Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Wegmans must be one amazing store or somebody may be exaggerating.

Posted by Ed C on Monday, October 8, 2007

I have never been to a Wegmans (I grew up with Giant Eagle and Thorofare.) So when I heard that Wegmans was looking to come to Columbia along Snowden River, my first reaction was “a what”, followed quickly by the general traffic concerns. However, the more that I read about the store and the reaction of the labor unions that are opposing it, the more I’m looking forward to it opening.

My goal when shopping is usually to get in and out as quickly as possible. I even try to gage the length of the lines when I walk in to decide if I need to keep below 15 items. And it really does not matter if its a Giant or a Safeway, whatever happens to be closest. So, the idea of a 160,000 sq. ft., multiple floor grocery store probably will not fit into my general shopping pattern.

The Baltimore Sun story Panel decision on Wegmans is appealed got me thinking how wonderful can this store really be? Well, according to Ellicott City resident and union leader Buddy Mays, it must be some store:

“What happens with these size stores, they draw from as much as a 25-mile radius. They can destroy any store in that path,” said Mays, president of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27, which represents grocery workers.

Really? That good? A 25 mile radius – in this area?

According to the Maryland Department of Planning, in 2000 the population density of Howard county was 983.4 per square mile (Anne Arundel – 1177.2, Baltimore county 1,260.1, Montgomery – 1,762.5 and Prince George’s – 1,651.1), so being conservative, let’s just use the numbers for Howard county. The area of a circle with a 25 mile radius is ~1963 square miles. That’s a population of ~1,930,414!

With nearly 2 million people that would be ~605,145 families (MD average family size in 2000 was 3.19). And a single Wegmans can destroy any store within that path? That is either (a) a really great store, (b) the other stores really stink, or (c) someone is over-stating things a little.

Another quote in the story that has me scratching my head. A second grocery store union group is also opposing the Zoning Board ruling that will permit the Wegmans on the grounds that it would open the door for other big-box stores:

“Big boxes don’t bring good, high-paying jobs. Ninety-nine percent of the people who live in Columbia don’t work in big boxes. [Those workers] can’t afford to live in Columbia,” said Torrey Jacobsen Jr., executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Retail Food Industry Joint Labor Management Fund.

First, I don’t think the high cost of living in Columbia is due to Wegmans (or Walmart, Target…) or any other “big-box store.” The unemployment rate in MD is ~4% (2.7% in Howard as of Aug 2007) so, Wegmans is going to have to pay a market wage that is competitive within the region if they want to get any workers.

In 2004, Safeway CEO Steven Burd said this in a Q/A with the San Francisco Chronicle:

Q: You paint a gloomy picture of what’s happening to the American worker. Is it inevitable that the standard of living for working people is going to fall?

A: I wouldn’t characterize it as a gloomy view. We’re in a unique business. I trust there are few industries and companies in the United States where you could get a job at age 16, and you could work your way through high school; if you wanted to, you could go to college and work your way through college, and you’d come out possibly as an assistant manager. We pay more for an assistant manager than anybody coming out of college with anything but an engineering degree. (Editor’s note: A Safeway spokesman put that salary at $45,000-$60,000.)

Q: Will your new workers be able to have middle-class lifestyles and aspirations?

A: Here’s what I think happens to the worker that is paid a market wage when they come in new: Unless they have the ambition to make this a career, they’ll probably work a couple of years (and) transition through. Some people like to pretend we can pay an above-market wage and somehow survive.

If these market dynamics apply to Safeway, why would they not apply to a Wegmans? Wouldn’t a Wegmans help keep the cost of living in Columbia lower?

And what does any of this have to do with the Zoning approval that was granted?

So, as one of those 99% in Columbia that does not work in a Big box, I’m looking forward to being able to shop in one.


