The two photographs above show The Grand Union Company’s office tower and flagship store on the very last day of the store’s operation in March 2001. These photos come to us courtesy of John, an Elmwood Park native, who worked at the store during the last 14 years of its existence. The tower and flagship store were featured prominently in a series of posts on Grand Union’s early and mid-period history that appeared on this site late last year.
Opened as part of Elmwood Park (known as East Paterson until 1973) , New Jersey’s Elmwood Shopping Center in 1951, the structure was unique in that it combined a corporate headquarters with a full-blown retail supermarket on the first floor. The store served as a proving ground for the innovative chain and was a source of immense pride for Grand Union. The facility received a number of accolades and awards from the architectural community and soon came to be regarded as a local landmark.
In 1987, Grand Union moved its headquarters to nearby Wayne, New Jersey, while the store was left in place. As the photos sadly attest, the building deteriorated from that point on, hence the many boarded up windows. In 2001, after a seeming multitude of ownership changes, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other traumatic events, the chain finally threw in the towel. The Grand Union name lives on in a handful of stores that aren’t formally connected with the original organization.
The Elmwood Park Grand Union, along with its famous tower, was torn down later that year. A Walgreens now sits on the site, and the rest of the shopping center now has uniform storefronts.
John’s reflections appear below.
“I've lived in Elmwood Park my whole life so the Elmwood Shopping Center was a huge part of my life growing up. My mother used to walk up there with my sisters and I when we were little so I have great memories of all the stores with those great neon signs. The signs today are so boring compared to them. Another thing is that years ago all the store fronts looked different from each other, which had a lot of charm, and that's changed within recent years. The town wanted all the store fronts to look the same. I remember all these great stores like Kress which later changed to McCrory's, Channel which was a hardware store, Loft's (a candy/ice cream store), Molk Brothers (a greeting card/jewelry store), a men's store called Mr. L, a womens store called Lobell's, the Walgreens of course, and I vaguely remember the Neisner's and another store called Shirlaine's or Shirlene's, and of course the Grand Way which you know is now a Big Kmart”.
“I never thought they would actually tear down the Grand Union tower and when I was working there we were always told that they couldn't because it was a landmark. So much for that. The sad thing is that when G.U. moved their headquarters from Elmwood Park to Wayne, the tower remained empty and fell into serious disrepair. There were broken windows all over it. The other really sad thing is that while years ago that was their flagship store, when they moved no one cared about that store anymore. What was once their flagship store went downhill fast. Hours were cut, employees disgruntled, and customers very unhappy. Still I look back at my time there as the best years of my life”.
Note: Please click here then scroll down for earlier photos of the Grand Union Elmwood Park location.