Rendering of The Shoppes at Middletown, a planned 340,000 square-foot experiential retail development planned for Route 35 in Middletown, NJ

MIDDLETOWN, NJ—A 340,000 square foot experiential retail destination is being planned for a former grocery store site in this Monmouth County community that is famous for its iconic “Calico the Clown” sign marking Food Circus, a once-popular grocery store.

National Realty & Development’s Village 35 entity is developing The Shoppes at Middletown retail center, anchored by a Wegman’s store, but designed as a destination location with substantial green space, walkways, common areas, and an array of dining experiences, according to John Orrico, president of National Realty, who spoke exclusively with

“We have a commitment from Wegman’s for a 130,000 square-foot store, and a commitment from CMX Cinem a for a 26,000 square-foot store, and we are in the process of going through the entitlements for that project,” Orrico says.

NJDEP has already approved the project, and NJDOT has given concept plan approvals, and actual plans are being finished for NJDOT. Full approvals from NJDOT for the realignment of jughandles and roadways are expected in the next two months or so, he says.

“Usually, you’re not that far ahead on those two components when you’re at this stage of the entitlement process,” Orrico says.

Iconic “Calico the Clown” sign has marked the Route 35 property for decades. (Steve Lubetkin photo/

The location is part of a 170-acre tract assembled by Monmouth County’s Azzolina family. National Realty has acquired the front 50 acres of the property for the retail center, and a home developer is planning housing for the rear part of the acreage. The retail site includes the famous clown mascot, which dates to the property’s earlier use as a Food Circus supermarket owned by Joseph Azzolina, who started the Food Circus (later Food Town) brand and was a state assemblyman. Azzolina died in 2010.

“Currently, the land is predominantly unoccupied with the exception of a liquor store and a former post office,” Orrico says. “The back side, we’re told, has been a farm for many years.”

The center will include a variety of boutique shops, specialty retailers and restaurants with open café space – all creating a one-stop venue where residents can shop, dine and gather with their neighbors, Orrico says.

“We want to have a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere here, to encourage people to not only come here to shop, but to dine and to spend some time here,” he says.

John Orrico, president, National Realty & Development

Orrico expects site approvals to take the remainder of this year, with construction starting in late 2018 or early 2019.

“It’s a very unique site, in that it’s probably one of the last very large tracts of land in eastern Monmouth County,” Orrico says. “We want to attract not only national and regional, but we want to have a mix of local boutique shops in there as well.”

Upon completion, The Shoppes at Middletown will create nearly 1,000 full and part-time jobs for the area, in addition to hundreds of construction jobs, National Realty says on its website.

The Shoppes at Middletown’s design incorporates green technology and natural materials. Green technology features include:

  • Addition of tree-lined drive aisles and walkways, as well as a variety of aesthetic landscaping features, drought-tolerant plants throughout parking and pedestrian areas
  • Stormwater collected from the roof areas will be used to recharge the property’s wetland areas
  • State-of-the-art, energy-efficient LED fixtures for primary and ambient lighting throughout the development. All lighting has been designed for dark sky cut-off
  • Advanced insulating glass and “cool roofs” that reduce heat and glare while increasing energy efficiency
  • Electronic car-charging stations

And the development should meet with the approval of local history buffs. Orrico says the developer will make provisions to preserve the “Calico the Clown” sign, which has delighted children of all ages travelling on Route 35 for decades. Calico will still be on Route 35 close to the area where the new jughandle will split off Route 35 N to the realigned Kings Highway East.