35 Responses to “Wegmans must be one amazing store or somebody may be exaggerating.”

  1. Wegman’s is a high-end store, so it is not necessarily going to keep prices down. However, it will certainly bring in people from 25+ miles away. I’m already looking forward to this one so I won’t have to drive to the one in Hunt Valley…

  2. More Stores? said

    Now if we could just get a Trader Joes

  3. Ed C said

    The last I heard, Trader Joe’s is going to open within a few months (Nov?) at the new center (Gateway Overlook?) at 108 and 95. The Best Buy opened there in July and the Lowes is now open.

  4. AB said

    Yes, a Trader Joe’s will be opening in Gateway Overlook. I’m rather excited for the addition of and Wegmans (which is definitely is an amazing store).

  5. timactual said

    If they are going to draw from 25 miles around, they are going to need one heck of a lot of parking. And multifloor? It should be interesting to see how they handle the cart traffic between floors.

  6. Third Eye said

    Timactual- Ever been to a 2 floor Target? The one in Gaithersburg has special cart escalators. So cool.

  7. Mark said

    Must consume more.
    Need more stores in my town.
    Build more stores, please.
    Must consume more…

  8. timactual said

    “Timactual- Ever been to a 2 floor Target?”

    Nope. One floor of junk is sufficient for me. Cart escalators, eh? I was thinking elevators. That might be interesting to see. I wonder how they would look in a movie chase scene?

    “Must consume more….”

    That’s the spirit! Spoken like a true American! We are all Keynesians now!

  9. Andy Dufresne said

    Love the 2nd floor Target.
    Trader Joes is at 175 & 108 about 1 mile west of Route 1.

    Looking forward to Wegmans. Especially since Giant food is sucking big time. It’s becoming a ghetto grocery store.

  10. Del-v said

    Where was the resistance when the Wal-Mart opened in Columbia? That didn’t seem to bother the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 27. Wal-Mart is the nations largest retailer and is as anti-union as they get.

  11. General Zod said

    Andy Dufresne:

    What exactly is a “ghetto grocery store”?

  12. timactual said

    There is also a Trader Joe’s on Reistertown Rd. in Pikesville, just off 695.

  13. Susan Walters said

    I live right near where they are planning on building the Wegmans in Columbia and I am not happy about it at all.

    The traffic is going to be nightmare. I spoke with a friend who lives near a Wegmans and she said that Wegmans ignored the traffic concerns of residents in her neighborhood. Even though a traffic expert pointed out problems with the local roads and problems with their traffic study before they built the store. Now, she says there are accidents regularly near the store.

    While they might be pretty stores, I just don’t trust them or developers.

  14. Buffalo Guy said

    Like so many others in this area, I am a transplant from Western New York (home of Wegman’s), and now live in Ellicott city. I am thrilled about Wegman’s moving here. I really just don’t understand the paranoia surrounding a new grocery store. Is size really the issue? I work at a union print shop, and would be thrilled if we could prevent a new printer from opening it’s doors. But that would be illegal. The size/traffic argument seems like a shallow excuse to drive away formidable competition. C’mon, this is America, stop feeling sorry for Giant and Safeway and do what the rest of us have to do. Lower your prices, and provide better service. Competition is what made America, and in large part, the unions.

  15. cynthia vaillancourt said

    Like Buffalo Guy I also like Wegman’s – and I also have to shake my head at the thought process of using “the gomnt” to benefit the commercial interests of one company at the expense of free-market competition.

    And though I don’t think keeping large/new/good/attractive stores from providing competition is the way to do it —- I would dearly love to see the “village” concept of having the necessities of daily life available close to each neighborhood continue to succeed – in fact, be enhanced – for a number of reasons.

