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MORRISTOWN, NJ-Epstein’s department store “on the green” here is a 90-year-old institution, and as one of the last family-owned downtown department stores in New Jersey it’s a bit of a dinosaur. However, it may not be around much longer, at least in its present form.

Owners the Levine family and joint venture partner Pinnacle Communities of Millburn, NJ are preparing an ambitious redevelopment plan to submit to the city that includes razing the existing four-story, 110,000-sf building and replacing it with a new structure of up to seven stories that would combine about 75,000 sf of new retail and upscale apartments.

“The trends in the economy, as well as in the retail environment and the competitive nature of our surroundings have made it so we can no longer survive in our current form,” according to Epstein’s CFO William Levine, speaking at a press conference. “We have to make some changes.”

Internally, those changes are apparently being forced by the fact that Epstein’s has shrunk from being a four-store regional chain doing more than $40 million in sales to a one-store operation generating under $20 million in sales, according to figures made public by the company. The city’s other downtown department store, Macy’s, closed a decade ago.

Under general plans unveiled at the press conference, the new facility would be part of a $50 to $70 million redevelopment that would include a new 600-space parking deck to replace a nearby existing garage about one-third that size. The site would also include a separate 14,000-sf building to be occupied by two civic organizations.

The new retail/residential structure, according to plans outlined by Levine, would include about 75,000 sf of retail space on two levels. A new Epstein’s store would occupy as much as 50,000 sf of that total, with a variety of smaller tenants taking up the rest. Residential units would make up the rest of the building, although the developers haven’t released a number.

Pending approvals, the Levine family anticipates closing the existing store by the end of 2004 and expects to have the new building completed by the middle of 2006.

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