Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Wonderful World of Wegmans

Wegmans #77
220 Highland Park Boulevard, Wilkes-Barre, PA

     This Wegmans opened on November 6, 1994 as part of the company's first batch of stores in Pennsylvania (which also included locations in Dickson City and Erie). Other than some minor refreshes over the years, this store really hasn't changed a whole lot in its 24 years of operation.

     Welcome to Wegmans everyone! For this post we will be taking a look at the chain that goes back and forth with Publix as the country's most beloved supermarket. While Wegmans and Publix are continually compared to each other due to their similar takes on high customer service standards, quality grocery offerings, insanely loyal fans, and pricepoint, the actual experience of going to a Publix compared to going to a Wegmans couldn't be any more different. As Sunshine Retail (a native New Yorker) commented, "Wegmans is way better than Publix, in my opinion. I wish they would come down to Florida, but I assume that's just a pipe dream for now." While a typical Publix is between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet, the typical Wegmans is over 100,000 square feet. Wegmans also has a very large prepared foods area, much larger than that of the average Publix. Also, Publix takes on the model of being a neighborhood grocery store, while Wegmans has more of a destination shopping appeal. While I could probably compare and contrast Publix and Wegmans all day in much more detail, I'll keep it at that for now. How about we just get into the photos and see what makes Wegmans so special?...

     While this store never saw much updating in the last 24 years, one of the largest refreshes to this store came during the Summer and Fall of 2016, where Wegmans completely repaved the parking lot, updated their exterior logo, added some fancy new cart corrals, and did some other general maintenance on the building (the interior really wasn't touched much during that remodel). In this (somewhat blocked by cars) photo, you can see what the exterior of this store looked like prior to the 2016 updates. Along with the old logo being switched out for the current one, the "food" sign was also removed during the 2016 update, although the older style "pharmacy" sign was kept, just re-centered as you can see in the more recent photos. Flickr member B-More Retail happened to capture the sign swap in action at the Williamsport, PA Wegmans, which you can see in this photo.

     In this photo we have a look across the front of the store. This is the typical design of most Wegmans stores built throughout the 90's, although I believe this design may even date back to the late 80's as well, when Wegmans began to push their store size larger and larger into the superstores they are known for today. Behind those arched windows is the entry vestibule into the main store.

     Over on the right side of the store is the Wegmans Market Cafe, which is the name they give to their extensive prepared foods selection. The Market Cafe (in the typical Wegmans, like this one) consists of a sub station, pizzeria, sushi bar, coffee shop, a variety of hot food bars, and prepackaged meals, in addition to a large seating area. Some Wegmans stores have fancier options (such as a burger bar), and they have also experimented with a full service sit down restaurant as well.

     As we approach the front of the building, we see the side entrance that takes you directly into the Market Cafe portion of the store. However, we will be entering the store through the main entrance behind me.

     Stepping inside, here's a look across the large entry vestibule. In addition to being used for cart storage, this area is also used to house displays of sale and promotional items.

     Welcome! is what the overhead sign greets us with as we turn the corner into the main store.

     Conveniently enough, there was a stack of these store maps lying by the main entrance. This should hopefully give everyone an idea of how this large place is laid out. As you can see, the right side of the store is home to all of the fresh departments, while the left half is home to the grocery aisles. PlazaACME commented here that this store has "a bit of an unusual layout. Usually, produce is located between the pharmacy and bakery departments, which are on two different islands." to which catnapped retail central clarified as, "I think it's basically the prototype they used at the time which has long since been changed in later stores. Even though these were the first two (Wegmans) stores I'd been to, they look strange inside compared to the newer ones. Someone asked somewhere (FB?) if either of them would be remodeled at some point and the response was not in the foreseeable future." If you'd like to see the layout of any given Wegmans store, as Jeff/Jeffery/Hey you! commented, "Wegmans has these maps online as well. Just visit the store page and click store layout if you'd like to compare it with other Wegmans locations."

     As you first walk into the store, you are greeted by the large (and usually very busy) produce department. While this store is usually packed, the right half of the store (where the prepared and fresh foods departments are located) is especially crowded most of the time, which doesn't make for the easiest photo taking in the world.

