Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why I Want Wegmans in Columbia

The Wegmans planned for Columbia is not going to change your life, but it certainly will change the way that Mrs. HowChow and I shop for food.

If you want an update on the Howard County Wegmans
construction, click here for Wegmans news. If you want to hear someone hate the supermarket, talk to my sister-in-law who says that it's too big, too expensive and just not what she needs.

But I'm here as a fan of Danny (as my aunt in Syracuse refers to the chain's president), and I'd bring a shovel to Snowden River Parkway if they'd let me help dig the foundation. For now, my Wegmans visits are limited to detours on visits to Fairfax or long drives up to the Hunt Valley store north of Baltimore. They're fun, but that's a big shopping trip, not a regular place to pick up snacks.

I love Wegmans because it democratizes great food. For a moment, ignore the aisles and aisles of packaged goods where Wegmans sells everything from every national brand. (In the way that Bloom sells a few sizes of each item, Wegmans sells every size and every flavor so there are miles of crackers.) I'd love Wegmans for just the fresh side of the store where they sell vegetables, cheeses, olives, and the long row of meats, fish and bakery.
  • High-medium-and-low. The beauty of Wegmans is that it sells on several levels -- exotic, expensive items; an interesting, but affordable middle ground; and good-quality basics. Take the cheese as an example. At the high, Wegmans sells ridiculous little buttons that cost more than $20 a pound. They live in a special refrigerator along with bries covered by layers of fruits and nuts. If that's too much, Wegmans sells you that fruit and nut concoction. Buy your own brie and top it yourself. Serve with a stilton that costs the same but tastes better than Harris Teeter's and some Spanish sheep's cheese that one of the employees will let you sample. And, then, when you need cheddar for nachos, there is a case with blocks of basics. Same price as Giant, but more than just the Cabot brand.
  • Interesting items at affordable prices. That selection runs through everything -- the deli, the vegetables, the olives. Oh, the cerignola olives. Large green olives with an almost-buttery flavor. That is the middle ground. They're priced like the Bloom olive bar, but they're this unique, delicious item that I can't find anywhere else. That goes double in the produce aisle. Like the H Mart, Wegmans offers rows of varieties when fruits are in season -- five kinds of pears, 10 kinds of apples. Better than the H Mart, they often have both organic and regular varieties. They're not buffed like Whole Foods. They're sitting ready for you to choose and discover. On our last visit, Mrs. HowChow picked up kohlrabi. I'd never cooked it before, but the price was reasonable enough that I could take a chance and explore.
  • Semi-prepared foods. The irony is that Wegmans might be even better for people who cook less than I do. Wegmans makes things easy. The meat and fish departments sell dozens of rotating variety of ready-to-go entrees. Chicken encrusted with nuts. Fish seasoned and ready to bake. Those are alternatives to takeout, and Mrs. HowChow would love to pick up some fish and a great baguette on the way home from the office. She also loved the Wegmans menus. The stores creates a little station, serves you a dish, and puts all the ingredients within reach. One night, we tasted pork loin and walked out with pork, a package of pre-cut squash and a very special bottle of lavender honey. That was fun for Mrs. HowChow, who rarely orders pork and certainly doesn't pile cookbooks on her night table.
On top of the fresh items, Wegmans sells all kinds of exotic packaged foods. Next to the cheeses are just shelves of products from England, Japan, Latin America, etc. There are organics like Whole Foods. There are low-cost grains and dried fruits like Trader Joe's. Once, we stumbled on an absolutely delicious smoothie mix, and Mrs. HowChow has bemoaned every visit since because we never found it again. All the choices -- and the affordable choices --make shopping fun because there is something new or unusual in almost every aisle.

Ironically, I'm not a huge fan of the prepared food that is a huge part of the Wegmans reputation. The subs are okay, but I wouldn't drive there just for dinner. The pizza and the "Chinese bar" are just your basic takeout food. You will do far better if you just drive down Snowden to An Loi or House of India.

(UPDATE: I have announced when *I'm* going to Wegmans:  2/14/2011.  Click that link.  Join the Facebook group.  We'll either be shopping on Valentine's Day 2011 or helping them build the store.)

The Columbia Wegmans is planned for Snowden River Parkway across from Apple Ford. That is just south of Rte 175. Last I checked, the Wegmans site listed new stores opening through 2010 and described the Columbia store as "to be determined."

This is part of the "What I Learned" series of posts. They're organized in rings. See below to continue on the ring of ideas about food in Howard County. Or click to switch to the posts about different cuisines or posts about shopping.

PREVIOUS: U.S.1: The Foodie Frontier
NEXT: Great Takeout in Howard County


K8teebug said...

I really don't understand people who think Wegman's is expensive. For most of their regular grocery items, their prices are cheaper or equal to Mars (the cheapest grocery store around). Sure, you could go there and spend a bunch on the fancy stuff, but their other prices seem extremely reasonable to me.

Their vanilla muffins can't be beat, their deli counter is a cut above, and their meats and veggies are super fresh and pretty.

I can't wait for Wegman's to open in Columbia.

Anonymous said...

Wegmans is great. It is not expensive for the normal things that every store has. The meat, seafood, and produce sections are very good.

The Tales Of Two Cities blog reported it would open the first quarter of 2011. I just looked on the Howard County website and there in no permit application yet.

HowChow said...

Anonymous -- Can you post the link to the Howard County Website and, if it's not clear, a short description about how to find the Wegmans site? I'd love to follow up or even create a "DIY" page for people who want an update.

