MIDLOTHIAN, Va. – Sunday morning every lone car on the interstate and along Midlothian Turnpike were all seemingly bound toward the new Wegmans opening, and probably two-thirds of them actually were.
The parking lot at 15201 Stone Village Way was already completely full by 6:50 a.m. and officers were directing traffic; the scene was much more like a Black Friday shopping experience than a grocery store opening.
There were cheers as people shuffled through the doorway for the official 7 a.m. opening. By noon, the throngs were still arriving, and with the line of cars waiting to get inside, Midlothian was more akin to an amusement park in late spring.
And with this day, the grocery experience in Richmond has changed, said many people who braved the crowds; at least 20,000 people were anticipated Sunday. The company said 24,000 people had already signed up for customer cards before the store even opened.
After all, this is the store recently named “America’s Favorite Supermarket."
A TASTE OF HOME
For instance, Lou Lippa, who, along with his friend Charlie Tinsely, sported shirts that read “It’s not just another grocery store, it’s a Wegmans!”
Lippa silkscreened the shirts the night before the grand opening. The Rochester-native doesn’t work for Wegmans, he has just been shopping there since the 60s. He was 14th in line Sunday morning, hoping to get a taste of home that he has so far only found at Wegmans – a 100-year-old family owned company that began in New York.
Lippa, along with the first four people who walked through the door, headed straight for the meats. Lippa was there to grab the Zweigle’s red and white pop opens, hot dogs made in Rochester, NY.
He also wanted a taste of Buffalo and grabbed the Sahlen’s Smokehouse dogs.
Vice President of Grocery, Mike DeCory, said that the backstock had to be brought up after the first four people scooped them all up.
“In every Buffalonian’s fridge is a Weber’s yellow mustard…” DeCory said. “We have a hole in the shelve where Chiavetta’s barbecue marinade, which is a upstate NY thing, is…we will have it back in tomorrow.”
Virginia Manuel came out to the opening for the event, but also said it is one of the few places she can find wines made in the Finger Lakes area.
New York-preferences aside, there were also an abundance of local options featured at the store. ‘
Here’s what else to expect from Richmond’s newest to open grocer.
Within 20-feet from the entry on The Pub side sat two big flats of local beer. A regional-heavy selection was also available in the Craft Beer section (no growler fills).
Almost every department features locally-sourced items, not unlike many grocery stores in the area.
There were tomatoes from Robby Dodd’s family farm in Mechanicsville and meat from Senterfitt Farms in Madison. The local coffee selection was not quite as diverse as many shops, but they did feature varieties from Blanchards.
The Pub drink menu even features a nod to Richmond’s minor league baseball team, with the Squirreltini.
Over 400 people are employed by the Midlothian Wegmans, and they hope to have around 550 soon, according to Café Manager Janine Gregory.
There were employees at every turn to help answer questions and point out information and hand out samples. DeCory said they had extra staff to handle the crowds and make a good first impression, but said they will always be well staffed, with a focus on customer service.
It was much like Disney World, with employees scooping up any stray trash and someone always there to quickly respond and guide a person to their destination.
It’s an 115,000-square-foot store, which is where the map and shopping app help customers navigate. For perspective, the Short Pump Kroger is around 91,000 square-feet.
Variety abounds, from Jamon Iberica ham – made of free range Spanish pigs that eat nothing but acorns months before slaughter -- at $98 a pound to a long aisle of Gluten Free products to shelves of vegan options.
There are over 3,000 organic products, the company said, with an entire section of organic meats.
The seafood/fish section was swamped with onlookers watching a massive Florida-caught swordfish being dissected for sale.
The company also sells bakery cakes that are free of artificial dyes; it makes for neat, muted colors that are derived from fruits and vegetables.
There are 14 bars for food, with a variety that includes soup, Taste of Asia, salad, fruit, chicken wings, hot food and a seasonal bar that features barbecue and accompanying side dishes. That bar changes at least four times a year, and the recipes are included in a catalog provided by the company.
“There are no secrets here,” said Gregory, and added that they want to help customers learn how to prepare the foods they can buy in store.
Gregory said they aim to have all bars completely full by 10:30 a.m. seven days a week.
Customers can find sushi, sandwiches, pizza and a coffee shop – and a separate check out line for Café Market items.
There is a section of meals that are assembled, but not cooked, which includes an extensive selection of seafood/fish options.
The prepared foods section, hot bars, bakery, meats, charcuterie and cheese sections take up a quarter of the store.
Also, whole rotisserie chicken is promised daily, and sells for $4.99, or over $13 for organic.
There are two bathrooms in the store and I only bring this up to talk about the hand dryers that are part of the sink unit. So when you finish washing your hands and look around for a towel, or dryer – don’t worry. It’s part of the sink!
It’s going to be busy there for quite some time because of interest. Many people said they drove there for the “opening event” and just to say they had been inside.
Equally, many people said they planned to be back.
“I think it’s going to change the market,” said shopper Bill Brown, who was there shooting pictures for fun.
Shopper Linda Jenkins said she was not a Ukrop’s fan, and was more interested in Publix opening – but still said she was there “looking for something new.”
As a lot of people will be.
The store is open seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to midnight. The Pub is open Sunday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. and Friday & Saturday
11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
This Midlothian store is Wegmans’ 89th store, and the eighth in Virginia.