Middletown, New Jersey: Evil Food Circus Clown

If human clowns creep you out, imagine one that's 22 feet tall and mean-looking. The Food Circus supermarket has long departed, but its evil clown sign, Calico, scowls and survives.

Spirits Unlimited

853 Hwy 35, Middletown, NJ
Spirits Unlimited. On northbound Hwy 35 just south of the Kings Hwy intersection.
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Calico, the Evil Clown of Middletown.

Calico, Evil Clown of Middletown

The fate of "Calico," a New Jersey sacred roadside sign, is in question once again. Plans are finally afoot, after a 15-year delay, to build the Middletown Town Center on the land where he stands along Route 35. Sign preservationists and local fans are concerned that developers might be uninterested in the Evil Clown of Middletown.

Decades ago, the flat, two-sided cutout of an eerily sinister circus clown spun ceaselessly and enticed passersby to shop at Food Circus (which later spawned the Foodtown grocery chain). The clown was designed by Leslie Thomas, the artist who created Asbury Park's Tillie at Palace Amusements -- another beloved sign face horror -- currently in storage.

The grocery store was replaced long ago by a liquor store, which currently sells Evil Clown Hats. Clown activists will be attending upcoming town planning board meetings, intent on preserving this unique and goofy landmark. Their Facebook Page: Save Calico, The "Evil Clown" of Middletown, NJ.

[RoadsideAmerica.com Team, 04/13/2015]

Evil Clown in holiday cheer mode.

Evil Clown

The sad thing is, when time is up for this clown, it's up. The same people planning the town center, are the same people who own the clown and the supermarket chain the clown belongs to, the Azzolina family, so really it's out of our hands.

[Diane R., 11/22/2007]

The Evil Clown was given a fresh coat of paint in 2011, and the Azzolina family now promises to preserve it. Other acreage has been cleared, and whenever local elections are imminent the Town Square issue rears up. The only change to the clown we've noticed is the restoration of his original "SAVE" lettering, replacing an ill-considered contemporary sign for "Circus Fresh Food Experience." The notoriety generated by the development project helped the clown to survive as a historical landmark (as suggested in the scale model, on display locally since 2001, where it is depicted hanging from the side of an imagined building in Utopian Middletown).

Middletown Clown sign.

Patriotic Middleclown

The Evil Clown of Middletown still stands, and is looking fantastic! I expected to find him bulldozed and gone like so many of the attractions I had yet to visit. The good news is he is no longer forced to hold up the Middletown Town Square sign which, hopefully, means that the town square project is dead and the clown gets to stay right where he is. There is another ray of hope as well. The clown is now used to display a flag!

Who in these times (especially so close to NYC) would possibly tear down something as patriotic as a clown? May the clown live forever.

[Greg Brown, 11/10/2001]

Middletown Clown sign.

Town Square... or Clown Square?

We don't like the looks of this. In Middletown, NJ, reported on last month, an elaborate old-timey yet modern but not-a-mall town center will be going up soon. Maybe a good thing, maybe bad, but people sure can get emotional about a little extra traffic. The developer's soothing juggernaut of assurances has slowly but surely narcotized homeowner protests. We swear that some front yards once touting "NO Town Center" placards now read "Town Square - $3.7 million tax benefit." A man lurking behind the artist's concept display at a local Travel agency leapt out at the sound of our non-committal musings. "It's a GOOD idea," he said, staring at us as if we were troublemakers. He vanished before we could ask about The Clown.

It's ironic the Town Square folks are exploiting the hypnotic powers of The Clown to promote their development Gotterdammerung to community fence-sitters. But once the clown's usefulness is finished... he's finished. We know there is a good chance one morning we'll be making a beeline for the Dunkin' Donuts or the discount liquor store -- and the Circus will have left town. Look what happened to Seattle's Twin Teepees earlier this summer.

Throughout, the Clown handles himself well (though many say he isn't handling himself at all - it's an optical illusion).

He waits silently, shifty eyes darting between the Bulldozers of Progress and townspeople that would prefer he be replaced by a split-rail fence or historic barn. The Clown wags his red finger as if to warn: "Keep your eyes on the road dude -- don't be lookin' at me."

[RoadsideAmerica.com Team, 09/01/2001]

Middletown Clown sign.

Food Circus Clown

Time may be running out for the "Historic" Food Circus Clown, a scary metal landmark in the conflicted burg of Middletown, NJ (the same locale as Roadside America's corporate HQ). The 40+ year old defunct grocery store sign sits near the corner of a large expanse of highway property slated for development into a "Town Center."

Homeowners rail against the giant retail store project, fearing increased traffic and distortion of vanishing "horse country" flavor of the region. Developers and land owners cheerily point out beneficial tax revenue the project will generate.

It seems the only thing both parties may agree on is that the CLOWN must go.

The August 1st Independent, a local paper, includes a letter from Middletown resident Tarry Flynn laying into the clown in no uncertain terms: "There is no beauty or pride associated with a big fat, sinister-looking clown advertising a supermarket that no longer exists..."

[RoadsideAmerica.com Team, 08/01/2001]

Nearby Offbeat Places

Vito Genovese's Mount Vesuvius VolcanoVito Genovese's Mount Vesuvius Volcano, Middletown, NJ - 2 mi.
Quick Stop seen in the movie Quick Stop seen in the movie "Clerks", Leonardo, NJ - 3 mi.
9/11 Memorial Marker9/11 Memorial Marker, Red Bank, NJ - 3 mi.
In the region:
Stumpy's Hatchet House, Eatontown, NJ - 8 mi.

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