When my aging father moved from Virginia to Allentown, Pa., several years ago, I was elated. Sure, Allentown was farther away than Virginia and would make my weekend visits more difficult. But on the other hand, Allentown had a Wegmans.
When I feel the need to get away to the nearest wilderness for a weekend hike and head to the Shenandoah Valley, I make sure I take Route 29 going down and coming back. It's a little longer that way, but on the other hand, it takes me right by a Wegmans.
When I visit my grandchildren in Bowie, I'll occasionally leave a bit early. I'm sacrificing some treasured time with the kids, yes. But on the other hand, I can stop by the Wegmans in nearby Landover.
We Wegmaniacs think like that. Which is why, for me and many folks who live or work in Columbia, the opening this June of the Wegmans on Snowden River Parkway couldn't come soon enough.
If you're thinking maybe we have too much free time on our hands or could use an intervention, our only defense is this: We are not alone.
Since the Rochester, N.Y.-based company began adding stores in the late 1960s, first elsewhere in New York, then in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and, in 2005, in Maryland, Wegmans' openings have become events — hotly anticipated, stunningly well-attended.
Last September, when a Wegmans opened in Harford County, police and store employees had to direct traffic in the parking lot and the store was jammed all day long. Our sister newspaper, the Aegis, described the scene like this: "If you combined a grocery store's crowd on the night before a snowstorm plus the frantic feeling of Christmas Eve, you might begin to skim the insanity that was the store's opening day."
Eleven months earlier, when the aforementioned Landover store opened, people began waiting in line opening day at 4 a.m., and when the doors opened three hours later, some 1,500 shoppers were waiting to get in. The headline on a Washington Post column hailing the arrival dubbed Wegmans "the grocery grail."
Of course, that was Prince George's County, long considered — as the same Washington Post once put it — the "ugly stepsister" of the Washington area, a county hungry for anything upscale and trendy. Howard County has no such inferiority complex. And yet, the county is not immune to Wegmania.
The respected food blog HowChow has been waxing rhapsodic about Wegmans since the store was first proposed years ago. In a March 2009 blog, when construction finally appeared imminent, he wrote, "I'd bring a shovel to Snowden River Parkway if they'd let me help dig the foundation."
He even has a clock on his blog site, counting down the days, hours and, yes, the seconds until the Columbia Wegmans opens.
His enthusiasm has been matched by comments on his blog. A sampling of the comments:
"I can't wait for the Wegmans to open…"
"Wegmans is the best."
"I love Wegmans."
"Nothing compares to Weggies (as it's referred to in Upstate NY)."
Not that everyone is gaga about the stores. Some say they are too expensive, a contention that I, as a Wegmaniac and regular grocery shopper, find baffling and just plain wrong. Others argue that they are simply too big – two or three times as large as most grocery stores – and there's no doubt that if you don't like big stores, Wegmans is not for you.
And then there's the food workers union, which fights Wegmans, whose workers are not unionized, wherever they want to locate. (They fought the one in Columbia for years.)
For the unions, the absence of union workers is reason enough to dislike a company. For many others, that appears less troubling knowing that Fortune magazine has ranked Wegmans among its "100 Best Companies to Work For" for the past 15 years — and in the top five for the past eight years. The 2011 ratings came out last month; Wegmans was ranked No. 4.
But enough with the cold, hard facts. Bring on the vast array of cheeses and meats, the wide variety of both name-brand and Wegmans products sold in every conceivable shape and size, the restaurant with its food bars and sandwich shop and soup bar. Howard County is ready for a Wegmans.
As for me, I'll get to the Shenandoah a bit quicker and be able to spend more time with the grandchildren.