    Obviously it is more convenient to do one’s grocery shopping close to home – and it is more cost efficient to do those quick stops for milk and bread at a regular grocery store than at the “convenience stores”…. but from a “sustainable living”
    point of view – I would rather people be able to limit their cross county excursions for less frequent shopping trips (say, furniture, cars) and not end up in a situation where we all have to drive across the county for decent grocery shopping.
    As it is the dearth of decent restaurants in many of the “village centers” mean families frequently drive 20 minutes or more to go out for a “quick” dinner.
    Sure, 20 minutes isn’t really that far – but it is not the 3-5 minutes to the average village center — and when gasoline is $7 or 8 dollars per gallon – or we all just get sick of the waste and excess of driving all over the place for basic necessities – having truly local access will be valuable again.

    cindy v

  16. Doug said

    Hi, I happened upon this site and I live in Niagara Falls, NY. We have plenty of their stores in this area and you will love Wegmans. The stores look upscale, but the prices are lower than all of their competitors here. They make going to the store fun, this is coming from someone who hates shopping.
    Also, I see where someone mentions a second floor. The way they have them set up here is that the second floor isn’t a full second floor, but contains a decent amount of seating, they have a lot of prepared foods and a coffee bar, so the upstairs sections is basically for people to hangout out (yes, people actually do hangout at their stores), they also have bands and events in the upstairs area. It will be unlike any grocery store you have there and I think everyone will be happy after they open.

  17. jpw said

    the competion for consumers will be interesting and exciting to watch as wegmans opens a year later than the new harris teeter store in kings contrivance village. it can only be benificial to the consumer to have two upscale grocery stores vying for their dollars,as the stores will be only be three miles from each other.

  18. Ed C said

    The Trader Joe’s is no longer a rumor – It’s now open.

  19. Dave said

    If the area is zoned for commercial use, it is perfectly legal to put a Wegmans store there. Saying that traffic will be an issue is not going to keep someone else from developing there. Columbia is notorious for keeping commerical and residential zoning separate, so looking at the area where the store will be located seems to me to be far from any residential housing. I cannot see how somone could claim to live close to that store when there are no houses in the vicinity. The location in Hunt Valley is part of a huge shopping center, so traffic will inevitably be high in that area. I agree that the competition is great and also the Columbia area has never been given a superior grocery store, such as Wegmans, to help drive down prices and provide a great line of new products. The Snowden/McGaw intersection has already seen a lot of development with the Atlanta Bread Company/Greene Turtle/ZPizza Shopping Center, so I think the location is fine.

  20. Jess said

    I find it disturbing that so many people continue to support employers like Wegmans and Wal-Mart moving into communities. These stores seem attractive because of the size, and selection but what about the quality of life they offer to employees? Are the taxpayers not exhausted of paying health care for wal-mart employees? Union members not only have a fair wage, and health benefits but more importantly job security. What do Wegmans and Wal-Mart offer? Do they fulfill their promise to be good neighbors? Even more disturbing… After the stores have been built, the BMW’s, Lexus’ and other expensive cars that battle to find a parking space just to save a few dollars.

  21. Dorothy said

    I read that Balt. Sun article and the quote from someone that “lived nearby.” I’ve been in Columbia since 1974 and there’s not a residence anywhere near the proposed Wegmans so that’s b.s. I can’t believe Columbia hasn’t had a high-end grocery store in all these years. I’m tired of Safeway and Giant – bring it on!

  22. Buffalo Guy said

    Just had to correct Jess (Jan 4th)on a couple issues. I think it’s grossly unfair for people to compare Walmart to Wegmans. Primarily for the fact that Wegmans topped Fortune Magazines list of “Fortune 500 Companies – Best Places to Work” in 2005. Oh, and they were #2 in 2006, and #3 in 2007. Not too shabby since this list has some pretty impressive companies on it. I don’t think future employees of Wegmans will be complaining too much about benefits or working conditions.

    Also Jess – there’s nothing wrong with saving a few dollars. How do you think the people driving the Beemers and Lexuses were able to afford them in the first place.

