Friday, June 15, 2012

Wegmans Tour: Rob Tours Wegmans And Reports Back On Meats, Caviar And Shopping Carts

Cheese at Wegmans
Two key facts about the new Wegmans.  First, don't try to take shopping carts down from the second floor of the parking garage.  They have a conveyer so you can take your food up to the second floor.  But professionals will take carts back down.  Second, there is a model train running in the back of the store.  It's a Wegmans tradition.  It's all the most-exciting part of the grocery to my nephew.  So the Virginia HowChows can visit safely.

These facts come from Rob, who volunteered for the HowChow blog slot during Wegman media days.  He took a long tour on Thursday, taking photos and collecting information.  Here is a primer before the big opening at 7 a.m. on Sunday --

I arrived early for a 2-o'clock appointment and was struck immediately by the size of this place.  The parking lot, two levels of it, is huge.  I parked my car on the lower level in the "eggplant" section.  As opposed to "A" through "Z", Wegmans chose to label parking with the names of fruits and vegetables.  It turns out that I did myself a favor and looked over the recently updated web site and found the parking guide which provided some good information about how to park on the upper and lower levels as well as how to move your groceries from the lower level to the upper.  Hot tip:  Do not try to take carts from the upper level parking into the store.  But you can use the the escalator on the left side of the store (as you face the front from the outside) to move your cart and yourself to the second level. 
There was quite a presence in the store when I arrived.  I spotted Colleen and Danny Wegman talking to the troops as I sought out my contacts.  I actually got a balcony shot of Danny and store manager, Wendy Webster, if you can imagine the quality of a picture taken by a blind, one-armed chimp.  Jo Natale, Wegmans' Director of Media Relations, and Cynthia Glover, principal of Smart Works marketing company, were my guides through the 135,000 sq. ft. store.  Did I mention the place is huge?  It is.   
The store was very active.  I arrived about an hour early and stopped in the Green Turtle for iced tea and to plan my visit.  There were probably 20 Wegmans employees there for lunch.  Apparently, Thursday was the day for employees to take it easy and enjoy all of the preparation for the opening.  When I arrived at the store, there were many employees hanging around the Market Cafe seating areas.  Some of the cafe sections were serving food for employees, but most of the perishable items, produce, seafood, etc, were not yet stocked.   There was an atmosphere of excitement.  Most employees seem genuinely enthusiastic about working there. 
Here are some bits of data off the top of my head
  • the Market Cafe has seating, both outside and inside, for over 400, including a kids' section on the 2nd floor, a section with cushy chairs by a fireplace, and outside balcony, but the best view for people-watching is on the second floor overlooking the store.  (You'll know it when you see it.)
  • Approximately 1/3 of the 2nd floor space is available for a tenant vendor; a beer, wine and spirits retailer has been proposed, but not yet approved, so the space is empty.
  • The meat department dry ages USDA Prime beef!  Is that even available anywhere else in HoCo?
  • The Club Pack meat is vacuum-packed and they say keeps in the fridge for longer than meat packaged at your average supermarket.
  • The various food bars all cost the same per pound so customers can move between sections.
  • Wegmans has the most extensive gluten-free section I have seen, including a frozen food section.
  • Fruit and vegetables can be cut to order, for any purpose - if you need veggies skewered for kabobs, you want your Brussels sprouts shaved, whatever; Wegmans has special, separate washers in the kitchen for cleaning fruit and vegetables; and they bring in exotic fruits.
  • The sushi bar offers sushi made fresh daily and color-coded - green for vegetable, red for cooked, and blue for raw.
  • There are 47 total check out stations throughout the store, 29 on the main line.
  • The Columbia Wegmans will carry every product offering available in the entire system; if they carry it, this store will have it; in other words, yes you can buy caviar at Wegmans and not the four-dollar brand that guarantees a gastrointestinal event.
  • The store has a glockenspiel clock that opens on the half hour with a rooster crowing; the rays of the sun on the clock light up to indicate the time; the farm depicted on the clock is the Wegmans R&D farm.
  • The seafood department is impressive; Ray, the seafood manager says that if the seafood is in season and available, he can get it for you.
  • Wegmans features "Made In Maryland" products throughout the store from local sources; we tasted some hummous flavored with Old Bay from a vendor called "The Wild Pea."
I am sure there is plenty I am forgetting at the moment, but you want this information now.  Come Sunday, you will be able to experience it for yourself if you are brave enough to fight the crowd.
Thanks again to Wegmans for hosting Rob and to Rob for writing up the tour.  Click here for all of Rob's photos on Picasa.  Rob took a long tour of the store so feel free to ask him questions in the comments.  He may know the answers.


Kat said...

Wow - this sounds like an "event" not just a regular trip to the grocery store. I actually dislike grocery shopping but maybe this will be a fun adventure. Looking forward to my first trip.

Marcia said...

And after the opening we'll be seeing the reports from people about the expense (yes, the prepared foods are not cheap. but they won't go into the "regular" part of the store to see that things there are quite reasonably priced), why do we need all those types of cheese, etc, etc.

Wegmans. You either get it or you don't :-) Can't wait !!

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan, especially of the heirloom tomatoes at $3.99 per pound. Great deal.