It was a big moment in Woodbridge a week ago when the convenience store Wawa chain returned to the township since the late 1990s. They opened a convenience store and gas station in the Fords section of Woodbridge on October 12, and Mayor John McCormac helped make it all happen through the town's Redevelopment Agency.
But the Wawa effort was to be only the first in Woodbridge. When Wawa announced earlier this year during the groundbreaking for the Fords store that they also intended on opening another outlet - also with a gas station - in Avenel, that entailed knocking down an old motel and diner.
Mom's Diner in Avenel is a classic 1940s glittering steel diner that was in excellent, unchanged condition. It was on the market for $20,000, and it'd cost easily that much again to move it.
McCormac was full of glee during the opening of the Fords Wawa when he forecast the future of Mom's Diner.
"We can't wait for Mom's Diner to be taken down and the Gem Motel to be taken down," McCormac said to the crowd.
"I want to be on the bulldozer when it happens."
Running out of time
The clock is ticking on Mom's Diner. When it was offered for $35,000, then reduced to $20,000, there were no takers. But now, on the eve of its destruction, several diner fanatics are interested in moving the diner to prevents its obliteration.
But trying to find out who owns the property has become a total tangle. Robert Chwatko, the man who heads a Colts Neck company affiliated with the various limited liability companies that own Mom's Diner and the Gem Motel on paper, said it's not his.
"I know who owns it, but I can't say who," Chwatko said in an interview. He admitted that that his Colts Neck company, which has the same name as his residence, is involved with the Avenel properties where Wawa hopes to open the gas station and convenience store.
Calls to McCormac's office to find out who to ask about the diner were unreturned.
In the crosshairs
Randy Garbin has been involved in preserving diner lore for 30 years, first with a magazine and now with Roadside Online, an internet site devote to diner history and preservation.
He says Mom's Diner "is sitting in the crosshairs of some pretty bad stuff."
In his years of trying to save diners from the wrecking ball, Garbin said, "there's some backroom stuff going on here when no one will take ownership for the property."
In his experience, he said, developers just want to get the deal done. "They're afraid if someone offers to take the diner, it'll gum up the works. It's just easier for them to knock it down rather than wait two weeks for the diner to get moved to a new location."
Meanwhile, at least one diner fan from out of state is very interested in moving the diner - if he can find out who owns it.
"New Jersey is a heartbreaking state," Garbin said. "The industry of building diners was centered in NJ for half a century. The state does nothing to memorialize or preserve its diner history."
Another fan of diners, Daniel Zilka, who runs the online American Diner Museum, has written a letter to Wawa's corporate office, begging them to help save Mom's Diner.
"Please help us save this vintage diner from being demolished," Zilka wrote to Wawa executives.
Saving a Lawrenceville diner
Not all towns are in a rush to knock down their diners. Cass' Diner in Lawrenceville has a long history, but not as a diner. It's connected to a property where plumbing supplies are sold, and it's been used for storage.
Wawa, Garbin said, has had their eyes on that property and that diner, to build another convenience store.
Lawrenceville officials and residents have been trying to preserve the diner, he said.
"There's an accelerating trend in the past 10 years of old diners getting scraped from the landscape. These diners were created for the working man, they're little palaces for the average Joe," Garbin said.
"We're losing them in droves, and there are no good reasons for it."
For pictures of the interior and exterior of the diner, go to the Mom's Diner article.