There's an interesting dynamic between people, neighborhoods and grocery stores that, had I more time or inclination, I would like to explore further. Perhaps another time.
Suffice to say, you can tell a lot about a community by its grocery store(s). And with all the fuss surrounding the Wegmans, now seems like a good time to take a closer look at the source of the fuss.
Determined to find out just what a Wegmans is and whether its worthy of Columbia (or is it vice versa?), I set out last Sunday for Hunt Valley to see first hand how -- in this day, in this community -- a big-box development could actually rouse as many supporters as opponents.
I'm certainly not one to shy away from hyperbolic love for grocery stores, but some of the odes to Wegmans I'm hearing are making even me blush.
So, here, with pictures, is my take on The Wegmans Experience.
Unfortunately for the Hunt Valley Wegmans, it's in Hunt Valley, which now has one of those vanilla Town Centers -- basically a mall without a roof or, perhaps more fittingly, Disneyworld's Main Street without large stuffed animals. To say these projects represent some great advancement in community/retail planning and development is kind of laughable, but hey, people seem to like them.
Anyway, I didn't go to look at stores that we have in Columbia. I went to see this:
Let's take a look inside.
Hey, a "Convenience Case" with milk and butter right up front. That's nice, if a bit silly in concept for a store like this.
Although the size is a little overwhelming at first, Wegmans does a good job of clustering things to make the store feel like a collection of smaller, specialty shops. For instance:
Navigation, at least on Sunday, was tricky. Not only was it super crowded with many folks wandering around, mouths open, soaking up the enormity of it, but the middle lane that breaks up each aisle served mainly as a traffic bottleneck. Which was frustrating at times.
The "traditional" section had everything you'd expect to find at your local grocer, including, importantly, a healthy selection of Utz.
Despite the crowds, check out was quick, with plenty of lanes open and many without any line whatsoever.
I was less impressed with the total cost, however. Even with a bunch of store brand products in my cart, I easily spent more than I would for a normal trip to Food Lion or Trader Joe's. But unlike those stores, I can complete my entire shopping trip at Wegmans. (Ah, if only Trader Joe's sold Coke and Gatorade.)
The million dollar question, then, is: Will I do my routine shopping at Wegmans once it opens in Columbia?
Unfortunately, I can't say. Sure, it's big and nice and full of good food. But it's size, in my opinion, is actually a drawback. One of the things I like most about Trader Joe's is that its small and manageable, though it, too, can get crowded.
Also, when it comes to food, I'm a creature of habit. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you I have a very consistent diet. For instance, I've had the same lunch -- apple sauce, sugar snap peas (sometimes carrots), yogurt, crackers, chips, protein bar, pistachios, and some other random fruit (the wild card) -- for the past three years.
So, for me, what's the point of going somewhere that has everything I need and a million other things I don't? If I'm not saving money, am I at least saving time by making one lengthy stop instead of two shorter ones?
(Aside: An interesting anecdote that relates to elements of the controversy surrounding the Columbia Wegmans. Thrice, while eavesdropping on other shoppers (a bad habit of mine), I heard folks extolling Wegmans' treatment of its employees and how it is consistently ranked among the best places to work.)