Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Palace of Consumption

My husband and I have just returned from the Grand Opening of a new Wegmans supermarket very near our home.  It is a huge building with a lot of amenities, which my husband instantly named "the Palace of Consumption."  Although I've been in Wegmans stores before, this is the first time I've really stopped to think about exactly what services Wegman's provides.  It's a pretty impressive array, which includes:
  • A restaurant and a food court right inside the store.  The restaurant includes popular foreign cuisines, such as Chinese and Indian, and both are open each night until 10 p.m.  The smells from the food court are wonderful.
  • A pleasant lounge to sit in while you eat your food court selections.  They have a free wifi network, though my spouse reports that it didn't seem to be up and running.  Yet.
  • Take out from all of the above in-store fooderies.
  • A full selection of designer beers for purchase.  This is an even bigger deal in Pennsylvania, where I live, because most supermarkets do not sell beers.  You need a special distributor's license to sell beer in Pennsylvania, which Wegmans apparently has taken the trouble to obtain. 
  • Amenities you can't get in most supermarkets, such as gelato (in the food court section) and truffles.  Not the candy, the actual fungus.  Granted, the truffles are imported, and cost $299 USD per pound, but they're there, if you want them badly enough to pay that kind of money.
  • Want to "eat local"?  Wegmans flaunts its marketing of local produce, much of which comes from no farther than central Pennsylvania (about 2 hours from the store) and some of which comes from West Chester (about 10 miles away).
  • Prefer to eat at home?  Wegmans publishes a free food magazine, complete with recipes about how to make great meals at home with the meats, produce and other products they sell.
  • Concerned about the environment?  Wegmans was giving away permanent, reusable polypropylene shopping bags to opening day attendees.
  • Handicapped?  Wegmans has a curbside service.  (Presumably you can sign up for it; I saw a sign at a service window, but didn't stop to check.)
  • Concerned about safety?  Signs proclaim that you can always get an escort back to your car; all you need to do is ask.
  • Prices?  Quite reasonable.  At worst, competitive with the local supermarket I usually patronize, and in some cases significantly cheaper.
In short, Wegmans has not only taken the trouble to sell good food at reasonable prices, and to provide a lot of service and conveniences, they are going the extra mile to send reassuring messages to its customers to make them feel comfortable shopping there.  For example, the women's restroom in the front of the store is spacious and is being kept meticulously clean,  It uses the store's brand of foaming hand soap (available for purchase right outside the restroom).  This not only says, "we care about our customers," it also says, "we believe in our own products." 

This combination of amenities, products and service may be a new development in the history of the supermarket, and in food history in general.  I suspect Wegmans will do very well.

EDIT:  There's two other amenities we've noticed on subsequent visits.  One is that their ATM machines only charge $1 USD for a withdrawal--much lower than most ATMs around here.  The other is that their in-store restaurant, the Pub, has a no-tipping policy.  (On the other hand, the Pub lists calorie counts for each dish, and has limited portion sizes as a consequence.  I'm not sure which way that cuts.  On the one hand, I'm trying to lose weight--but I finished my last dinner there still hungry.)

SECOND EDIT:  Still more amenities.  1)  A large newsstand with a great variety of magazines not commonly found in supermarkets, such as Threads and Victoria; 2) A display of portable umbrellas on sale near the exit.

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