Specialty stores aside, New York City has never been a magnet for top-flight grocery chains. Bodegas and cramped, compact, and overpriced food stores are often the norm in many neighborhoods. Blame high real estate prices for some of the woes.
For years, in fact, many of the lowest-rated food stores in Consumer Reports’ supermarket surveys were located not just in the New York metropolitan area, but in the East as a whole. The arrival of national players like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Costco helped invigorate the local landscape, as did the expansion of small fresh-food-focused chains like Fairway. But the city was still in search of a regional superstar. Until last week.
Wegmans, which our subscribers recently ranked as America’s top grocer, a position it’s held for a decade, is coming to Brooklyn. The 85-unit, family owned chain based in upstate Rochester, has more than half of its stores in the central and Western parts of New York. Sixteen are located in Virginia, around the Washington beltway, and the rest are scattered across Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Wegman’s New York City store will be in the historic but deteriorating Admiral’s Row at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is undergoing extensive commercial redevelopment. The redeveloped Navy Yard complex is expected to open in 2017. Wegmans says no date has been set for the supermarket’s opening.
What makes Wegmans a standout is the chain’s outstanding perishables, cleanliness, and superior service coupled with reasonable prices. Usually, there’s more of a tradeoff between price and quality. The stores with the top-tier produce, meat, and prepared foods, for example, typically charge a lot. Whole Foods is a prime example.
The proposed 74,000-square-foot store, although much larger than the typical supermarket, will actually be smaller than most Wegmans, which average 100,000 to 140,000 square feet. Still, it will be huge for this community. The company plans to initially hire 450 employees, including 150 full-timers. Wegmans projects the number of full-time positions may grow to as many as 250. Wegmans tends to hire more workers than many stores because of its emphasis on service departments and prepared foods, which require additional labor.
Why make the move to the Brooklyn, and why now?
“We have stores in New Jersey and have wanted to open a store in New York City, but finding the right site took a while,” says Jo Natale, Wegmans vice president of media relations. “The former Brooklyn Navy Yard site is being developed by Steiner NYC, a developer we worked with for our Bridgewater and Manalapan, N.J., stores.” The fact that the location is accessible to so many shoppers—and with plenty of parking—made it even more attractive, she says.
The key question, of course, is whether this is a one-shot deal or it signals an intended larger Wegmans presence in the region.
“We need to get this store up and running before we can take another step, and right now, we don’t have a timeline for construction or a projected opening date,” Natale says. “And, again, New York metro sites that meet our criteria, even with a smaller footprint, are hard to come by.”