When I was growing up, I loved to go to the supermarket. It is an amazing place, a modern luxury most of us take for granted. For us as Americans, food comes from the supermarket. Beyond that, no one cares except when there is, say, a shortage of avocados or toilet paper.
In Rochester, NY, where I was born, going to the supermarket meant going to Wegmans. Two of the first logos I was ever familiar with were the Chiquita banana sticker and the Wegmans ‘W’ on our milk cartons. I don't remember any other grocery store besides Wegmans from that time in my life. Later, when we moved west and then south, I was surprised to discover there were no Wegmans supermarkets. I initially greeted these alien grocery stores with suspicion but eventually came to understand that it's a big country and not every company exists everywhere. It's the same with Del Taco or Jack-in-the-Box or Hardees or Carl's Jr. But I was a kid, what did I know?
I remember the Wegmans of my youth as being a very utilitarian place. Perhaps all grocery stores were then. Wegmans in Rochester was like Food Lion in North Carolina. I don't even remember the equivalent from out west. But it was a plain, straight-to-the-point sort of supermarket. Today, there are still those sorts of supermarkets. But then you have Whole Foods and Publix. Grocery stores have become more than just destinations for grocery shopping. They are eat-in and take-out restaurants. They are bakeries. They have wine shops and cafés. The Whole Foods location in Gowanus, Brooklyn has greenhouses on the roof and a beer bar with terrace dining and a kids play area.
Huge stores like Target and Walmart have gotten in on the grocery business as well, creating (what they would like to be) one-stop shopping for everything you might need.
Then there's Wegmans. Wegmans showed up in North Carolina a few years back and was apparently a big thing. There was similar buzz when Wegmans opened in Willamsburg in Brooklyn. At the time I didn't really understand it because my mental picture of Wegmans is from 1987.
Today I took my family to Wegmans.
First, I should say that this supermarket is easily the size of a Walmart or Target or Home Depot. As we entered the massive parking lot, I could see they had smartly set up an outdoor dining area. We parked the car, grabbed a very nice, sturdy, smoothly rolling grocery cart and went inside.
We were promptly lost. Right in the entrance is the produce section. I'm good with that. Aside from the super-family-size tubs of berries being sold, it was just like any other supermarket – or maybe a cross between a supermarket and a CostCo. Beyond the produce section, I didn't know where to look. One side was the mostly standard aisles of a grocery store – just longer, and more of them. To the other was a space large enough to park a jet, filled with specialty departments: meat, cheese, deli, bakery, sushi, prepared foods. There is a salad bar, a sub shop, a burger bar, a dessert section, a Mediterranean food section. Around the store are special displays for certain types of meals: one for taco dinners, one for pasta, one for a caprese salad or panzanella. One section of ready-to-to cheese plates. There is a whole wall just for different types of yogurt.
It can also get confusing. There is an aisle for pasta, but there is also a separate section for fresh pasta, and some pasta can be found both in the pasta aisle and the gluten-free aisle (not kidding) and in the ”natural foods“ section. Pesto was not with the fresh pasta or with the Italian foods or in the deli section but in the cheese area with other Mediterranean specialty items.
We spent quite a bit more time in Wegmans than we might have in Whole Foods or the Stop-n-Shop. Most of that was because we didn't have a proper map or GPS (grocery positioning system). We were left slightly dizzy but impressed. A store that size has a lot more variety than even Whole Foods, but there were also a few curious items not represented. The produce was quite good, nearly on par with Whole Foods. The selection of Asian food items was much better than Whole Foods but not nearly as good as Hmart.
All in all, our hope to find “one store to rule them all” and simplify our shopping trips might remain unfulfilled. However, Wegmans does seem to cover the most bases. It certainly beats having to go to Whole Foods and Hmart with occasional trips to Trader Joes. And yes, I realize how insanely silly my #firstworldproblems are.
It is nice to see that Wegmans has grown up. It gives me a weird, completely illogical sense of hometown pride, as if a friend from my childhood went on to make it big in Hollywood.