Friday, July 1, 2011

Classic Acme! Middlesex NJ

Photos courtesy of Rob Ascough

Location: 125 Bound Brook Road, Middlesex NJ

Kicking off the 4th of July weekend with this red, white and blue themed Acme in Middlesex, New Jersey. Great look on the exterior of this aging store. Leaps and bounds better than the green treatment so many Acmes got back in the 90's. You can see examples of that treatment in Newton NJ and Stevensville MD. Rob visited the store back in March 2010 and reported that the exterior, while looking pretty good from a distance, could use a fresh paint job at this point. The store overall, however, is in pretty good shape considering it's age and lack of interior remodel for nearly 20 years now. I've been wanting to get to this store prior to doing a post but unfortunately have never made it there.

Middlesex opened back in November 1955 making it one of Acme's oldest stores still in operation today.  We'll see in the collection of historical aerial views how this store has evolved from it's early days. 

One of the first clues I always look for at a suspected former Acme are the protruding brick columns along the sides of the building. You can see one to the very right of this photo and more in the photos below. While front of the building seems to indicate that this store was a 70's era, 33M styled building, the side walls clearly show evidence that the building is from a much earlier era. I was pretty confused by it all when I first saw Rob's pictures. As mentioned above, the store was in fact built in the 50's and was later retrofitted to the 33M format. The store, however, isn't quite 33,000 square feet. I would guess it's in the 25,000 square feet range. We'll see in the historical aerial images that the building started out as rather odd building compared to the standard 50's Acmes.

Receiving docks on the right side of the building. Classic Acme trailer parked at the back of this classic Acme!

The logo seen on the trailer was short lived in Acme's history. Never quite became official within the company and never made it's way to the main signage on stores. The logo here may have originally been the fish-eye logo. It appears that the change was made to make "ACME" larger within the "fish" shape by dropping the "eye" in the left corner. Around 1985, the fish shape was converted to an oval which did become the official new logo for the chain. Hey, check out that chimney! Also interesting is the lack of windows around the entire store. Could the breakroom be in the basement here?

Emergency exit down by the Bakery. These doors became common with the pitched-roof model and were then standard in the 33M models. Ready for a look inside?

Checkerboard Arch decor! This decor remains in only a handful of stores today and is one of my personal all-time favorites. The look was rolled out in the early 90's immediately following the 80's remodel. Some stores received this decor just a few short years after having the extensive 80's remodel done. You can see the 80's checkerboard flooring still here in Produce. One of the failings of the ambitious 80's remodel is that many stores appeared dark and dingy not long after the remodel. The beige paint used throughout the entire interior was mostly at fault for this. This next decor package saw everything painted white, with bold checkerboard patterns on the walls. Light boxes were also added throughout the store to improve lighting. This new remodel involved a decor change only. Cases were left as is since they were relatively brand-new in most stores. Does anyone if stores held "Grand Reopenings" when the Checkerboard Arch decor was put in? These remodels rarely saw the addition of any new services. I found it puzzling back then as to how stores were getting selected for this upgrade. For example, both Morris Plains and Succasunna got the new look but Rockaway, which was equally successful... if not more so, was skipped. Same was true in the Philly area as some small Acmes received the new decor while larger stores were passed over. Even that tiny old store in Washington NJ got the new look. 

Many of the interior shots for this post may look familiar. They were used for Acme Style's Decor Directory last year. 

Aisle markers here (seen in the upper right hand corner) were probably brought in from a remodeled 90's Red/White/Blue store. The Checkerboard Arch decor package did include specifically designed aisle markers which is something Acme hadn't really had since the 70's. You can see one of the custom aisle markerst at the Manasquan store. They have since been removed there and inexplicably replaced with aisle markers from an Industrial Circus store. You can see a picture of that here

Rare site here! Cursive lettering in the Deli and Seafood Departments. This type treatment was usually reserved for the Bakery. As we saw a few months ago, American Stores rolled out this decor for it's Star Markets as well. Acme received the more deluxe version as the checkerboard arch pattern was used sparingly in Star Markets. You can see a great interior shot of an abandoned Star Market here. Notice the cursive lettering for all the service departments. Notice too how naked the arches look without the checkerboarding. 

80's checkerboard flooring still in place. You can see in the Star Markets image that those stores received a specific floor pattern to go along with the decor.  Acme wasn't about to start replacing floors that had only been redone a few years earlier. Plus, the 80's checkerboard floor worked quite well with the newer decor. You can see a row of darker tiles along the right side of the aisle. Could be due to the aisles being moved at some point after the 80's remodel.  

Some stores had only the blue and green colors used throughout. The ultra-deluxe version of this remodel had lights added along the tops of all the cases around the permitter of the store to illuminate the walls. It created a very cool effect.  

10 aisles here at Middlesex. Some stores had the blue light boxes above the Frozen Food cases.

Cursive lettering above the Bakery. Additional lighting added above the Bakery cases as well.

Blue light boxes above all the checkouts and Customer Service.

Now to the aerial images...

The Middlesex store stands alone like so many old school Acmes. Huge parking lot included, although it was expanded a bit when another small store on the property was torn down. 

