Wegmans is expecting a line outside its doors when the Rochester, NY-based grocery emporium opens its first New York City store this weekend. But will New Yorkers used to bodegas and baskets embrace this wide-aisled, family-focused grocery mecca?
With 100 stores across seven states, Wegmans is as well known for its quality products at steep discounts as it is for its "Wegmaniacs," the legion of fans who remain loyal to their hometown store long after they move away.
But at a time when retailers are struggling to lure shoppers into their brick-and-mortar locations, how far can nostalgia carry a grocer into success in New York City when it is formatted for suburban living? It could be quite far.
Wegmans seems to be bucking the general trend -- it is expected to grow at a 4 percent annual rate over the next five years, according to business consulting firm Kantar.
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Wegmans is known to draw people from as much as 45 minutes away -- which, in the New York City area, equates to more than 7 million people, said Doug Steiner, CEO and founder of Steiner NYC, which developed Wegmans and Admirals Row in Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the new store is located. He said 10,000 shoppers a day are expected.
The store will have nearly 700 parking spaces, including a four-deck parking garage. Shoppers get free 90-minute parking if they spend $15. Inside, the store is enormous by Manhattan standards -- 74,000 square feet -- yet it is one of the regional chain's smaller locations.
The wide aisles are filled with a selection of best-sellers, from organic chicken broth at $1.99 to Greek yogurts for 79 cents. Near the entrance of the store is a coffee shop; food counters serving $7 personal pizzas, $12 meatless Impossible burgers, and fresh sushi; and a hot food bar. Up one flight of stairs is a restaurant-style seating area that overlooks the store, and a bar. It’s a slice of suburbia in Brooklyn.
“It could be [suburban shopping in the city], but it could be whatever you need it to be,” Jo Natale, a spokesperson for Wegmans, told NBC News. “We know that there will be new ways for us that people will shop here.”
Wegmans has partnered with Instacart for its Brooklyn location and, although e-commerce accounts for only 4 percent of grocery sales today, it makes up nearly one-third of total growth, according to a recent Nielsen report. But those online shoppers will make the trek to a brick-and-mortar store for fresh high-quality food at an affordable price. The firm found that online grocery shoppers spend 1.5 percent more in-store on fresh food than the average consumer.
Erin Lux, a resident of the Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesant, told NBC News that she has fond memories of driving to Wegmans with her college roommate. She plans to shop at the Brooklyn Wegmans once every couple of months as “a special occasion shopping trip, because it’s not super convenient to get to."
While it remains to be seen whether the suburban grocery store experience will take off in the heart of urban living, Kyle Chase, who lives in Manhattan's East Village and is a longtime Wegmans shopper, is optimistic about the store's success.
“Anyone I know who lives in Brooklyn loves the popular trendy thing, and Wegmans will turn into that," he said.