For decades, 1 Brace Rd. in Cherry Hill bustled with supermarket shoppers. The seven acres off the intersection of Route 70 and Kings Highway were an anchor for one of the region's top centers of commerce, second only to Cherry Hill Mall.
Today, the empty parking lot and vacant building - most recently home to National Wholesale Liquidators - are a pockmark on the landscape, a reminder of the near-standstill of the commercial real estate market.
That could soon change. The longtime Pathmark location, at what was once the Ellisburg Circle, was recently listed for sale by CB Richard Ellis and interest has exceeded expectations, say brokers Doug Rodio and Jim Galbally.
It was listed at $5.2 million, more than twice its assessed value. That's because the potential for redevelopment is high, Rodio said. He hopes to close a deal within weeks, possibly for a drugstore, upscale supermarket, or medical facility.
Signs advertising commercial space in Cherry Hill abound. Route 70 and Kings Highway are lined with them. The Ellisburg Circle Shopping Center - across the street from the Brace Road property owned by siblings Wendy Appel and Peter Schaffer - has several available spaces.
About a half-dozen large stores sit dark in shopping centers adjacent to Cherry Hill Mall, including three at the Plaza at Cherry Hill. At least five more are open at the Garden State Pavilions on Route 70.
Commercial vacancies in the township may be at an all-time high, said Brandon Famous, owner of Fameco Real Estate in Plymouth Meeting, which has several listings in Cherry Hill.
What sets the Brace Road property apart is that the 54,000-square-foot, mostly windowless building stands alone and could be leveled for redevelopment in an area with little open commercial land. Its location near Ponzio's, a South Jersey landmark diner that attracts a who's who of local politicians and businesspeople, helps, too.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy this corner," Rodio said.
One Brace Road, at a major crossroads traveled by about 67,400 drivers each day, was home to a grocer for more than four decades. Pathmark leased the building at below-market rates in a deal that began in 1976.
The grocery chain, which also has a township location on Church Road, sublet the property for several years to National Wholesale Liquidators. But that company filed for bankruptcy in November 2008 and soon closed most of its stores. The building has been empty ever since.
Pathmark's lease was set to expire in June 2011. The owners didn't want to renew it, which made the space hard for the grocery chain to sublet again. Pathmark relinquished the lease, and the owners looked to sell.
Appel and Schaffer's father, Michael I. Schaffer, owned commercial real estate and worked primarily in Manhattan. He died 17 years ago, and his children have not taken up the family business.
"If we were developers, that might be one thing, but we're not," said Appel, of Boston. "With the right purchaser, it really could be something quite spectacular."
Just across the street, the former Jack Kellmer Co., a jeweler, also is empty. The township has approved permits for a CVS store to be built in its place.
Mayor Bernie Platt has met with Rodio and Galbally about what he would like to see on the old Pathmark land: anything but another bank branch or drugstore, he said.
"That's a very valuable corner," Platt said. "The profile there would be much better for something of a professional nature, for something of a good retail nature."
With so many nearby vacancies, the owners of mid-size box stores looking to expand can choose among them and save the cost of building, Famous said. But he said he expected something new to pop up at Brace Road.
"This is an opportunity where the real estate is good, and redevelopment here would be the better play," Famous said.
If the sale goes through, Galbally said, it could be a sign that the sleepy commercial market has "one eyelid open."