    Cut and paste the following:

  23. Bello said

    Just wait! Wegmans is the best grocery store on earth, there is nothing that even compares! I grew up in Western New York as well, and I love Wegmans. Not only do they provide EXCELLENT products, but the service is OUTSTANDING! You will never have an unpleasant trip to Wegmans.

    With regard to the prices, yes it is a bit high end – but the price and the product are still extraordinary. I currently live in NYC and I drive to the New Jersey store in order to do my grocery shopping. Not only do I still save money (even after paying for gas and toll/bridge fees) but I always have a great experience there.

    You will LOVE the store, congrats on getting your first Wegmans.

    PS- I have been to Trader Joes, it doesn’t compare. Sure, its nice and certainly better than most grocery chains in this area, but it doesn’t come close to Wegmans.

    PPS- I don’t work for Wegmans, but I wish I did! They are one of the top companies in the country to work for! All you high schoolers out there, start applying now – they also provide scholarships!

  24. Dave said

    Jess, comparing Wal-Mart to Wegmans is like comparing Ponderosa to Morton’s. They both serve steak but the latter offers higher quality and customer service. My comparison doesn’t include price, but Wegamans manages to remain competitive with their prices as well, so their niche is offering quality products at a fair price. The success of 70+ stores in the chain demonstrates that they’ve appealed to customers’ tastes and their wallets. Buffalo Guy hit the nail on the head, they care about their employees and Fortune Magazine recognizes them on a yearly basis as being one of the top companies to work for. I can’t think of a better way to get involved in the Howard County community than to give the teenagers in this area a great start to their future careers. Seeing the quality of service from the Union workers at Giant has been pretty disappointing over the years. Also, the young people working there seem equally disappointed to be working there. The collegiate scholarship program that Wegmans offers is $1,500 per year in the form of a check to students who apply and meet GPA and working hour requirements in a given calendar year. My sister earned a scholarship for all four years of her undergrad which she used on tuition and books. So instead of collecting union dues from teenage workers as Giant does, Wegmans gives teenage employees a solid start to paying for school.

  25. nick said

    is this a joke? wegmans is the greatest grocery store, or retail store for that matter, in the world. its market wage is extreeeemly competitive for a retail environment.

  26. Mark said

    I’m closing in on 25 years as a Wegman’s employee. My wife (met her at Wegman’s) and I relocated to Northern Va. in 2003 to help open stores. We came down before the first store opened and could not believe the way consumers were being gouged, and for years mind you. I honestly thought we would have higher retails in an affluent area such as this. We did not , do not. I love hearing the reaction of people to our stores; product quality and the service we strive to deliver that we like to call Incredible. We are committed to maintaining and delivering to new markets the product we developed in upstate N.Y. I actually taught a seminar today four hours in length to a class of 18 to insure just that. The buildings are beautiful and clean but people like me are the real edge. I have no college but have been allowed to grow, in fact nurtured to handle more responsibility in the company. Bob Wegman passed away in 2006 and I wept. I still get choked up today when I have to talk about him. My wife also a Wegman’s employee, my two beautiful girls and I live in a single family home in Loudoun County. I’m a Meat Manager (Butcher at heart). The road is longer and harder without college but I continue to have opportunity. A Wegman’s store in your community is in great part your decision. I beleive we will take the path of least resistance. We are being aggressively courted in other communities, if you want us, you need to get organized and make yourselves heard. I have no personal agenda here, my pay check will be the same with or without your patronage. I hope I have helped some of you decide what side of the fence you come down on. Fears and concerns are natural but remember, the world was never flat no matter who believed it. I would like to thank our current fans and friends for helping me provide for my family. I look forward to making new relationships with some of you in the future.