     An overview of the produce department, this time looking back toward the entrance. As you can probably tell by all of the signage in this photo, Wegmans carries a large selection of organic products, something which they have become famous for. That red wall you see in the back left of this photo is the Wegmans Coffee Shop, and is the direction we will be heading in for our next few photos. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "$6.99 isn't too bad for that large container of organic nectarines. This is a nice older Wegmans, and it reminds me of a larger version of the family-owned Ward's Supermarket in Gainesville. Besides Wegmans and Acme, what other chain grocers operate in Pennsylvania?" Wegmans' pricing really isn't that bad on most basic grocery items, although some of their prepared food and specialty items are a bit on the pricey side. And since he asked, here's a brief synopsis of the grocery stores in PA (this might be helpful to others unfamiliar with the area too): Pennsylvania has three rather distinct regions when it comes to grocery stores - Northeastern PA (where this Wegmans is), Southeasterm PA (Philly, Harrisburg, Allentown, etc.) and Western PA (Pittsburgh, Erie, Altoona, etc.). Southeastern PA has ShopRite, Acme, Weis, Redner's, Giant-PA, and Wegmans as the big grocers in that area. ShopRite is the largest around Philly, with Giant-PA ruling the rest of SEPA. Also near Harrisburg are a decent number of ShurFine stores. Western PA is essentially ruled by Giant Eagle, to the point where they're pretty much the only grocery store out that way other than Walmart, with Wegmans on the fringes of that area in Erie and State College. Western PA also has a second grocery chain called Shop and Save, which is nowhere near as powerful as Giant Eagle, and the parts of Western PA near the NY border also have a few Tops locations. Northeastern PA is a bit odd. The big chains in the Southeastern part of the state (ShopRite and Giant-PA specifically), never made it very big in that region, and have only a handful of stores there. New York's Price Chopper, ShurSave, Wegmans, and Weis are the predominant stores in that area, although Redner's also has a small presence there. There's much more detail I can go into of course, but that's essentially the summery of the supermarkets in PA. As YonWoo replied to all of this information, "That's neat to learn about all of those stores! Thanks! Now I'm getting a better understanding about all of these other grocery store photos I'm seeing posted by other retail guys on here. Gosh, Pennsylvania is like 3 states in one!" Yes, there much more to keep track of with grocery stores in Pennsylvania than their are in Florida!

     In this photo you can see "The Buzz", which is the name of Wegmans' in store coffee shop. Beyond The Buzz (in the blur, sorry about that) is this store's newest addition, the Wegmans Wine Shop. Unlike in Florida (where anyone can get a liquor licence if you put up the money for one), the state of Pennsylvania used to have a complete monopoly on the sale of wine and hard liquors in special "state stores". However, in 2016 Pennsylvania finally allowed for privatization of wine sales, which meant any grocery store in the state that wanted to sell wine could apply for a license to do so. Wegmans took full advantage of that, and I'm pretty sure every one of their Pennsylvania locations will be getting a wine department with this change now in effect. As PlazaACME commented, "I know all of their stores near me have it. The state stores still have most of the control over sales. The stuff at the supermarkets is only sold in limited quantities at a higher price." It figures the state wouldn't give up their monopoly too quick (I'm sure they make a ton of money from it), but I feel this is at least a step in the right direction.

     One of the busiest parts of the entire store is the Market Cafe, which can be seen here. In the foreground are some of the many hot food bars, and in the background you can see parts of the pizza shop, sub shop, and the beer department. The seating area (which I didn't get a photo of) is to the left of the sandwich shop, where you can see the tops of two windows. In newer Wegmans stores, instead of shoving the seating area in the corner of the cafe, they place it on a second floor mezzanine above this area, which I think would make for a nice effect. PlazaACME provides us with some more information on how Wegmans designed the seating areas in their stores: "The seating areas are a little weird. Later 90's stores have the second floor mezzanine, but they switched back to first floor seating in the 2000's. They are now more like legitimate restaurant seats now, a huge step up from seats in the corner. Even more recently, they have been building pubs in the stores, as well."

     A sampling of the many prepared foods that could be found in the Market Cafe. I believe what I have pictured here are some of the Asian dishes.

     Moving away from the Market Cafe we see the deli counter, as we begin to turn into the back right corner of the store. Also visible here is the catering station, and in the background is the Mediterranean bar and cheese department.

     To add to the "fancy" aspect that Wegmans is known for, they also have a charcuterie here. Don't feel bad, I had to Google what a charcuterie was too! Essentially, it's a fancy French term for a place that sells cold cuts. As Retail Retell commented, "Yep, thanks for the definition link XD" Now if only Wegmans had one of these, they'd really be one fancy place! However, as I later found out, Wegmans apparently does have a patisserie at some stores They really are that fancy! After discovering this, Retail Retell commented, "Ha! Of course they would XD No wonder they're always in a battle to be ranked America's best supermarket!"

     The bakery is located in an island that marks the boundary between this store's fresh departments and the grocery aisles. The pharmacy (which I didn't get a photo of), is also located on this island, behind the bakery. Produce is located behind the shelves you see on the left side of this photo.

