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Update: Kings Food Markets!

Another set of updates, another look at what's going on with Kings. For a quick recap, the chain declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2020, and a winning bid was submitted by Albertsons Companies' ACME Markets in October of 2020. ACME officially took possession of 19 of the 25 stores in January 2021, and since they have been incrementally making small changes to the operation. Now on to the stores...

Hillsdale

We return to the Hillsdale store for the first time since my original tour from December 2020. All the expected updates have been happening, plus one small surprise we'll see later in the store.
Lighting and produce bins have been replaced, which is pretty standard. The produce department has been reset but notably not reduced in size (at other stores, such as Millburn and Livingston, when the produce department has been reset it's been shrunk as well). As I mentioned on the original post, to me it's a no-brainer to remove the produce cases on the right side of this aisle, to open up the grand aisle to include deli and bakery which are hiding off to the right. The above photo also gets us a rare look at one of the strangest parts of this decor package: the fact that it features two different colors of beige on the walls. Check out that transition on the back wall. Just bizarre -- why was it designed like that?
A poorly-placed but brand-new organics sign has found its way into the back of the produce department. These signs are supposed to be put in the back of bins or islands, not on top of cases, so they are supposed to slide in behind the produce (hence the large empty space at the bottom). This just looks amateurish.
The bread case has been replaced here, too.
A slightly strange thing here in the front left corner -- the floral department, which used to be open to the front end, has had two walls constructed in it, making a small new room. You can see the floral decor still visible on what used to be the left corner of the department, and the stone wall that's supposed to be the back. Here's what it used to look like. I assume this area is being walled off for a Drive Up & Go department, which have been making their way into nearly all the Albertsons stores I frequent lately.
And, of course, self checkouts added to the front-end. That's all for Hillsdale, now onto...

Morristown

The above signs have been popping up in select Kings locations as well. These are standard Albertsons signs with slightly different design to customize it for Kings. I don't believe I was ever able to get a picture, but the old ones were made up of individual letters that were stuck to the windows. The Kings in Livingston got a comically terrible one where all the letters were slanted or lined up wrong. Then they added a second one and tried to scrape off the first but gave up part of the way through. These look much better.
One other change in Morristown, which still has not received updated produce cases or lighting, is the conversion of this food bar to a hot food bar. I believe it was a salad bar previously, or it may have been something like a mezze bar (Mediterranean salads and grains) or an olive bar. The offerings looked mediocre. I really wish it had been done better because Kings never had hot food bars before, and there's a big opportunity to go with great food. In Bedminster, for instance, one large pan was taken up by nothing but hot dogs, and another pan was just the rolls in their plastic bags. Not impressive for a store that's presenting itself as a high-end or gourmet market.

Livingston

 On the last episode of What's Happening with the Kings Remodel in Livingston, the kosher department was getting the beginning of its stock in but had not yet opened. These pictures from 8/7 showed serious progress here at the kosher department, with the stock almost fully in and the perishables cases being set up.
The aisles were no longer blocked off, so I wandered in. Still not sure whether they meant for it to be open to the public at that time or not. Oh well.
As far as I could tell, the refrigerators and freezers were brand new, but the shelving (as we previously discussed) may be coming in secondhand from the Fort Lee ACME.
The department contains three aisles, with the front aisle containing meat, deli, and dairy in refrigerators, the left side wall filled with freezers, and the back aisle home to ice cream and other frozen desserts.
Customer service is now out of frame to the left above, and the case shown empty here has since been stocked with kosher meat.
As I had mentioned, greeting cards were removed from the front-end to make way for the relocated beverage case, and they had found their new permanent home in the grocery aisles.
Here's an overview of the whole kosher area in the left corner of the store, after its opening (the pictures are from 8/20). There is new signage around the area made in the style of the existing blue Kings branding, although it does feature some old-looking Kosher Marketplace logos. Check out the symbols on the two sides of "kosher meats" below. They must've dug deep into the Albertsons archives to come up with that one -- it looks like branding that would match the Grocery Palace decor 20 years ago.
But complaints aside, it's a very attractive kosher department and a very substantial selection. There's still no kosher service departments (the ShopRite in town has a service kosher deli) but it's a complete selection either way.
There is some new decor on the walls, but it's really just some pictures of food. I was hoping, of course, for something more exciting. However, if this were the new decor package for the whole store or the whole chain, and they committed to painting the walls all this color and the ceilings all dark brown like this, then hanging these pictures and the blue category signage, I'd be happy.
Looking out from the back of the kosher department...
On the other side of the restrooms is the kosher ice cream freezer, which encroaches onto the space of the bakery a little bit. This spot used to be used for loose rolls, bagels, and pastries. Before we move on to the other parts of the store, how many Albertsons-owned stores have full kosher departments like this? As far as I can tell, not too many.
There's also a section in the bakery, which is immediately next to the kosher department, for kosher baked goods. I will note that there is no signage on the outside of the store to suggest there's a large kosher market inside, and that in at least one place on the outside of the store, there's still a sign for the liquor store that closed here in January 2021.
Moving on to the bakery, we see the updates have pretty much been finished up over there. Bread was moved to an island opposite the service counter, which we documented before. Now, the service counter itself has been replaced, with the much smaller display case seen below and the much larger self-service case facing out into the sales floor. The locations of these two cases have been switched, too.
The roll and bagel case has been replaced with this new larger one, which may in fact be too large -- that's an awful lot of those Magic Pop rice cakes or whatever they are on the right side.
Elsewhere in the store, the milk brands have been changed. Kings used to sell Tuscan conventional milk and Kings-branded organic, which have been replaced with Lucerne and O Organics, respectively. There is now no choice to buy a name-brand gallon of milk... not that it matters, as far as I'm concerned.
The produce department has been reset yet again, and cut back in size yet again, to accommodate this new department which I assume (because of those black carts) will be a Drive Up & Go area. I do wonder why this location was chosen for it, rather than say next to customer service where there's some dead space on the front end. Why are they so intent on continuing to cut back the already-tiny produce department?
As for the competition? The Livingston ShopRite ripped up the floor in the grand aisle almost two months ago and, the last I've heard, has yet to replace it. Not great.