  27. Chris said

    I can only say that most of those with negative comments about Wegman’s have clearly never set foot in one. A few random comments:

    1. Wegman’s is emphatically NOT a big box store. It’s just a big, wonderful grocery store. Customer service at Wegman’s is orders of magnitude better than anything you’ve ever experienced at Giant or Safeway. Those unusual ingredients for that Post food section recipe? The ones you can’t find anywhere? They’re at Wegman’s, and someone there can tell you where. If he doesn’t know where, he’ll find out. He might even walk you over there. And, strangest of all, he looks happy. If this reminds anyone of their local Giant, please let know where it is so I can take a picture of this oddity.

    2. I don’t understand ANY of the comments about the prices being high. They’re just not. Consumer Checkbook found Wegman’s prices to be 17% LOWER than Safeway and 19% lower than Giant (see this NBC4 consumer report).

    3. Comparing employment at Wegman’s to that at Wal-Mart is just plain silly. Wegman’s is consistently at or near the top of lists of best places to work. The ONLY thing that Wegman’s and Wal-Mart have in common is that they both start with ‘W’. Oh, they also each have seven letters and one punctuation mark.

    4. Drive 25 miles to go to a grocery store? You betcha. My wife and I routinely drive from Columbia to the Wegman’s Hunt Valley. It’s that good.

    5. “One floor of junk is sufficient for me”: first of all, the second floor isn’t for shopping. There’s nothing on the second floor at all that’s for sale. It’s for eating/resting/schmoozing. It’s attractive, comfortable, and very, very clean. And by comfortable, I mean comfortable, as in quiet alcoves with padded, upholstered chairs. I think it’s nicer than my dining room. Second, the stuff on the first floor isn’t junk anyway.

    Folks, the Internet is a wonderful thing, but you really should do some minimal amount of fact checking before posting. Posting stuff that is demonstrably false just makes you look foolish.

    No, I’m not a Wegman’s employee; never have been; have no financial or any other stake in this. It’s just a great store.

  28. Christian said

    I am a regular shopper at the Wegmans store in Hunt Valley and I love it. The prices are great and the employees really know the meaning of the term “customer service” which has been loosing ground in other retail establishments over the last couple of years. Wegmans stores are large but I cannot understand the concerns about traffic in Columbia.

    If traffic is a concern why are they letting every other large retailer build there? Traffic was also a concern for the Hunt Valley store but it really has not been an issue at all. I think the biggest issue with Wegmans is the fact that they are not a unionized organization and that has caused most of the unions to be against them expanding in our area. Just look at the quote at the very beginning of this discussion and who it is from concerning the traffic. I personally love the store in Hunt Valley and have a hard time shopping at other “normal” stores now that it has been there for a while. The prices are very good and I really wouldn’t let rumors of that scare Columbia residents away from supporting the store. There was recently a report on one of local news stations and Wegmans pricing was the second lowest to Wal-Mart with I think Giant, Safeway and Shopper being more expensive. Not allowing a Wegmans into Columbia will be the area residents loss! I am still amazed by how much power unions can still have. Evidently Wegmans treats their employees much better than other employers or the wouldn’t be able to stay non-unioned. I think they continually are in the Top 10 of the best employers to work for in the USA ratings done one of the big magazines.

  29. Sue said

    I live in WNY. I know of about 3 Wegman’s Grocery Stores near me. I’ve never been to the Niagara Falls store, which is just 10 miles from me. 2 stories? I’ll have to see that.

    Yes folks, people hang out and eat at Wegmans.

    I was shocked to see Wegmans compared to and called a big box store. Are you kidding? It’s a family owned grocery store which brings in customers with its theory of providing the best customer service.

    High end? Sure, if that means they have chefs and tours for healthy eating choices. So does Dash’s another WNY grocery store.

    Budwey’s another WNY Family owned grocery store, they know they are 2nd to Wegmans in providing quality service, but it means they are much better than Tops grocery, Dash’s and Quality grocery stores.

    People, it just seems to me that Wegman’s listens to customer needs, according to the area it is in. The problem with that?

    I wouldn’t step foot in a Walmart. Wegman’s is David and Walmart is Goliath. Get it? That’s real.

