The iconic and long closed Richman’s Ice Cream Restaurant and plant in Pilesgrove New Jersey is getting some remodeling attention with new roofing on two rear segments of the building.
Additionally, in August the old trees were removed from the front of the building.
But to be clear, nothing seems to be happening yet with the distinctive art deco restaurant building which sits at the front corner of Route 40 and Kings Highway… but the owner who purchased the property in 2019 has previously had introductory meetings with the Township regarding plans for a full redevelopment
Many South Jersey residents recognize the building as an iconic piece of South Jersey history and early successes. It’s 1930s designed front building opened in 1947, and featured the well known Richman’s Restaurant where customers from all over the region would visit Cowtown and then stop at Richman’s.
The restaurant closed in 2010. The building has not been occupied since then, and it appears that over the last 13 years it has been slowly losing the battle to interior decay from being a mostly abandoned property.
That being said in 2019 a Gloucester County man purchased the 26.5 acre property under the business name “Richmans Center”. The property includes the restaurant building and rear dairy/ice cream plant buildings.
The new owner appears to have hopes of bringing the property back to new life.
While “new life” is not 100% set in stone for the property, just two years ago the Richmans Center team spoke at a Pilesgrove Township work session meeting and shared some of the early thoughts for plans with the property.
One aspect that was discussed as a Phase I goal was to develop a segment of the rear portion of the old dairy plant as a woodworking shop.
Recently a loyal 42Freeway reader reached out to me saying they noticed construction was taking place in the rear of the property
When I visited on October 9 with my drone I could see that a new truss-supported roof was being installed on one of the smaller building additions. Another curved segment of roof appears to have a new roof membrane installed. None of this work is anywhere near the front of the building.
So that new roof work in the rear of the facility matches up with “Phase I Woodworking Shop” from the 2021 Pilesgrove meeting. This was later confirmed by Pilesgrove Township.
Now don’t jump too far ahead! Having a new owner and seeing even small upgrades to the building is a very nice positive for the property… but it seems there’s a long way to go before large remodeling takes place.
I’ve tried for the last week or so to identify the full gameplan for the property, but have not been successful in connecting with the owner.
I know his name and even his home address, but can’t really find a working phone number or e-mail address to reach out to him. And I am not going to knock on the door of someone’s personal home!
I also reached out to the attorney who was part of the Richmans Center team in the 2021 meeting, and they replied they could not comment on the project.
I did get a response from Pilesgrove Township on the status of the project and the work being done from their perspective, which I share here further down in this article.
But some of the plans were revealed to the Township two years ago, so keep scrolling and reading to learn what I know about the property.
Subject Matter Photography – Richman’s Pilesgrove 2016
Additionally while the restaurant closed in 2010 and no one from the public has really had access to the inside since them, I located a photographer who back in 2016 had access to the facility and published a variety of amazing photos.
Darryl W. Moran of Subject Matters Photography says he is “Finding Art in the Abandoned and Beauty in Decay” (Facebook)
The amazing yet sad thing about the Richman’s 2016 photos is… what you see captured was after only SIX years of not being used! The amount of dirt, decay and leaky roof water damage in such a short time is shocking.
I do not know the state of the interiors in 2023 but I do know the new owners have been in the property doing cleanup work.
I share some of the photos here in the article, and offer a link back to his photo album of about 40 photos. (Facebook)
Richman’s Ice Cream – Pilesgrove
The Richman’s Ice Cream restaurant building in Pilesgrove has been an iconic building in Salem County for over 75 years.
While the exterior of the building has definitely aged and is in need of big freshening-up, it still maintains it’s historic art deco style which considered very modern when designed in the late 1930s ahead of World War 2
The restaurant operated from 1949 until it’s closing in 2010.
Not only was the exterior art deco styling impressive, but the ice cream plant featured the latest technology for mass food production utilizing the most sanitary production conditions possible for the time.
For decades the Richman’s Ice Cream name was known throughout South Jersey and beyond as one of the leading ice cream producers in the area… if not the country. They also operated several restaurants, including the main restaurant at the Pilesgrove property.
Some may be too young to remember that in 2007-2008 the world was in a massive financial crisis. After a staggering increase in home prices and development, it was determined that billions of loans were approved for unqualified persons… causing a financial crisis, housing prices to crash, and financial institutions failing. This global impact took years to recover.
This impacted consumer spending, causing reduced sales for retailers and restaurants… restaurants including Richman’s which is also tucked away in a very rural area.
In 2010 this partly lead to the closure of the signature Richman’s Restaurant in Pilesgrove.
