By Jaimie Julia Winters and Adam Anik
When Lackawanna developer Robert Schmitt of Hampshire Cos. announced the potential new supermarket tenant for the fourth ward last week, some were skeptical, if not confused.
Comments from residents who attended the Feb. 11 meeting included:
“What’s a Lidl?”
“How do you pronounce it?” (It rhymes with needle.)
“I am not sure what they will offer, but I think it’s missing a vowel.”
While some Americans are just getting to know Lidl, the supermarket giant is a household name in Europe, opening its first store in Germany in 1973, with others in the U.K. and France and now all over Europe. In 2017, the company moved into the U.S. market, boasting more than 50 locations on the East Coast, with a few in New Jersey.
Last August, Food & Wine magazine — the store sells wine starting at $2.99 a bottle — listed Lidl as No. 3 in their list of top U.S. supermarkets, behind top-rated Wegmans and second-ranked Central Market, but above Trader Joe’s (No. 4), Publix (No. 5), Whole Foods (No. 6) and Aldi (No. 7).
Food & Wine described Lidl as a “fiercely budget German-chain supermarket” with a concept similar to Trader Joe’s and Aldi, featuring a smaller footprint, lots of private labels and low prices.
Lidl representative Nicholas Buckner, who attended the Feb. 11 planning board meeting, pointed to Montclair’s walkability and pedestrian friendliness, and described the town as an ideal candidate for the company’s expansion throughout New Jersey. Lidl also has stores in Union, Hazlet and Eatontown.
The store plan for Montclair will be about the size of Montclair’s Acme at 29,000 square feet. Other tenants, who have not yet been named, will take up the remainder of the 47,000 square-foot-space that housed the Pathmark until 2015.
Because Lidl has not yet signed the lease at Lackawanna Plaza, Montclair Local’s request to meet with a representative or speak with Buckner was denied.
Montclair Local then headed to Union to visit Lidl’s store, which opened there last November.
A vast, crowded parking lot and a United Food & Commercial Workers Union members protest of nonunion Lidl employees greeted shoppers on Saturday afternoon. The store was so crowded that locating a shopping cart took a few minutes wait. On weekends the store adds even more specials to its circular list.
Although the store was crowded with shoppers and packed with everything from food and wine to housewares, clothing and small appliances, it was well-lit, nicely laid-out and had large, wide aisles. While Montclair’s site is planned for 29,000 square feet, Union’s is a 34,000-square-foot store. Workers quickly restocked and added new merchandise to the moveable end aisles.
Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, who visited the Union store last Friday, said she is keeping an open mind, but isn’t sold that Lidl is right for Montclair’s only food option in the Fourth Ward.
“It’s different, I will give you that. But it’s not like anything we discussed. We were expecting diverse food options, with diverse pricing options,” she said.
She pointed to the lack of fresh fish offerings or a butcher at Lidl in Union. Although she described the store as bright and airy, she was concerned with the lack of brand names on the shelves and she found the sale of clothing, appliances and home goods unnecessary.
“I don’t go to the grocery store to buy clothing,” she said. “I want my brand-name staples. And we just don’t know at this point the quality of their brand X.”
Lidl’s products are about 80 percent private label — instead of Campbell’s Soup, a brand called Classic lined the shelves, and instead of Lucky Charms, Raisin Bran or Cottonelle bath tissue, there’s generic offerings. Staples such as Knorr side dishes ($1), Louisa frozen ravioli ($2.39), Hot Pockets ($4.99) Stouffer’s dinners ($3.59), Campbell Skillets ($2.29) and Old El Paso taco dinner ($2.19) are on the shelves. Jimmy Dean and Eggos were next to a brand called Family Finest frozen items in the freezers.
Produce was fresh and priced low with Driscoll brand raspberries priced at $1, blueberries $2.49, seedless grapes 99 cents a pound and a five pound bag of potatoes at $1.79.
In the meat and seafood department, pot roast was priced at $4.99 a pound, chicken thighs at 99 cents a pound and frozen tilapia at $2.59 each.
For the shopper who wanted to get a jumpstart on gardening, there were gardening tools and a cold frame planting tunnel for $7.99. Rain gear including coats and boots was priced at $9.99. Sneakers started at $12.99. The hardware section offered everything from screws to power tools. A record player was priced at $29.99.
The store does not offer pre-order, pick-up or delivery. Shoppers can sign up online for an account to retrieve coupons.
Although Lidl is not part of a union, Lidl will be hiring locally, Buckner said.
A survey “Defending Supermarket Share When Lidl Comes to Town” assessed the effects of Lidl on neighboring supermarkets when Lidl first moves in. Produce, beer and wine represented 60 percent of sales decline at other stores; seafood, meat, deli, frozen, bakery and tobacco accounted for 33 percent loss to other stores.