Photo courtesy of Wegmans
News we’ve only dreamed of, news that seems too good to be true — Wegmans announced this morning that they would open two stores in the Richmond area, one in Midlothian and one in Short Pump. When asked (unofficially, by me) which store was on their shortlist to replace Ukrop's when the longtime grocery chain announced that it was entertaining offers for the company in 2009, Richmonders usually said Wegmans was their first choice.
The stores are huge, ranging in size from 120,000 to 140,000 square feet. (The new Kroger Marketplace at Staples Mill measures 123,000 square feet and the largest Martin's is 74,000 square feet.) They boast an enormous range of product (more than 70,000 choices, according to their website) from the usual grocery store items to fresh seafood, local and organic produce and a French patisserie (and that’s in addition to a regular bakery). The prepared food department is equally as extensive and varied.
According Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale, “We have been interested in the Richmond market for quite a while. It just took time to find the right site — and we found two.” One store will be located in Stonehenge Village Shopping Center (which is still in the planning stage) on Midlothian Turnpike, and the other is slated for West Broad Marketplace, on West Broad Street. No timeline has been set. Each developer is pursuing the needed approvals from Chesterfield and Henrico counties.
“It’s too early to talk about design,” says Natale. “But you can expect the same size and design as our other Virginia stores.” Local products will be a priority. “We’ll be partnering with regional growers to supply our stores,” she says. “We work extensively with [them] and the product is delivered directly to the stores during the local growing season.”
How will this affect the already competitive grocery market in Richmond? North Carolina-based Southern Season is slated to open in this summer at Libbie Mill. “It’s such an exciting time for the food world in Richmond, with the addition of all these great stores. … We can’t wait to be a part of the growing culinary scene,” says CEO W. Clay Hamner. “We are a great admirer of the Wegmans brand and it will be a great addition to the food scene.”
Those welcoming words might be because Southern Season is going for a different sort of customer. “We are a food and entertaining destination that sells the entire experience through the retail store, restaurant and cooking school,” Hamner says. They aren’t trying to be a one-stop supermarket: “We don’t sell grocery staples and Wegmans, Martin's, Whole Foods and other traditional grocery stores do a good job providing those items.” On its shelves, Southern Season focuses on more unusual, hard-to-find gourmet items for the dedicated food lover.
Kroger declined to comment on the announcement, but with the recent additional of its two larger Marketplace stores to the area, it’s clear the company is trying to stay one step ahead of the game.
And the rumors about a new Whole Foods opening in Richmond that have been swirling around for some time? Will it be on Broad Street? Is it slated for South Side? Is it coming at all? Whole Foods spokeswoman Katie Malloy could neither confirm nor deny the rumors. “We haven’t announced any new stores,” she says. “Typically, Whole Foods announces new stores in the financial calls that come out quarterly. The next one is scheduled for Tuesday, May 6.” And all of Richmond will await the news with bated breath.