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Big Lots: From Food to Bargain Finds

Hiring underway for national closeout retailer projected to open in mid-October in Route 35 shopping center between Kohl's and Stop & Shop.

If you've been looking for a hair gel, toy, snack food or any product that you may have had a special affinity for but have heard isn't sold anymore, you might want to check out the soon-to-open Big Lots in Middletown.

Strategically placed between and at the strip shopping center at Route 35 and Twin Brooks Avenue, Big Lots is aiming to open its doors sometime in mid-October, according to Michele Ricco, the new store's general manager.

Described by its Columbus, Ohio-based corporate officials as "the nation's largest close-out retailer," Big Lots will occupy the space formerly known as Cost Cutters in the more than 50-year-old, L-shaped shopping center.

Adding to that, Big Lots is currently hiring cashiers, sales, and stock workers.

Ricco recently took job applications from prospective employees while sitting at a folding table outside the new store. Those hired will help with stocking shelves and other merchandising tasks in the few weeks before the doors open, she said.

Hiring will continue outside of the store or people can apply online for opporunities at the Middletown store, listed on the web site as "Store No. 5198" at www.biglots.com, she said.

Trucks should be pulling into the loading docks behind the building that houses Kohl's and other retailers this week, said Ricco, who is transferring from the Big Lots location in Brick.

Big Lots caters to bargain-hunters mainly in search of discontinued products that they might not find in stock at other retailers. The company operates more than 1,400 stores in 48 states with total annual sales approaching $5 billion, according to its Web site.

The Middletown store, one of several opening in New Jersey this fall, is the company's first Monmouth County site. In Ocean County, there are Big Lots stores in Brick and Toms River. And in Middlesex County there is a store in South Plainfield.

"We're very excited about coming into Middletown," Ricco said. "We hope we can get involved in organizations in the community too."

As the winter holidays approach, Big Lots will be involving area scouting groups and other non-profit, charititable groups in fundraisers at the new store, Ricco added.

The company received its temporary certificate of occupancy from the township last Monday, she said. The storefront and building interior have been customized to Big Lots' signature style. And the merchandising shelves and other fixtures are already in place.

The conversion from Cost Cutters to Big Lots is merely a change in tenancy that does not require any hearing from the planning or zoning board of adjustment according to Township Planner Jason Greenspan.

Big Lots has not expanded the space drastically converted the premises, he said.

"It's retail to retail," Greenspan said. "Filling an vacant storefront is always a good thing."

Known for selling brand-name items at closeout, discounted prices, Big Lots specializes in offering merchandise that other retailers sold at one time, but for various reasons, no longer have the same purchase appeal.

Throughout the company's history, Big Lots has purchased stock and merchandise from other defunct retailers and then subsequently sold those items at its own stores at a lower cost, information on the Web site explained.

In 1996, the company purchased KB Toys, which had gone out of business. Big Lots then sold the remaining KB merchandise at its own stores. The company eventually sold its shares of KB Toys to private investors in 2000.

Today, customers can find everything from health and beauty aids to some groceries, such as snack foods and soda and bottled water, to cleaning products at prices lower than those in supermarkets and chain drug stores. Big Lots also sells seasonal merchandise, toys, gardening supplies, housewares and home goods, and furniture.

Unlike Target, Wal-Mart and other larger retailers, Big Lots does not carry perishable foods such as produce, dairy products or frozen food.

Unlike other shopping centers along Route 35, the Vornado-owned shopping center now anchored by Kohl's has never been known by a certain moniker as has Middletown Plaza or Middletown Shopping Center. Instead, locals have always identified the shopping center by its primary anchor tenants — Kohl's Shopping Center, in this case.

Nonetheless, what is now the Kohl's anchor building at the center has housed several long-term retailers and has been elongated at either end a few times. Originally built as Two Guys, the iconic Harrison, New Jersey-based discount department store reigned as a bargain-hunter's paradise from the early 1960s until the store closed in 1981.

After the building stood as a black hole for nearly a year, another discounter, Bradlees, set up shop in late 1982. The Massachusetts-based retailer went bankrupt in the late 1990s.

Kohl's, from Wisconsin, gutted the former Bradlees and opened up its store, selling mainly clothing and home goods, in 2003.

Lisa Ellefsen Cook October 06, 2011 at 11:06 PM
so excited about Big Lots coming to Middletown. I love this store

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