Fine Fare Supermarkets
Owner: Tony Perri
Previous Tenants: Safeway (1951-1960s) > Finast (1960s) > Foodland (1973-1977)
Cooperative: Retail Grocers Group
Location: 320 3rd Ave, Long Branch, NJ
Photographed: January 2021
Our second store tour in Long Branch is the 19,000 square foot Fine Fare! (And make sure to check out the first, at Exito Freshmarket downtown, here.) As far as background goes, the Asbury Park Press did an excellent profile of this store and its owners back in 2018, which you should read here before taking a look at my tour. I think the article might be slightly mistaken on the history of the building, though, since the store was built as a Safeway in 1951, not as a Finast -- which had no New Jersey presence as early as 1951. They later entered the state by purchasing most of New Jersey's former Safeway locations in the 70s, and they closed or sold all of their New Jersey stores by 1977. Other examples of former Safeway-turned-Finast stores we've seen include Atlantic Highlands, Red Bank, Springfield, Jersey City, Hoboken, and Staten Island. There's at least one more I know off the top of my head that will be coming up.
The Fine Fare of Long Branch is wonderfully old-fashioned but, as we'll see, meticulously maintained. Notice the slightly higher-roofed area behind this front brick part -- that's the original Safeway building, which has a barrel roof running side-to-side, and the original structure was just shy of 15,000 square feet.
As far as I know, the store has been a Fine Fare since it opened in 1977 -- making it one of the earliest Fine Fare locations. Other early Fine Fare locations include Riverdale/Kingsbridge (a Grand Union that became a Fine Fare and later a Foodtown), Olinville (not sure what was there before Fine Fare), and South Jamaica (not sure what that was either). Those are the earliest locations I've been able to track down but it's likely there were more in the mid-70s. Given Fine Fare's concentration in New York City and early focus on small stores, it's a little odd to me that this store was a Fine Fare so early. That said, the Asbury Park Press article describes the trouble that Perri had getting credit -- so perhaps he had been rejected by cooperatives like Wakefern or Twin County (Foodtown, at the time).
Let's head into this store! We enter on the right side of the storefront to deli/bakery in the front right corner, with produce lining the rest of the first aisle. Meat and bread line the back wall, with dairy on the outside of the last aisle and frozen facing, which continues on the front wall of the store, on the other side of the mural we see above.
It's clear that many of the fixtures have been updated, such as this deli case, likely after the latest remodel. Given the similarity of the decor to what A&P was doing in the 90s, I'm almost positive that would be the latest remodel. The decor is certainly not left over from the 70s when the store opened.
There's a lot of locally made baked goods, and it looks like they might bake a few simple things in-store -- but there's no service bakery. From deli, we move on to produce at the far right side of the store. There was a very nice selection for the size of the store, including Latin and Caribbean items and organic produce.
And moving on to meat, we have an intriguing combination of updated and very old meat cases.
But I'll say here again that even the older fixtures are beautifully maintained. They all work perfectly, no leaking cases here, no ominous rumbling emitting from the motors.
The grocery aisles have a retro feel to them, but certainly not to the actual age of the store. The remodel in the 90s I mentioned earlier (which, of course, I'm not even sure actually happened, but I can speculate) would have been pretty extensive.
The shelving may be original to Fine Fare's opening in 1977, however.
Health and beauty and other nonfoods in aisle 5. This is the only Fine Fare I've ever been to with this extensive a health and beauty section. The character of the store is quite different from the other Fine Fares. Not only that, but this store doesn't actually appear on the Fine Fare website. Instead, it uses its own.
It was a little hard for me to get the whole meat department sign in one picture, so it's a little fragmented here...
Notice that there is only one set of aisle markers, running along the front side of the aisles.
Awesome classic baked goods shelving here in the back corner. Aisle 12 has one side of the frozen cases, with the other side in aisle 13. These cases are quite old.
I love those yellow freezers! Looks like the dairy cases have been painted black, a nice touch.
These cases are clearly much newer.
And for a look across the front end before we move on. That wraps up this wonderful classic store -- it has the potential to be simply outdated and depressing, but the owners clearly take too much pride in it for that. We have one more store here in Long Branch which we'll be taking a look at tomorrow on The Independent Edition!