Laborers working on the exterior of the new in Woodbridge thought there was a chance that rain might interrupt their efforts to ready the new store for its opening this fall.
Instead, what stopped all work on the building was the sudden collapse of the parking garage undergirding the anchor store.
A corner section of second floor of the parking garage "just collapsed", said one of the workers who was nearby when it happened at around 2:30 pm Tuesday.
"It sounded like an earthquake. We all just ran," he said.
No one was injured in the collapse, but employees in the few stores still open in - the strip mall fronting Route 1 on Green Street where the new Burlington store will be located - were terrified by the shaking and loud crash.
"I've been in here since 9 am, and suddenly everything just started shaking," said a retail worker in one of the stores. "I thought it was an earthquake. People were running all over the parking lot."
Firemen, EMS workers, and police crawled over the 70 by 100 ft. section of concrete slab that had crashed down on the side automobile entrance to the parking deck. A forklift that was on the deck fell on its side like a toy, and a white van was partially mangled in the debris.
Doors open into empty space
The section of deck was located at the leftmost side of the Burlington store, just where the sliding doors that customers would use are located.
Without the deck, the doors opened out into empty space, with a sheer drop down to where the concrete deck had collapsed.
"I heard this big boom," said Gilbert Wasserberger, a salesman at Thomasville Furniture which is at the other end of the strip mall.
Like many other locals, Wasserberger uses the lower deck of the parking garage as a short cut to reach Route 9 South. He would normally pass right under the area where the deck collapsed.
"It was a miracle that no one was hurt. Imagine if this had happened when the [Burlington Coat Factory] store had opened!" Wasserberger said.
Kevin Wertz, the Iselin District Fire Official who was handling media inquiries for the incident, said that the emergency service workers had determined no one was under the concrete deck.
No idea of the cause of collapse
He said there were no indications of what might have caused the sudden collapse, but that it meant the entire structure would have to be inspected.
"There's always the possibility of another collapse," he said.
Sears, which owns the store that Burlington Coat Factory is renting, is sending out their Risk Management Team to assess the structural integrity of the parking garage and building.
"We'll have to see if the building and deck are safe," Wertz said, before more work could proceed on the structure.
Wertz said he didn't know if the township was responsible for inspecting parking decks, or how often they would be inspected, if ever, after the initial opening of a store.
"That's a good question," he said. "I don't know that they'd be inspected after the initial opening of a store, when all the electrical, plumbing, fire, and building inspections are done."
Mayor John McCormac popped out of a Woodbridge Police SUV and gave an interview to News12 New Jersey, the statewide cable news station.
McCormac called the collapse "a blessing in disguise. If this was the grand opening, the results could've been catastrophic.
"We're all happy it happened when it did."
McCormac avoided questions from other reporters, and instead hopped back into the police SUV and sped away as emergency workers, police, and firemen mopped up the concrete mess.
Woodbridge Crossing opened with The Great Indoors as its anchor store. The high-end retailer of home goods and appliances, owned by Sears, also came with its own Starbucks in the store while it sold Sub-Zero and other pricey appliances and fixtures to shoppers with the money to spend for plush goods.
The bad economy forced it to close its doors in 2009. Other retailers in the Woodbridge Crossing mall, such as Linens and Things and Circuit City, shuttered their doors as they went out of business or gave up retail storefronts.