    Wegman’s keeps topping best place to work. We all know about Walmart employee problems and lawsuits.

    Welcome them or don’t. Visit Wegman’s or don’t. Continue shopping there or don’t. It’s up to you.

    Moms, get your high school aged kids applying to Wegman’s. They work around school schedules and they offer scholarships.

    Also Moms, Wegman’s offers childcare while you shop.

    Enough said.

  30. Laura said

    In NJ Wegman’s was a place I first visited with my mother to “see what all the fus was about.” It didn’t take me long to figure it out. Our new local Wegman’s was fantastically clean, large, and had anything I could ask for (including workers happy to help me find things.) Sure, it was usually crowded, but that was just a testament to how nice the shopping experience there really was.

    One of the best things for me (and my budget) was the monthly booklet of coupons Wegman’s sent after I signed up for their shoppers card. Every week there were two free item coupons, requiring only a $10 purchase. Even a single person buying the bare necessities will spend more than $10 on an average food shopping trip, and these free items were things I *actually* wanted and needed: bread, butter, apple juice, and other common foodstuffs most shoppers need.

    Fast forward to here and now: I’ve relocated to Howard County, and as the primary grocery shopper for my cozy family of three I was delighted with the prospect of having a Wegman’s to shop at once more. This place changes food shopping from a chore into pleasant experience, even if you’re just popping in and out for a few items.

  31. Lotsabogeys said

    Wegmans is a great store. I grew up in Central NY. It is a lot better than anything around here. Giant, Safeway, and others haven’t changed their business model in the 14 ys that I have lived in MD. They may move things around in their stores and put up some window dressing, but they still offer the same products.

    It is a shame that the local grocery store union is using a few local residents as puppets. Carvel Mays knows that he will never win an appeal without them so his union is paying their bills. One of the local residents called it an alliance, but they are just being used. I think that it is similar to a straw purchase.

    Some people are acting like a mall is going up and there will be bumper to bumper traffic all day long. I think the traffic issue is overblown.

    Eventually the Wegmans in Columbia will be built. Carvel Mays should spend his time getting his union workers to focus more on customer service. He could also try to get Giant and Safeway to improve their stores.

  32. Dukehoopsfan said

    Personally I cannot wait for the new Wegman’s to open. Their stores are spotless, well-stocked, innovative, and get this … staffed by people who want to help you.

    Maybe their presence will motivate the union leaders to rethink thier position and spend their energies working with Giant and Safeway to clean up their acts.

  33. Lola LB said

    I’m a resident in Prince Georges County and I just can’t wait for Wegmans to open here. I just found out that they broke the ground in Landover, which means hopefully PG Wegmans will near the end of 2009. There’s also supposed to be a Wegmans going up in Crofton which just about 10 minutes away for me but I’ve been unable to find out what’s going on there. Whichever opens first, I’m going to go to. Giant and Safeway are just 2-3 minute away from me and service is crappy there. The employees don’t especially look happy to be working there. I can’t find unusual meat cuts. Want to get exotic? You’ll have to go to Wegmans where they have just about everything. If we were rich enough to afford monthly trips to Hunt Valley Wegmans, we’d happily go there.

    Honestly, unions are just too fricking powerful and need to be cut down to size. They didn’t do anything for my husband when he had problems with the boss several yeas ago. He’s now working in a salaried position under a great boss and doing so much better than that lousy union job he had back then.

  34. Buffalo Guy said

    I was glad to see recently that the courts have again sided with Wegmans in Howard County. When will union employees that pay dues realize how much of their hard earned money is being wasted on attorneys, and fruitless appeals by their union leaders. If this blog is any indication, it’s easy to see the overwhelming positive response to a new Wegmans. (Predic. Bills 28 Skins 24)

  35. MLH said

    I am European and Wegmans has the stuff I like. Its bakery is amazing. I can’t wait for this one to open.

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