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Pennsauken Mart Closes: Goodbye to Another Part of the Old Weird New Jersey

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Driving south on Route 130 in New Jersey used to be like a trip backward in time. As soon as you cleared South Brunswick and entered the depths of Mercer County, you began to see glimpses of what old New Jersey roads once looked like. Instead of shiny strip malls, flea-bitten motels; instead of malls, farmer’s markets and stalls; instead of Wal-Marts, grimy-looking auto shops and bars that could have doubled for ancient jook joints. Old farmhouses with mangy siding and front doors that were only a couple of feet away from the buses and cars whooshing past. The feeling was not quite rustic but certainly not suburban and definitely not urban. To adapt the title of one of Greil Marcus’s goofier Bob Dylan books, it was The Old Weird New Jersey.

The inexorable southward march of progress is homogenizing the Route 130 corridor and will eventually turn it into another fast-food belt like Route 18. There are still pockets of the savory old weirdness, particularly in the vicinity of Roebling and Florence, but one of its major outposts on the southern portion of 130 just went dark this past weekend: the Pennsauken Mart.

The funny thing is, I can mark the passing of this grimy 35-acre indoor flea market without feeling particularly nostalgic. Think of an Arabian bazaar jammed into a big concrete-floored Quonset hut, only instead of Persian rugs and concubines the vendors were selling crappy samurai swords, the complete works of ZZ Top on eight-track tape and overpriced, Soviet-vintage electronic gear. It had a moonscaped parking lot, a dance hall, and a titty bar where the girls danced under black lights that made their pasties and G-strings glow radioactive green (the perfect spot for young Tom Waits fans to soak up some atmosphere).

There were record stalls where, after much digging, you could find long sought-after treasures: I scored Roxy Music’s Stranded at the PennMart, a big deal in my high school days. There was also a small cinema — kind of a proto-multiplex made up of a couple of twin theaters, if memory serves — where after four tries I managed to get in to see Star Wars three weeks after it opened (yes, sprouts, in that pre-multiplex era you could gear up to see a popular movie and find the theater sold out, particularly if the distributor had no faith in the movie and only booked it in flea-bag venues like the Pennsauken Mart). But unless you were seriously into ptomaine poisoning, exotic fungal disorders or playing Pac-Man in a plastic-sheeted stall surrounded by guys who looked like they’d bombed out of a casting call for the sequel to Deliverance, it’s hard to imagine squirting any tears for the passing of the dear old Pennsauken Mart.

And yet, I do think it’s sort of a pity. I never went to the Route One Flea Market in New Brunswick, either, but when it was torn down to make way for a super-duper cineplex, a bit of Old Jersey was lost to make way for a chain theater showing the same 10 movies being shown everywhere else.

The endless steeplechase race for tax ratables does to towns what Alzheimer’s disease does to people. On the other hand, if redeveloping the site is part of what helps get Pennsauken back on its feet, who can complain? Farewell, Penn Mart. We hardly knew ye — nor, for that matter, spent any money at ye, neither.

Originally published in The Opinion Mill.

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About Steven Hart

  • http://lostsupermarket.blogspot.com/ Sean

    When I was a kid, I used to go to the old Union Market, which has been gone for ages. I think a Hoome Depot is there now, but that is probably the third establishment there since the Market closed. To get around the old NJ blue laws which forbid selling clothes on Sunday, the vendor would sell hangers, and as a bonus you got a shirt or a pair of pants.

    There are still a few of these markets left. There is one on Route 33, and at the Englishtown Raceway, though neither of these markets has a titty bar.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Unfortunately, the Englishtown Auction (not Raceway Park) is closing, too, if it hasn’t already. I think it was supposed to shut down for good after the holidays.

    8-(

    Sayonara, Garden State.

  • http://www.englishtownauction.com gm

    The Englishtown Auction Market is NOT closing down – you should check your sources before posting eroneous information.

  • meme

    does anyone know were they relocated the pennsuken mart?

  • Chad

    The Penn Mart has been moved to Willingboro about fifteen to twenty minutes North of the old mart on Rt. 130

  • CHRIS

    I GREW UP IN WILLINGBORO IN THE 70’S. PEN MART WAS A HANGOUT THE PLACE TO SHOP FOR ALMOST ANYTHING AND HAD THE BEST PIZZA AND PRETZELS. THE FOOD WAS GOOD THERE CHEAP BUT GOOD YOU COULD GET A PHILLY CHEESE STEAK HOGIE OR A DOZEN CHERRY CLAMS OR 10 PRETZELS FOR 2 BUCKS. WE ALL WENT TO OUR FIRST TITTY BAR THERE AND HAD A BEER WHEN WE WERE 16. IT CHANGED LATER GOING TOWARDS THE DOLLAR STORE TYPE SHOPS BUT I LOVED IT AS DID ALL MY FRIENDS AND IT WILL BE MISSED. THE WRITER OF THAT ADD HAS NO IDEA HOW MUCH IT WAS TO US AS KIDS IT WAS OUR PLACE TO SPEND A DAY WHEN COLD AND RAINY IN JERSEY AS MOST DAYS WERE. MAYBE BELOW HIS CLASS BUT GO TO CHERRYHILL OR MORSETOWN MALL AND LEAVE OUR PEN MART ALONE WE LOVED IT AND IT WILL BE MISSED …..

  • irene

    how do i get to the new pennsaken market, if i start near the old one

  • RONALD ROBERTSON

    We lived in Camden in the 50’s. I was only 7 when we moved to Sacramento California.

    I was just now googling for memories of the PennSauken Mart. As I was young my memories are scant but I do remember the pretzels and my older brother telling me that sample of horseradish probably served up on a cracker was some kind of dessert. He sure got in trouble with mom and dad for that!

    I miss my memories of “back east” as California seemed like the promise land when we arrived in the Winter of 1958.

    I too lament the sameness of corporate America today.

    Ron Robertson

  • matt

    fuck you, the mart was awesome

  • RIVER RATT

    Yes I agree, the writer never spent time there — You could get a STYX KANSAS or JOURNEY shirt for $2 and it fell apart in the washer on the first wash but who cared, you wore it for a month first. They had rolls of gold and silver & cheap watches galore, the smell alone down the long thin strip was worth the trip. One security guard at the entrance stoned or drunk didn’t care – he was on the take. Always a zoo, actually better than the zoo. The bike shop for patch repairs. Lava laps, oh and the used electronics ! The Pennsauken Mart had the best SOFT PRETZEL factory around. Fresh hot Phila style pretzels, salt or no salt hot right out the oven. But first you made a stop at the only HEAD SHOP around for your screens or a new bowl or papers to roll. The good ole days, yes the good ole days. There were blacks & whites & spanish and every color between — and we all got along at the Pennsauken Mart…….RIP