Owners Janet Stevens and Pete Burgess are seeking buyers for their specialty shops in Collingswood and Merchantville.
By Matt Skoufalos | July 30, 2019
Owners of the local specialty grocery McFarlan’s Market, which operates locations in Merchantville and Collingswood, are planning to exit the food business.
Pete Burgess and Janet Stevens, who first launched their independent market in Merchantville in 2010, are looking to sell both storefronts.
McFarlan’s Merchantville will continue to operate while a buyer is sought; the Collingswood shop will close its doors by August 15, affecting 14 employees, the couple said.
“While we love owning the stores and our employees, customers, suppliers, and both towns, the time has come to search for a new owner,” Burgess said in a statement Tuesday.
“We feel an operator with the right concept and experience can make the stores profitable, but we are open to the highest and best use for both sites, including possible conversion to restaurants.”
McFarlan’s debuted in the former Philadelphia Fruit Company storefront in Merchantville in 2010, with a historic local butcher as its namesake. Four years later, Burgess and Stevens began the process of acquiring a defunct Collingswood storefront to develop as a satellite location, which didn’t open until late 2018.
Both stores offered a broad selection of dry goods as well as a prepared foods counter with deli, butcher, and catering services.
Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, who had recruited McFarlan’s from Merchantville, said the news was “just heartbreaking.
“That place has incredible prepared foods—handmade, homemade—and the numbers just aren’t working,” Maley said.
“It’s not generating the traffic they need to do it the way they want to do it.”
Maley was especially disappointed to lose McFarlan’s given the extensive efforts of his administration to recruit a local grocer to the former National Market property at 741 Haddon Avenue, starting in 2012.
After two years of negotiations, the borough had brokered a deal to acquire the property and flip it to Burgess and Stevens. Their designs cleared the Collingswood zoning board later that year, with a 2015 opening in site.
Those six-month plans were interrupted by intermittent delays that kept the shop from welcoming guests until September 2018, after a complete overhaul of the property. Now it may not continue operating as a grocery store.
Maley said Collingswood is working to assist the business with its planned exit from the Haddon Avenue location. He said Burgess and Stevens have fielded a few offers to purchase the building, but that its future is unclear.
“It’s all up in the air what it will be,” Maley said.
McFarlan’s is the second short-lived independent grocery Collingswood has seen in recent years; the ill-fated Local Market closed its doors after less than a month of operation in 2014.
Both shops were to have come online at the same time, but never seemed to find their footing.
Asked whether the borough might not have the metrics to support a corner grocery, Maley said, “maybe.”
He cited the significant capital investment that Burgess and Stevens made to get the property online, the high-quality products and prepared foods they offered, and the possibility that a lack of population density could have undermined their model.
“There’s no one cause; there’s many small causes,” the mayor said. “We’ll figure out the next thing. But the wound’s just a little too fresh to understand what the diagnosis is.”
Merchantville Mayor Ted Brennan said he was equally stunned to hear of the couple’s planned departure from the grocery business.
“Janet and Pete have committed and invested a lot of money, time, and effort into our community over their time in Merchantville, and we’re very grateful of that,” Brennan said. “They took a cornerstone of our community and revived it.
“My goal is to work with them to do whatever I can to keep them here as long as we can, and ultimately find somebody to continue the operation,” he said.
Brennan pointed out that downtown retail operations are difficult to sustain in the era of e-commerce and delivery services.
He praised Burgess and Stevens for their positive impact on the Merchantville community, and thanked them for the investment they made in the town.
“Each small business is making a commitment to their downtown, and residents have to make an equal commitment if they want these walkable downtowns,” the mayor said.
“I do think that the ease with which people can access groceries, or other items for which they would have even gone to a mall, has changed the calculus,” Brennan said.
“It makes it difficult for small businesses in a downtown to succeed.”
Losing Burgess and Stevens will be difficult for the borough, and Brennan said his thoughts are with their employees as well.
“It’s a tough day for the borough and hopefully we’ll be able to salvage something,” he said. “Janet and Pete are a success story. They hung on for a long time.”
Commercial real estate broker Joe Riggs of NAI Mertz is representing Burgess and Stevens in finding potential buyers/operators for both McFarlan’s Market locations. The couple is also working to connect employees affected by the transition with unemployment services.
This is a developing story; stick with NJ Pen for updates.
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