See any hints of an addition?

No windows along the back or the sides to indicate a second level with a break room, bathrooms and manager's office.

Lots of historical aerial images available for this location...




And there we have it... the original building prior to be expanded in the back left corner. Question is... was the whole building always the Acme or was the section on the left another store?

You can see the shadow of the huge Acme sign out at the street. Looks as though it no longer stands on the property. 




Thanks to Rob for the excellent pictures of this classic Acme store!


  1. That one is laid out just like the Old Mt. Holly Acme. I believe Mt. Holly had the 80's decor when it closed up in the mid 90's.

  2. When I worked for Acme beginning in the mid-90's, the Middlesex store was third in the district, right after the Morris Plains and Rockaway stores that pretty much kept pace with one another. I assumed it was very much like "my" Morris Plains store and was surprised to find it was much smaller. I was equally surprised to see the checkerboard arch decor alive and well last year- in fact, aside from new exterior colors and everything looking as though it aged without much maintenance, it looked almost the same as it did a dozen years earlier. Good for us fans of old Acme stores, maybe not for a company struggling and needing to be represented by newer, more modern facilities.

    I wish I knew the story behind the evolution of this one. I have a hard time believing the store originally had that odd shape- I'm thinking the smaller section on the left must have been something else like a bank or a dry cleaners. The building is quite large for an Acme opened in the late 50's so it's possible it was expanded to consume the smaller store next to it, and then some. Then again, I was told the chimney at the back corner was diagonally opposite the store's entrance, so who knows? The large towering sign is definitely gone.

    The forklift on the loading dock... I could swear that is Morris Plains' old forklift. If it is, that's the one I learned how to drive... unloaded many grocery loads with that one!

  3. I lived nearby to this store for around 5 years. There really is no strong competition nearby. When I lived there, there was an old small pathmark and a small A&P nearby. The A&P closed and became a Food Basics. There are large Shop Rites in Bound Brook and Piscataway but for Dunellen, Middlesex and the northern part of Piscataway the Pathmark and the Acme are significantly closer than any other stores.

    The layout of this store is very similar to the layout in Manalapan after the 80s remodel. But, I remember hearing somewhere that Middlesex has a basement.

  4. I forgot to mention that the Food Basics closed around 5 years ago and I think that it became a farmers market. It is in a shopping center with a drug fair that used to be some department store. I think that it used to be a Jamesway and before that it was something else. But that is before I lived there.

  5. When year was this remodeled? I only know it MIGHT have been sometime between 1975-1981.

  6. Its incredibly hard to tell, but in the 1970 aerial picture, the left side of the building appears to be nothing, though, Acme's front only extended so far down. The 1957 picture appears to show just a brick wall. Only speculation at this point, but I'd imagine that area WAS a part of the store, because the only addition to it appears to be some floor space, and another loading dock.

  7. Hello all...Acme Style, the break room is located in the basement of this store, as was the break room at Union...I think. Nothing like having your lunch in a damp basement.


  8. nice, but what a firetrap!

  9. I'm 39 now.. but I lived in Green Brook (the next town over) for about the first 18 to 24 years of my life. The other poster is right. There was nothing else in the area. Sure, there was an A&P down the road that was bigger, but my Grandmother never went there since it was too far. There was also a Foodtown and another large A&P, but those were up a very steep mountain. It was hell on your vehicle and it's breaks coming back down. If you're ever back in the area for some reason, take a drive up Washington Ave. There's a little park up top and on clear days you can see New York City.

    My Mom worked in the meat department I believe in the 70's or maybe also sometime in the 80's as well. I worked ONE night on the overnight shift. I didn't want to do overnights and they said there was no room on the day shift. It's funny how you can stay up all night playing video games, or drinking, etc, but when it comes to working overnight I couldn't do it.

    There was indeed a break room in the basement.. I can still kind of picture it in my head. You had to go past all types of things to get there. It felt kind of weird to shop there all those years and be in the back. Getting to the break room made you feel like you were entering a secret lair. Going past conveyor belts or some sort, around stuff, down stairs, etc.

    What really sucked is that a lot of the stock was downstairs. So, a truck would come in the loading dock (which you can see in your pictures). Then they'd load stuff on conveyors and send it downstairs where they would store it in aisles that were kind of unorganized. The people upstairs unloading the truck cannot see you, so they keep loading stuff on the conveyor.

    I'll bring print outs to show my family when I head down for Easter and ask about the addition to the building if they know about it and what was there before Acme.

  10. Hi Acme Style. Wow, just seeing this...awhile back I had commented on another entry regarding the Middlesex store and am really pleased with this "final" entry. Cheers.

    Hi yuppicide, I probably know you...I'm from GB and not that much older than you. I actually live in Middlesex now and regularly shop at the Acme. LOL. Growing up, we were "go up the mountain" people since my mom liked the A&P.

  11. It looks like the huge sign was gone by the 1987 aerial photo. Do you know why it may have been taken down? My only guess is that the local ordinances changed, forcing them to remove it; or that people in the area were upset with the giant ACME neon sign! In any event, it was taken down at roughly the time the 80's remodel happened on this store, so it's also possible there was a connection there.