Palermo’s for sale, demolition to begin after sale closes

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OCEAN CITY — At a 2nd Ward meeting Tuesday evening, March 13, at least one resident bemoaned the loss of Palermo’s Family Market, but a host of others complained bitterly that the supermarket, sitting on the corner of Fourth Street and Asbury Avenue – and now closed – is a dangerous eyesore, pleading with Mayor Jay Gillian to do something to rectify the situation.

It was the last of Gillian’s “listening tour,” meeting with residents of each of the city’s four wards, and residents said they’d had enough of the decaying market, which includes three vacant apartments above the store.

“They walked away from the property,” said Mike Pinto, who lives down the alley from the store on Fifth Street. Pinto said the property is a tempting target for wandering teens looking for an abandoned place to party hearty.

“Don’t they have a responsibility? It’s not getting any better, it’s getting worse. The façade came down and the plate glass is cracked. The roof structures, which holds the walls in place, is about to fall down,” he said.

Owner Fred Palermo says the building is coming down.

“As soon as possible,” he told The Gazette Wednesday, March 14. “The property is for sale, and we are presently negotiating a price. It will be torn down as soon as everything is settled. We have builders making offers, we are working on it.”

The canopy roof running across the front of the seasonal supermarket was destroyed by heavy snow and ice three years ago. The damage was extensive; unable to open for the season without major repairs, owner Fred Palermo and his sons, Joe and Steve, opted to take the opportunity to renovate the building and enlarge the store, hoping to reopen as a full-service, year-round market.

Plans were drawn up; the elder Palermo said his family spent more than $50,000 on architectural and engineering fees. The family subsequently went through the city’s requisite planning and zoning process and were provided with permits last year.

Palermo said that was the easy part; they were told it would cost nearly $2 million to bring the plan to fruition.

“It’s really a hardship situation at this point,” Palermo said. “We are very sorry that the building is in the condition that it is, but at this point we haven’t earned a dime in over three years. We understand, we are not happy about this either. When we got that estimate back, $2 million, we couldn’t go forward; we just don’t have the money.

“Meanwhile, we’re not making any money,” he said. “My sons had to go and get other jobs.”

At the 2nd Ward meeting, Gillian explained that the store “is not coming back,” much to the dismay of some residents.

“It’s a big loss to the area,” Gillian said, while sympathizing with those who live nearby and have to look at every day. “It’s an eyesore, a blight. It’s on my radar. I’m very disappointed that things did not work out. It was a great plan, I’m sorry that it did not work out for them. The Palermos are a great family and they ran a great business for many years.

“They tried very hard to make this work,” he said. “It’s a shame, because we do need those services in that neighborhood.”

Gillian said businesses such as Palermo’s were what he envisioned with the “Invest OCNJ” plan he announced shortly after taking office. Looking to lure and keep more young families in town, markets such as Palermo’s are necessary.

“Hopefully we can get to this,” he said. “I wish we could do something to help the Palermo family.”

Palermo said that’s what he and his brother, Charlie, envisioned when they started the market back in the late 1940s: a family market. After returning from serving in World War II, Fred became his brother’s partner at a small market at 921 Asbury Ave.

At the time, people had ice boxes and shopped daily for fresh meat and produce. The business boomed; a few years later, opportunity knocked. The larger store became available at Fourth Street and Asbury Avenue.

The brothers, both butchers, bought it and doubled it in size. Targeting the island’s growing north end, they closed the store at Ninth Street and focused on Fourth Street. Refrigerator cases brought new customers, but new volume meant more space, and then they needed parking. They bought the house next door and the house next to that, as the small market became a modern grocery store.

During that time, Ocean City grew as a summer resort, too, bringing loads of seasonal business. Businesses thrived at every turn, but it was the heyday for the island’s year-round grocery stores.

In the early 1990s, Charlie sold out to Fred. A few years later, families began disappearing, and by the early 2000s, the Palermo’s began closing the store in the winter. Competition from mainland grocery stores took a big bite, but Palermo said he and his sons were willing to make a go at a year-round business with a more modern concept.

“It just wouldn’t work, not with those numbers,” Palermo said. “We just have to put it behind us; we’re hoping to make this work with a builder.”

Gillian said if he had his druthers, the building would come down now, not after a deal was struck and settled.

“We are working on that,” he said. “If I could tear it down I would. There are a lot of rules and regulations to contend with.”

Business Administrator Mike Datillo promised the neighbors he would stay on top of the situation.

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