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.