Let us now praise famous supermarkets. I am writing about Pathmark, the now departed, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week food emporium in Windsor Green on Route 1 South. From the time when I was first plunged into the daunting world of shopping for food and household items for myself and two growing boys, until last month when the store was shut down for lack of business, the Pathmark was my supermarket of choice.
For me the big attraction in a supermarket is not organic produce or grass-fed beef but rather the hours of operation. A fumbling bachelor competing for space in a crowded supermarket aisle — trying to calculate which detergent is a better value on a shelf packed with dozens of different brands in dozens of different sizes with a variety of special coupons and store deals advertised — is not a pretty sight. At Pathmark the aisles were exceptionally wide, and at Tuesday night at 11:30 p.m. exceptionally accessible.
At Pathmark, for every brand name staring at you with one price, the supermarket had a house brand right next to it, with a price that was often 30 or 40 percent less. A six pack of SunMaid raisins in those 1.5 ounce boxes: $1.79. Pathmark raisins packaged in the exact same way: $1.20
And Pathmark always had deals. There was a special place at the Windsor Green store, near the last aisle where the paper and plastic products were stocked, where Pathmark would fill a table with odd tools — most priced at $5 or less. I have an 18-inch steel pry bar that I carry with me every day. It was a $3 item at Pathmark.
A month or so before the closing, a Pathmark employee was killed trying to cross Route 1 from the spot where the NJ Transit bus had stopped. That tragedy put Pathmark into the chatter at cocktail parties and social gatherings — I was amazed at how many people identified themselves as Pathmark devotees for pretty much the same reasons as I went. Here was a place that everybody went to because nobody was ever there. It was the opposite of Yogi Berra’s famous restaurant that was so crowded nobody ever went there anymore. In the weeks since Pathmark’s demise I have been searching for another supermarket with similarly generous hours. Here are some of them:
Wegmans, Nassau Park Boulevard, Princeton. 609-919-9300. Open 7 days from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Wegmans was my first stop after Pathmark closed. The chain has a store in Johnson City, New York, that is the talk of the town in that area where relatives of mine live. Because I dread the Nassau Park parking lot I went well after 10 p.m. But the store was too much for me — some sections seemed like a full-scale kitchen appliance store. I never did find the raisins.
Genuardi’s, Princeton-Hightstown Road, East Windsor. 609-371-7678. Open Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to midnight and Sunday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. After Wegmans I crossed Genuardi’s off my list — my image was that it was similarly upscale and just not right for novice shoppers.
McCaffrey’s, North Harrison Street, Princeton. 609-683-1600. Open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. McCaffrey’s on Princeton-Hightstown Road in West Windsor, 609-799-3555, has the same hours, except it closes at 8 p.m. on Sunday.
When I have to go shopping with my kids, this is now my market of choice. It’s clean, friendly, and easy to figure out. It’s also more expensive than Pathmark, but the produce — especially — seems to be consistently better.
ShopRite of Montgomery, Route 206 North and Route 518, Skillman. 609-279-9800. Open 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. This is a little out of my way, but I like the hours and will keep it as a backup choice.
Super Fresh, Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro. 609-378-0226. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week.
Now that Pathmark is gone, Superfresh is the only 24/7 supermarket in the area. I had high hopes when I went there (at 7 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning), but left a little disappointed. Problem No. 1: The signs listing the products in each aisle were placed in a way that forced me to walk to the head of each aisle in order to read them. Problem No. 2: Those SunMaid raisins were $1.99 a six-pack. The store brand, America’s Choice, were $2.19! I shared this with an accomplished shopper, and she immediately surmised that the store brand had been mislabeled. I should have brought both to the checkout, I was advised.
Acme Markets, Princeton-Hightstown Road, Princeton Junction. 609-452-2354. Open daily Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Recently renovated, the Acme is a little more upscale than it had been, but not intimidating for an amateur. On the very first visit I manage to find the raisins: The house brand is 50 cents cheaper than SunMaid.
At the checkout the cashier presents the acid test: Would I like an Acme Supercard? Yes, I say. I put it in my wallet, next to the Advantage Club card from Pathmark.