     Looking from the front of the bakery toward the back of the store. The bakery prep area takes up the entire side of this island. The front part of the island (closest to the registers) is where the breads are prepared, while the back part is where the cakes and sweets are made and decorated. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "Wow! This would blow away Publix's bakery! Did you happen buy and try any of their breads while here? Their bakery looks pretty top notch!" They're bakery is good (and large!), but can be pricey on some things (like Publix). There's one type of Italian bread that we always buy here that's really good, but I can't think of what the exact name of it is. I know it when I see it though. They also have good rolls here.

     A random photo I took of some of the bulk cookies for sale at the Wegmans bakery.

     Another photo looking from the front of the bakery toward the back, this time taken from further down.

     The meat counter is located behind the bakery, with the seafood counter just out of frame to the right. Unfortunately, the Wegmans Express just so happened to be passing by the 'Meats' sign when I took this photo, but the Wegmans Express is probably a bit more unique than a supermarket meat counter! Speaking of the Wegmans Express...

All Aboard the Wegmans Express!

     One of my favorite things about this Wegmans has always been the train that circles around the back of the bakery here. Most Wegmans stores have one of these trains, although the shape of the track and location of the train in the store varies by location. The train in this store travels in an 'L' shaped loop past the bakery, Nature's Market, and meat counter. This is a quick little video of the train as loops its way through the bread alcove behind the bakery.

     For the remainder of our time at Wegmans, we'll be spending it in the much calmer grocery section of the store. This is looking across the back of the store, from where the general merchandise section is toward the left side of the store. The dairy alcove is located to my right.

     Wegmans has a very large general merchandise section, which I guess would be expected in a 100,000+ square foot grocery store. In addition to cookware , dishware, and kitchen gadgets (like can be found in most grocery store's general merchandise sections), Wegmans also has a decent sized selection of seasonal merchandise, toys, books, and other housewares. In this photo you can see the Wegmans Reading Center, where one can find a rather large selection of books and magazines - in addition to some comfortable chairs where you can sit and read. 

     Behind the Wegmans Reading Center is the seasonal department, where patio furniture was on display for the summer season. Behind the patio furniture was home to the cookware and dishware. You can also catch a glimpse of the Pharmacy in the background of this photo.

     Behind these wooden crate displays is the Home & Entertaining section, which is where the cookware and other household items are kept.

     Wegman's rather large bulk foods section can be seen here, which takes up the back ends of aisles 9 and 10. The bulk foods section at Wegmans consists more of nuts and candies than healthier bulk options like oats or granola. One of the only major reconfigurations to this store's layout was the moving of the bulk foods from behind the bakery to this location, which was probably 7-8 years ago now.

     Another photo taken from the back aisle, this time looking back toward Health and Beauty, Meats, and the Bakery.

      Throughout the store, Wegmans has various signs advertising their "Family Pack" and "Club Pack" value products, which is one of their largest promotions. This is Wegmans' take on Sam's Club, where they offer bulk amounts of a product at a lower price. While most of the "Club Pack" items are mixed in on the shelves near their normal sized counter parts, Wegmans also has special "Club Pack" sections of the store, where they place extra pallets of their bulk merchandise.

     The very neatly stocked tea and juice aisle.

     Pet supplies take up the second to last aisle (aisle 19), with the last aisle (aisle 20) home to paper products.

     The front left corner of the store is home to frozen foods, which are located in an alcove.

     Looking across the front of the store, from frozen foods back toward the pharmacy and the registers.

     A view across the front end, with some of the registers visible to the left. The pharmacy island is located just out of frame to my right.

     Another look toward the registers. There are a total of 22 registers in this store, which may seem like a lot for a grocery store until you realize just how big a Wegmans is.

     Another look at the registers. One thing to note here is that Wegmans has on-demand express registers, some of which can be seen in this photo. The second panel below the number has another light, which when turned on illuminates a message like "15 Items or less" or such. Based on the day, Wegmans can vary how many express registers are available by switching on the second light, which I thought was an interesting concept. As PlazaACME commented, "There are a handful of supermarkets up here that have that. I guess I never noticed that not many places outside of the area did that." Nobody in Florida does this, which is what probably made it stand out to me (but then again, there isn't a wide variety of supermarkets down here either!).

     To wrap up our Wegmans tour, here's a look across the front of the customer service counter, located in front of the registers. To those of you who have never been to a Wegmans, visiting one of their stores is definitely an experience, especially for the first time. Wegmans really runs a great store, and I highly recommend visiting one if you even happen to be near one!

So until the next post,


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