Bedminster

The Kings in Bedminster seems to have long been a top store for the chain, as it was the first to receive the Where Inspiration Strikes remodel that is now in all the stores. (Livingston was the second.) That means its last renovation was over 10 years ago at this point, and it's beginning to look a bit tired. Some of the upgrades lately have helped, although they're really limited to the produce department.
Same new entrance sign again. Worth nothing that this sign explicitly prohibits photography in the stores (which is standard for Albertsons Companies) and the older Kings signage did not.
The produce department has been reset (again? They've reset so many produce departments so many times that I've lost track) with new fixtures. The new fixtures really do look quite good here, and I must say this department is looking fantastic while the rest of the store really is not.
Another nice touch is this new Grown Here display, for in-season local NJ produce. All in all well-done in the produce department. Now let's move on to the rest of the store -- and the rest of the Kings locations.

Garwood

Nothin' to see but the new entrance sign.

Millburn

Not much to see in Millburn, either, although a contributor does mention that there's construction work at the vacant Walgreens space next to the Kings. While I was hoping (unrealistically) for the Kings to expand into that space, I have confirmed it will in fact be an outpost of the Summit Medical Group. Boring. Well, that's all for Kings today, but tomorrow we're taking a look at a brand-new independent gourmet grocer down south towards the shore, so head over to The Independent Edition for that!

Comments

  1. Some comments:

    *The Millburn/Short Hills Kings opened on 7/15/80. The Stop & Shop closed on 4/11/80, over twelve months prior to that chain's initial exit from NJ. (I didn't research when the Medi-Mart closed, but it definitely outlasted the Stop & Shop.) I hope that the exterior of that shopping center doesn't change much, since I think it looks rather nice.

    *I believe that Stop & Shop's last day in business in NJ was 8/22/81, though that may be off by a few days. The Hillsdale, Garwood, West Caldwell, and very short-lived Parsippany Kings locations opened on 8/26/81. This is off topic from what you wrote in your article, but I do wonder why Kings failed so badly in Parsippany.

    *The Bedminster/Pluckemin Kings opened on 12/8/88. Though I'm glad that A&P held onto its Pluckemin Centennial until early 2013, I am very surprised that the chain chose not to relocate to the then-new shopping center. And given that A&P didn't relocate, I'm surprised that ShopRite didn't open a new supermarket in that shopping center (as I'm not sure if there's a super-close ShopRite nearby).

    *While Acme is in a precarious position, I think that Kings is in even worse shape. Though the typical Kings location is nicer than the typical Acme location, Kings operates at a considerably higher price point. Kings' stores are clean, but they lack the "wow" factor that is required for an upscale supermarket to operate successfully in this day and age. And Kings is all the more threatened by the fact that a sizable number of ShopRite locations offer first-rate service departments.

    --A&P Fan

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