Previously held by their Downingtown (northern suburb of Philly) store according to one of their managers.
This afternoon at 3:00 PM their parking lot was completely full and all 34 registers were open with lines 6 to 8 deep at each one. At 9:30 PM the lot was one third full and ten registers were open.
My stops were before and after a short business trip with the second stop allowing me to spend quite a bit of time in the store, for the first time really exploring it without literal waves of humans bearing down on me in aisles!
Over the past twenty years I've had an obsession with grocery stores and have indulged this with business travel throughout the U. S. and Europe. In the evening I've sought out wine shops, grocery stores and restaurants, all in an effort to both relieve boredom and capitalize on travel to explore interests. From the approximate 110,000 square foot Auchan in Val d'Europe outside of Paris (second best store I've been in)to Stew Leonard's to Byerly's to Woodman's to Larry's and hundreds of others I've been in a LOT of grocery stores. This includes about 12 or 13 Wegman's.
I am now convinced that the Wegman's Dulles store is the best grocery store I have ever been in. Tonight for the first time I tasted olive bread from their wood burning brick bread oven, $33.00 a pound chocolate that was actually a bargain (!), Serrano ham along with a taste of one of the TWO kinds of proscuitto they have (Parma and San Daniel)while slowly, studiously walking down every aisle in the store. This afternoon I spent five minutes encircling their approximate 60 item hot food bar, picking up tastes of 8 different Chinese and Asian dishes, all sellng for $6.99 a pound. I spent a lot of time in their produce department, explored pasta sauce, noted Weber's horseradish mustard was already sold out along with Syracuse red hots also sold out (forgot the name of the manufacturer)(not Zweigle's). I even noted the various out of town newspapers they sell in the front of the store.
I also filled out a form asking them to carry violane nano and carneroli arborio. They do carry an artisinal Spanish arborio that I am not familiar with. The next time I make paella I will use it.
I am convinced their produce is the equal of any Whole Foods that I have been in, their various meat cases and the variety as well as their pricing sets a new standard for our area, the cheese shop is better, perhaps much better than I originally thought-overall at least equal to, again, any Whole Foods. They also have the best selection of bottled pasta sauce that I have seen anywhere in the D. C. area.
Still, they do not have any artisinal pasta from Italy. Grains, in general, are no better than a larger Giant. In fact there are a number of canned and bottled foods that I was surprised they did not have. My guess is that they just don't stock them and lack the shelf space to compete with Whole Foods or Sutton Place on many of these. Dairy was weak with only three or four kinds of butter, none of which was organic. Nor did I see Chrome Dairy or Lewes Dairy products. Where they do directly compete is in baked goods (excellent bread comes out of that wood burning oven!), deli, cheese, meat, wine (yes, wine-not to Total but to Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and Sutton all of whom they are far superior to and much less expensive. Much of half of the store is laid out as an European market with a very sincere attempt to capture this ambience. This is where their strength is and, for me, what their reputation is based on.
I find it surprising that no one else in America is building stores like this. (I've been in the Plano, TX market which is smaller than Austin's City Market and still prefer this much larger Wegman's.) Wegman's has perfected a formula which works in every city and every small town they have gone into. Basically, whether Publix, Harris Teeter, Schnuck's, Kroger, Ralph's and all others are playing dead, leaving the market wide open for them to come in and take significant share from them. And dying is exactly what many stores do in the towns and cities that Wegman's has entered.
No one else seems to want to "gamble" on 135,000 square foot plus stores with this level of quality as well as the materials they use to build the stores with. Because of this Wegman's is free to grow north, south and west from Rochester which is exactly what they are methodically doing. From Allentown their next entrance is into the New York metropolitan market (they are already in Woodbridge), from Erie into Cleveland and from here they'll go after Ukrops in Richmond.
As long as they do not change their operational philosophy and their pricing structure they will be welcomed with open arms by me. This is one company that I sincerely hope remains private and under the vision and direction of one man without the influence and demands of a board as well as Wall Street. For now they are a gift to the entire area and to wherever they go.
I applaud Danny Wegman and thank him for coming to my home town, Washington, D. C.