Officials marked the start of construction for a 50,000-square foot car dealership at 1153 Route 130 North at the Nov. 26 groundbreaking ceremony.

Groundbreakings are rarely much more than a photo op, but Robbinsville Township officials found more than the usual reasons to celebrate one such event recently.

A Nov. 26 groundbreaking ceremony marked the start of construction for a 50,000-square foot car dealership at 1153 Route 130 North, next to Lamp and Shade Studio. The dealership, scheduled to open this autumn, will sell Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles.

While the dealer’s ownership has big plans for its new venture, the township sees something even bigger at work. The car dealership is the first new development on Robbinsville’s stretch of Route 130 in several years, and the township hopes the dealer sparks a new era for commercial development on the highway.

“I don’t know if it’s related, but my office has been inundated with folks that are interested in doing something on Route 130,” said Hal English, Robbinsville Township’s community planning director. “Probably not because of it, but coincidentally on the same timeline. I think in another five years you’re not going to recognize Route 130. It will be upgraded and clean and new and modern, and there’ll be some good commerce on there. Rather than driving 55 miles per hour and just zooming by, people will be stopping and shopping.”

In the last decade, Route 130 has welcomed a Taco Bell, a pair of new strip malls and a complex at the East Windsor border with a Dunkin Donuts, bank and daycare. But for the most part, Route 130 is much the same it has been for decades.

Small steps forward could be made in the next two years. The car dealership plans to open in late 2019. Down the road, in Windsor, a new gas station with a bagel shop and convenience store on the lot has a scheduled spring opening. English said the bagel shop will be “a known bagel company, possibly from the Princeton area.”

Then, in 2020, construction will start on a Wawa gas station and market at the intersection of Route 130 South and Meadowbrook Road. Wawa uses the same builders for all its locations, and its Robbinsville project must wait for the completion of five other Wawa stores in New Jersey, English said. Next to Wawa will be additional retail sites, the exact details of which have yet to be determined.

That’s not the only thing left to be determined on Route 130, but it’s the unfinished nature of the highway’s commercial scene—plus Robbinsville’s recent history with development—that actually drew the car dealership’s owners to Robbinsville.

“Robbinsville and the area is absolutely exploding,” said Phil Mastellone, co-owner of Robbinsville Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram. “We just see it as the absolutely perfect place for a project. We think Route 130 will be a very busy corridor in the future.”

A fully developed Route 130 obviously could mean good conditions for selling lots of cars, but Mastellone said he and co-owners Frank Esposito and Frank Tackett want to do more than be in business in Robbinsville. The group has dealerships across the state, including Route 33 Nissan in Hamilton, and Mastellone said he often hears from residents skeptical about how a car dealership can spur positive development for a town. To combat this, Mastellone and his partners have set out a pair of programs to better integrate with the community.

The first would be working with the local schools to promote vocational trades, and potentially even doing joint programs with the school district, English said. Mastellone said he started his career as a mechanic, and wants to show that not every American needs to go to college in order to achieve success. He said he is proud to offer jobs at his dealerships for young people who pursued a trade.

The second initiative, Mastellone said, is a commitment to building in an environmentally friendly manner. The building and the materials going into it are green, he said, and the ownership group also will be reforesting the property around the dealership so that it blends with its surroundings more. The trees that can’t be replaced on the property itself will be planted elsewhere in Robbinsville, Mastellone said.

“We’re going to be a credit to Robbinsville and the county,” Mastellone said. “We’re going to show development can work with the environment.”

The end result is that, regardless of what happens elsewhere on Route 130, the township administration has faith the new Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealer will be a plus for Robbinsville.

“I think they’re going to be a good neighbor,” English said.

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Rob Anthes
Rob Anthes is managing editor at Community News Service, and also serves as the editor of the Hamilton Post. Rob's writing has been honored by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Free Community Papers, most recently in 2020. He was a 2019 fellow at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, based at the University of Rhode Island. A Hamilton native, Rob is a graduate of Steinert High School and Syracuse University.