Anonymous said...

Here ya go:

Search applications link --> Change from date to something more recent ---> ente McGaw in street box.

chisty said...

I'm a Walmart shopper. I know cheap. Don't tell me Wegmans is pricey. They beat Whole Foods on selection and oddly enough, the compete quite well with Walmart on prices. If you buy Wegmans Brand, you get top quality for an unbeatable price. I love that they don't put crap (hydrogenated stuff and high fructose) in their store brand products. Even their trash bags held up perfectly. (I'm quite picky about quality and price). I'll help anyone dig the foundation of the store so I don't have to keep making hour long voyages to Hunt Valley. I can't imagine what ignorance is bringing on the hatred of such a beloved store. (I really think they care!)

Anonymous said...

I lived in Rochester for a few years while attending school and it was the only grocery store in town. Shortly after moving to MD in 2005 I heard that a Wegman's was going to be built in the area. I've been patiently waiting ever since, only to watch with disgust as different organizations have done everything they can to fight it.

I don't understand the Wegman's hatred either- a large selection of quality products at fair prices, sold by friendly employees who work for a company that values customer service- gosh, it sounds like an awful place! And don't get me started on how the company isn't unionized, so they must take advantage of their workers. I'd be willing to bet that Wegman's employees have better benefits and are happier with their jobs than the employees of the local Safeway and Giant stores. They've been on Fortune's list of top 100 companies to work for for over a decade now, and are usually up at the very top. Sounds like their workers are miserable to me...

When you're handing out shovels to help dig the foundation, make sure you have one set aside for me as well :)

Anonymous said...

Why on earth would you look forward giving all your grocery money to a huge 'gourmand' chain supermarket? Surely there's some smaller, locally owned markets in the region that sell tasty food and offer a nice selection of cheese, olives, crackers. If you want to see the food community in Howard County grow, maybe you should consider promoting local, unique businesses.

Anonymous said...

I will gladly spend my money at Wegmans. They have a good selection at good prices. If you want to buy prime beef instead of choice you will pay more for that. If you want an artisan cheese instead of Kraft or Cabot you will pay more for it.

I never thought of Wegmans as upscale or gourmet. I don’t remember Wegmans being called that where I grew up. I think it was in the late 1980’s they changed to what they are now instead of being the same year after year. They were always a good grocery store before that. The stores around here are basically the same as they were 15 years ago. They may change the store around and add some decorations, but the model is the same.

Wegmans will employ hundreds of local people. They also make donations to the local communities. Wegmans is a family owned company. Giant is foreign owned.

A Wegmans in the area will also force the other stores to be more competitive. Maybe Giant will do another “New Lower Prices” campaign. When I saw that I started thinking about how much they had been ripping us off. Their prices are still high.

Alison said...

I grew up in Western New York and was a regular Wegmans shopper. The grocery stores in MD are a joke in comparison. Not only does Wegmans offer great choices at competitive prices, but the customer service is second to none. As I stood in a line 10 customers deep last night at Harris Teeter, all I could think was that if it were Wegmans they would have opened up additional lanes. The employees were friendly, but I would have rather had a shorter line!

Anonymous said...

NOTHING compares to Weggies (as it's referred to in Upstate NY) ... you can argue price, convenience, selection, service, quality, employees, community service, and anything else you want however as a "package" nothing in MD - or much of the rest of the USA compares. I've lived in Chicago, LA, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Rochester, and Columbia and Weggies is the best. Besides I certainly don't miss watching "customer service" types putting on nail polish at the customer "service" desk at the Safeway in Long Gate or cashiers chatting more w/ each other than the customer. Augmented by occassional trips to Trader Joes, I do all of my shopping at Weggies - happily. It's a "Foodie Disneyland."

I drive weekly to Hunt Valley ... it beats shopping in the typical MD grocery store wasteland.

Anonymous said...

You can find unusal items at Wegman's all year round that no other grocery store has (cinnamon and chocolate babka) and I love being able to buy my meal and go upstairs to sit down at tables or couches and eat it. Hurry up and come to Columbia. Hunt Valley is too far to drive to frequently.

Anonymous said...

Good news for all of us Wegmans fans - I just checked the howard county building permits site. Wegmans submitted a building permit application on 6/30/09 for the McGaw Rd site. I would take this to mean they are moving forward.

Anonymous said...

How long is it going to take to be constructed? I am tired of waiting!!

HowChow said...

I checked the Wegmans Web site today, and it still doesn't list an opening date for the Columbia Wegmans. The store above us says "2010," and the stores below us don't have dates either.

Anonymous said...

Being originally from Rochester, NY, I know two people that work for Wegmans, and they tell me that the current grand opening estimate for Columbia is early 2011. They only open 2-3 stores per year, as each one is a major undertaking - not only from a construction perspective, but also in terms of training all the employees.

Anonymous said...

WEGMANS IS UNBELIEVABLE, FANTASTIC AND WELL WORTH EVERY SINGLE PENNY SPENT IN THEIR STORES! We lived in Rochester for 9 years before moving to Maryland 5 years ago. Every time I go shopping it frustrates me. I have to go to three different supermarkets to get what I need, and the quality of fresh produce is sometimes not so fresh and expensive! I'm excited and can't wait for Wegmans to be our supermarket once more so I can have everything I need in one store. If you have never experiened a Wegmans, you are in for a treat!