BERNARDS TWP., NJ - The sign had said A&P would close at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18. But by about 5:15 p.m. customers who had arrived for one final shopping trip in search of deeply slashed prices at the supermarket found themselves turned away or locked out as the store closed permanently after 13 years in Basking Ridge.

"It was really busy," Jacob Ripper, a clerk at the store who was helping a customer load her minivan with dozens of bags of bargains, said of the A&P's last day being open at Dewy Meadow Village shopping center .

Indeed, the parking lot by the supermarket was still fairly full shortly after 5 p.m., and customers remained inside the store, lined up at checkout lines, even after additional shoppers were told the store had closed.

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The customer whose van was being loaded by Ripper said merchandise was discounted by between 80 to more than 90 percent by closing time. Lesser discounts had been offered in previous weeks.

A&P is closing or selling all of its stores, and laying off employees, as a result of bankruptcy filing.

Since 2002, A&P has been the anchor store at Dewy Meadow Village, said Henry Feldman, owner and president of Henry's Fine Jewelry, which he said the the very next business to move into the shopping center off King George Road.

Feldman reiterated on Wednesday that he would prefer that another food or other retail store move into the largest space at Dewy Meadow Village, rather than a residential development containing a mix of luxury and affordable housing that has been proposed by Bernards Plaza Associates, owner of the shopping center.

Feldman has been trying to encourage Trader Joe's to move another food store into the space being vacated. However, he added, "I am trying to bring in any good retailer."

Concept plans were presented for 141 rental units in a four-story building to replace the now-closed supermarket were publicly presented at last month's Bernards Township Committee meeting. The idea of residential development at a retail center did not win the favor of township officials at that meeting.

However, the proposed developers have "intervened" in a statewide court case on affordable housing requirements, and is seeking to make proposed housing at Dewy Meadow and nearby Crown Court part of Bernards Township's required affordable plan. Under the plan, 85 percent of the housing would be for upscale units, and 15 percent for subsidized housing for low- to moderate-income residents.

Bernards Township officials, meantime, contend that the state has already met its affordable housing obligation through several rounds of construction and renovation of housing units.

Mayor John Malay, after hearing what he stressed was merely an informational presentation before the Township Committee, said that Dewy Meadow Village was constructed as a retail center. The property remains zoned for commercial use under the township's zoning ordinances, he added.

"Unless this is overturned in court, no construction of affordable housing will be done at Dewy Meadow or anywhere else," Malay added in a later email to another Dewy Meadow merchant.

Another shopper who showed up at the A&P parking lot at about 5:40 p.m.--Chris Ruby of the Millington section of nearby Long Hill Township--said that in her opinion, the construction of townhouses and condos on the property would bring too much traffic congestion onto the site. She noted that such housing already exists nearby.

As for herself, Ruby said she had been "hoping for bargains" at A&P on its last day. But she was too late, and the entrance to the store was already locked.