The history of Richman’s Ice Cream goes back to the 1890s when William Richman of Sharptown (Woodstown) purchased a general store, and began making ice cream with a hand freezer in the kitchen at the back of the store!
A 1936 Courier-Post article states that the Sharptown plant was 10 times the size of the original 1894 plant, and employed 70 people.
In 1947 they opened a new ice cream plant at the current location with the “known throughout South Jersey” distinctive art deco front facade to the building.
Interestingly an April 1947 article in the Daily Journal describes the soda-fountain in the building was created as a school to educate Richman’s ice cream dealers. Does that mean in the early days the Pilesgrove facility did not include a retail customer ice cream shop?!
A second floor space was created as an auditorium for employees and community to hold banquets, dancing, and other entertainment uses.
In 1988 the Richman Ice Cream Company was sold to the Waddington Dairy of Mannington Township. At the time they employed 60 workers at the ice cream plant, and another 240 workers at four Richman’s Ice Cream restaurants.
And as mentioned in 2010 the iconic Richman’s Restaurant in Pilesgrove closed.
Today the Richman’s brand ice cream can still be found.. it is produced in Philadelphia. They currently have 8 Richman’s affiliated/owned locations including Mr Bill’s Richman’s Ice Cream in Winslow! (Facebook). I need to stop in soon!
Richman’s Pilesgrove – What Is To Come?
Purchased in 2019 it seems the Gloucester County based new owner does have intentions to redevelop the property, and turn portions of the building into a fun businesses and spaces that the community can enjoy.
Just two years ago the new owner and a team of experts for Richman Center appeared at a Pilesgrove Township work session meeting.
The meeting intention is identified in Township documents as “to discuss the redevelopment process on the site”. The commentary included an overview of the general plans for the property.
The plans for the property were described in two phases.
Phase I would be to create a wood working operation, and would include getting the building up to code and addressing the exterior of the building.
Phase II would be the full site improvements and could possibly include retail uses such as a distillery, local artisan gallery, ice cream concession, and event venue.
My take on the Phase II items were just examples of possibilities and not “written in stone”
One key aspect of the plans, the Richmans Center team stated that to fully develop the property sewer service is needed at the property, which it does not have currently. The property is listed in a “future sewer service” area, and the sewer implementation would be needed for the Phase II aspects.
In the 2021 meeting, a committee member stated that the sewer service to the area will not happen any time in the future. It was then stated by Richmans Center that if the sewer line did not come, they would require a DEP application for a package plant… which is a small independent waste water treatment installation targeted at projects such as Richmans
In that 2021 meeting it was mentioned that the owners had already been working on the property doing clean-up work, and at the time no “for sale” business had been taking place.
It seems this was not the first time Richmans Center team has been in front of the town, as commentary from the 2021 meeting says their prior presentations “were impressive”.
Which further gives the impression that this work session meeting’s goal was to move the redevelopment process past the initial introduction phases and onto plans that could be reviewed, approved, and developed on.
It was stated in that same meeting that the town had previously directed the Richmans Center team to create a redevelopment plan and submit to the Township. “Without a redevelopment plan the township cannot work with the property owners”
The minutes from that meeting go on for several paragraphs where the theme appears to be back and forth commentary around the same theme… a redevelopment plan was needed.
It was also called out that an escrow agreement was needed so that the developer could pay for Township professionals.
A November 2021 Township document shows that an escrow agreement was executed with Richmans Center, which I assume was related to early meeting’s commentary.
About a week ago I emailed several Pilesgrove officials asking for an update on the project, from the Town’s perspective.
In an email response to me on October 11, 2023… The Pilesgrove Township Clerk responded to my question on the status of the redevelopment plan and the work being currently done at the site, with:
There have been no new updates on the redevelopment plan.
Currently Richman’s is working on a Planning Board application for woodworking, but we are not positive when they will be in front board. They have submitted roof plans to preserve the buildings.Pilesgrove Township Clerk/Administrator on that status of Richmans Center Project
As I mentioned earlier in the article, I have attempted to reach out to the owner. I could not find him associated to any similar businesses, which would’ve made it easy to reach out. I tracked down a few phone numbers and email addresses for him… but none of them panned out.
I also contacted the team’s attorney.
So I am excited that there is a new (2019) owner for the Richman’s Ice Cream Restaurant and Plant… but seems things may still be earlier stages of any large redevelopment efforts
Links and Locations
Former Richman’s Ice Cream Facililty
Rt 40 and Kings Highway
Subject Matters Photography – Facebook photo album of the Richman’s facility just 6 years after the closing in 2010. (Facebook)