat case was pork chops at $6.49 a pound, and the grocery selection was really thin, although they still had a good stock of Mott’s Clamato. The Pharmacy department was already closed, the records having been transferred to the Kenilworth A&P (a marketing misstep since most residents on the side of town where Pathmark is located are not going to literally put their lives in their hands trying to drive across busy Route 22).
In a final bit of irony, while the A&P retains 24-hour shopping, in its last weeks Pathmark was closing its doors at 9 PM.