End of an era for grocery store in Maplewood

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — With the closing of Kings, Maplewood Village will be without a grocery store, at least for the time being. The store’s closing ends a chapter for an institution in Maplewood, one that Historic Preservation Commission member Susan Newberry said was an anchor for the downtown area.

“It’s sad that we’ve lost one of the things that made that area so special,” Newberry said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Dec. 18.

Maplewood Village was nominated to be on the New Jersey and National registers of historical places in the fall by the New Jersey State Review Board for Historic Sites, a nomination that was later approved. While the designation has not yet been finalized, Newberry said the closing of Kings won’t affect it; the national historic register focuses more on the buildings that are part of a given district than the businesses inside of them. Still, it is a loss.

“In general, it’s integral to the town,” Newberry said. “There are three anchors: a post office, a bank and a grocery store. It brings in a flow of people all the time.”

The walkable access made the store important to the area, Newberry said, especially for the many New York City transplants who moved to Maplewood and were used to walking to and from the grocery store. Everyone needs to go to the grocery store at some point, which for a long time was good for business.

“It’s a fundamental thing that people need,” Newberry said. “It brings people into town, then maybe they’ll go eat in another area. The nice thing is that it was always dependable. There was competition, but it was the one that survived. That store always did well.”

Newberry and Maplewood resident Dan Kaslow researched the history of the grocery store using old News-Record advertisements and Special Collections and Archives at Rutgers University. The company was founded in 1936 by Joe Bildner, who came from a family that owned and operated self-serve grocery stores in Brooklyn and Long Island. Kings locations were initially built along the Morris and Essex Railroad Line.

Joe Bildner’s brother, David Bildner, operated a store on Valley Road in South Orange beginning in 1940. The first mention of the Maplewood Kings location on Maplewood Avenue was in 1942. After expanding, shrinking and expanding again, the company renovated the Maplewood store in 1961. Eventually, Joe Bildner’s son Allen became president of the chain.

In 1988, the family sold the company to the British retail chain Marks & Spencer. According to Kaslow and Newberry’s research, it was sold again in 2006 to private equity firm Angelo, Gordon & Company in partnership with MTN Capital Partners. Ten years later, after those owners failed to expand the company significantly, Kings was sold to KB US Holdings Inc.

Earlier this year, KB US Holdings declared bankruptcy and sold most of the Kings stores to Acme. The Maplewood location and four other stores were not included in the sale.

Allen Bildner died in 2015 at the age of 88. An obituary in Supermarket News at the time said he was an innovator in introducing takeout meals to the stores, doing methodical market research to identify trends and distributing pretax profits to employees as bonuses.

“They not only emphasized customer service, but they were good with their personnel too,” Newberry said about the Bildners in an email to the News-Record on Dec. 18. “A current customer service representative in the Maplewood store told me fondly of how Allen Bildner shook hands with everyone in the store in Morristown, where she started in 1988, and thanked them for working for Kings.”

Mayor Frank McGehee told the News-Record in a phone interview on Nov. 30 that township officials are looking forward to what will replace Kings; the possibility of another grocery store was left open but is not a guarantee. Newberry is likely not the only Maplewood resident who hopes to see a replacement store.

“I’m hopeful,” she said. “It won’t be the same, necessarily. But we have to accept change.”

Photos Courtesy of the Bildner Family Kings Super Markets Records, 1917-2010, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University

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