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The Western Hemisphere

Checking it out: Wegmans

A review on America's most-loved grocery chain

The+produce+section+at+Wegmans%2C+what+customers+see+when+they+first+walk+in
The produce section at Wegmans, what customers see when they first walk in

The produce section at Wegmans, what customers see when they first walk in

Photo By: August Lamb

Photo By: August Lamb

The produce section at Wegmans, what customers see when they first walk in

August Lamb, Web Editor

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The new 5th Street Station shopping center is home to many businesses; some well established in Charlottesville, and some new. There is no doubt however that the most-hyped attraction at the mall is Wegmans. The grocery store held its grand opening on November 6th, an event they claim was attended by over 23,000 people. The family-owned supermarket chain is rated as the best grocery in America, and as one of the top ten retailers to work for in the country.

Proudly situated with an almost heavenly aura behind a maze of parking lots, cars, and busy customers, this 120,000 square foot addition to Charlottesville’s healthy commerce area seems sure to impress. This review will be broken down into 5 categories: Quality, Price, Atmosphere, Location, and Service. I will also compare the grocery to the gold standard (the only standard) for all Crozetians, Harris Teeter. Let’s check it out.

We’ll start with quality. With Thanksgiving just behind us, it seemed an obvious choice to base this review on my family’s holiday meal. We eat the typical Thanksgiving dinner: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls, and a multitude of pies. Wegmans is most loved for their quality of food, and our experience over thanksgiving was great. The ingredients worked perfectly with our usual recipes, and the turkey was big, flavorful, and certified organic.

The other products we bought were either name brand or prepackaged, so a review for those is not necessary. Compared to our meals of years past, Wegmans is equal, and in some cases, above the food quality of Harris Teeter. Score: 5/5

Up next, price. The second attractive point of Wegmans is its prices. Many people refer to the store as “the affordable Whole Foods”, a store notorious for amazing food and sky high prices. In almost all cases, non-food items like toothpaste, cleaning supplies, and pet supplies were cheaper than I have seen in any other local grocery. With human food, I found that Wegmans beat out Teeter in every category except sea fare.

However, during my following visits, I found an asterisk in produce and meat prices: regular Wegmans produce and meats cost the same as those at Harris Teeter, but Wegmans organic foods are slightly more expensive. So if organic food matters to you, you might want to stick with Teeter. However, I should note that Wegmans claims that none of their meat products are produced with hormones or antibiotics, so if you’re fine with non-certified-organic food, Wegmans wins on price. Score: 3/5

Now on to atmosphere. This is where Wegmans loses some points, at least until all the hype dies down. I went to the store one week after its grand opening, and was confronted with a crowded and poorly designed parking lot, what must have been at least 1000 customers, and a grocery store the size of Lowe’s. It was impossible to not bump into anyone inside, and it had a confusing layout for a first time customer. With two sets of 19 aisles, a massive produce, dairy, meat, and bakery department area, I often found myself lost and overwhelmed amongst the hoards of bustling shoppers.

I can forgive Wegmans for this lack of good organization, confusing store layout, and unnavigable parking lot because it’s so new. As the employees gain more experience, and store operations are streamlined, organization and layout will improve. And the parking lot is not their fault anyway. Score: 2/5

Update: When I went back to the store on Black Friday, a risky maneuver, I was surprised with a grocery devoid of the crowds of past visits. While the majority of Charlottesville was off at stores like Walmart and Target, Wegmans looked like the Crozet Harris Teeter. I found this visit to be much more enjoyable. When all the excitement around the new grocery dies down and this level of crowd is the norm, I’ll be more inclined to take my business to Wegmans. Updated Score: 4/5

How about location? The location of Wegmans is pretty bad. On the south side of Charlottesville, it’s not close to, well, anything. Most Crozet residents won’t be shopping in this area anyway, and as a Charlottesville resident myself, I never go near 5th Street or the Downtown Mall to buy groceries, or anything for that matter. There are plenty of other good groceries closer to my house, like Harris Teeter and Foods of all Nations.

Why did Wegmans choose such a strange location? The answer is simple. There is nowhere else to go in the city that has room enough for such a massive store and all the parking it requires. This is also a factor in deciding the location for Lidl, an international supermarket coming to Pantops Mountain within the next few years. These two new stores are not conveniently located for Charlottesvillians or Crozetians, and it’s a shame because they have the potential to uproot our dependence on just average groceries like Kroger,
Food Lion, and Harris Teeter. Score: 1/5

Finally, Service. I have one word for the quality of service at Wegmans: Wow. It is rare that the employees at any store have such a dedicated and friendly attitude towards their work and their customers. All of my questions were answered with a genuine interest, and the employees couldn’t have been more friendly. Not to mention the skill level of their chefs and bakers. Also, their prepackaged food (which is delicious) is prepared in plain sight instead of in a back room or some far-off distribution center. I couldn’t be more impressed by the quality of service from Wegmans.
Score: 5/5

My final opinion is that Wegmans is a wonderful store, with great food, great prices, and great employees. However, I’d be more inclined to shop there if it was in a better location, and if it wasn’t so crowded. I’ll give it another try when the crowds die down. Let us know your opinion at The Western Hemisphere online, and join us again next time on the new segment: Checking it out.

Have you been to Wegmans? If so, how would you rate it?

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