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Planning Board Approves New Tenants on Elm Street - Former A&P, Burgdorff Sites to Be Filled by Trader Joe’s, Cigar Lounge


Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

Two long-time vacant buildings, prominently located in the heart of downtown Westfield, soon will be occupied by retailers offering their specialty goods and services to the municipality. Trader Joe's East, Inc., to be located at 163 Elm Street, and a still-to-be-named cigar café at 43 Elm Street, were granted final site plan approvals by the Westfield Planning Board at a special meeting held the evening of April 17.

The first application heard was that of Trader Joe's. Prior tenants to lease the property at 163 Elm Street were the A&P supermarket, and Foods ‘N' Things, a purveyor of vitamins and a limited variety of food stuffs.

The A&P decamped four years ago, and Foods N' Things has been gone for about a year and a half. The dormant building has been termed by many Westfield residents as an "eyesore," with the property a frequent target for spray painted graffiti. Also troubling to officials, the parking lot has become a safe haven for skateboard riders and motorists seeking a free parking locale.

Bob Langone, Vice President of Operations for Trader Joe's, gave a brief history and description of the chain. He also detailed aesthetic enhancements planned for the existing structure.

"Trader Joe's is a mix of supermarket, grocery store and international gourmet shop, with wholesale club pricing," explained Mr. Langone. "We search for our products all over the world and buy to our specifications. We stock items you can't purchase any place else."

There are currently 92 stores in the Trader Joe's chain which was started in 1958 on the west coast. The chain recently has expanded to the east coast by opening six new stores in such upscale communities as: Darien and Westport, Connecticut; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Scarsdale, Commack and Oceanside, New York.

Typically the store will stock about 2,000 items.

"We carry frozen foods, vitamins, produce, swordfish, scallops from Argentina, shrimp from Thailand," said Mr. Langone.

The store will not have a delicatessen counter, but a variety of fresh cheeses will be offered and sliced to order on the premises.

Scheduled hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Mr. Langone anticipates a workforce made up of 10 to 15 full-time employees and 25 to 35 part-time employees.

Mr. Langone stated that there would be 10 truck deliveries per week to the store, with rigs scheduled to be at the loading bays in the early morning or late evening hours.

"There will be no middle-of-the-day deliveries," said Mr. Langone.

In an effort to upgrade the building facade, Trader Joe's intends to install new entry doors, open up the brick arches, and dress up the asphalt shingle and plaster with imitation stucco finish. On the wall facing Elm Street, there are cutouts for billboard signage. These will be removed and two windows installed.

The site requires minimal variances, officials noted. Board member Neil F. Sullivan, Jr., the Town Council Liaison to the board, did express some concern over the parking variance which would allow the pre-existing, non-conforming stall size of eight feet by 10 feet instead of the nine-foot by 20-foot size required by the town Land Use Ordinance.

The applicant’s attorney observed that the municipal lot directly adjacent to Trader’s Joe’s lot still maintains eight-foot by 19-foot stalls. The applicant's attorney reminded the board that Trader Joe's willingly added another handicap parking space as per the suggestion of town zoning official Jeremiah P. O'Neill.

He noted that in order to increase the parking, stall sizes would decrease the 62 available parking spaces by six more stalls.

"This in a town where parking space is already at a premium," said Michael Tobia, planner for the applicant.

Trader Joe's does not intend to use all of the building space. It plans to divide off a portion of the building, and rent to two unspecified business concerns. Renovations could begin in three to five months, at which time the lot will be roped off to traffic and pedestrians. The board unanimously voted to approve site plans and variances for the applicant.

The site approved for Westfield's first cigar café was previously leased to Burgdorff Realtors, and has been vacant for a year and a half. The shop will primarily be a retail cigar store, also offering pipes, tobacco and tobacco accessories. The applicant proposes to serve specialty coffees and desserts at an Espresso Bar, however, all food items will be brought in as there will be no kitchen on the premises, the café’s representatives told the board.

The café will feature a smoking lounge where customers can settle in and sample from a variety of high-grade cigars.

Customers will be able to walk into an 11-by-14-foot humidor with glass windows and door, where the store's highest grade smokes will be showcased in a climate-controlled storage area.

Paul Femiah, one of the store's four proprietors, explained that all cigars would be kept in controlled storage areas, not only those featured in the walk-in humidor.

Acting Chairman of the Planning Board, Robert L. Newell, asked the applicants what precautions they intended to make to prevent the typically strong odor of cigar smoke from traveling outside and offending passers-by.

Maggie Subhas, architect for the applicants, explained that two air-filtration systems would be used to counteract the smoke. Air will be filtered through the air-conditioning system in the ceiling. Because cigar smoke is heavy and has a tendency to sink, an additional system will filter air at ground level. That system will magnetically ionize the smoke particles causing them to stick to the filter.

Ms. Subhas circulated a mock-up of what the building's facade would look like after renovations. The rendition was of a quaint Dickensian-like structure. Above the entranceway, as shown on the applicant’s plans, in gold Old-English lettering was the proposed store name: Tips & Ashes Cigar Café.

"I hope this name is some sort of joke," remarked Mayor Thomas C. Jardim, a member of the board.

Board members were unanimous in opinion that the name would be offensive to some townspeople. The applicants stated repeatedly that it was not their intention to be offensive and quickly agreed to withdraw the name.

The board granted site approval only under the condition that the name Tips & Ashes Cigar Café not be used. Another condition of the approval requires that the applicants purchase for the manager of the shop, a parking permit for a space in the municipal lot.

The applicants are planning to employ one full-time manager and two to three part-time employees. Business hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and until 11 p.m. on weekends. The applicants said they hope the café will be open for business within three months.

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