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Posted August 25, 2012

East Ave Wegmans Changes

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Rachel featured a piece about the East Avenue Wegmans this week on The Rochesterian that drew a lot varied comments. Comments like: "This big huge store is changing the character of the neighborhood." "Oh, like what was there before was aesthetically pleasing," etc. This is our neighborhood Wegmans, so I thought I'd add my thoughts to the mix.

I am not a native Rochestarian. Having grown up far from where there was a Wegmans and lived in a big city where the chain had not yet reached, I was an outsider to the loyalty and wonder of Wegmans. When we decided to move here a few years ago, the second thing people would say about it (the first being predictably, of course, the weather) was "Ooooo... you get to shop at Wegmans!" These are the same friends who would road trip to the new Wegmans built an hour and a half away in the 'burbs of Virginia; a dozen or so even arrived at 6AM for the grand opening.

When we first moved here, I went to the closest Wegmans on East Ave. "Have you been to Wegmans, yet?" the voices on the other end of the phone would say.

"Um. Yes."

"Don't you love the olive bar and all that beautiful produce that you don't have to go to 3 stores to find."

"Um. Yes?"

I confided in my mother-in-law that I didn't understand all the hooplah and was sure I missing something. She quickly said, "Here are directions to the one in Penfield." I went there for my next grocery run and found that I could -- what? -- have them babysit my kids while I shopped. Well, now. I was beginning to understand. I happened into the Pittsford Wegmans a couple weeks later and it was as if there were little birds offering to hold my coat and get things off tall shelves for me. It was a magical wonderland. Yes, yes. Now THIS is what people were talking about!

I did my shopping, forgot the olive oil, but didn't have time to trek way over to aisle 92 again, so ended up buying a $17 bottle squeezed from peaceful free roaming olives grown on happy trees sold in the nature aisle near the entrace. It was a fair trade (no pun intended) for what I would have paid if I was late picking up the kids from preschool.

So while my neighbors and I are not looking forward to losing our efficient easy-in-and-out store, we are looking forward to being able to get more of what we need there

So I understand now. Wegmans has taken the grocery shopping experience to a new level. I used to have to go to 3 different stores for the things I can now purchase in one trip at Wegmans. And Wegmans is an incredible success story for Rochester. It's clean, well-stocked, has a great variety, and some of the best customer service I've experienced. And I also know it isn't perfect.

We are committed to local food purchases, so we get almost all our produce and meat/poultry from our summer and winter CSAs and local memberships. We shop Wegmans for staples mostly. But we have kids. We have to stop in for things at least twice a week.

The East Ave Wegmans is our neighborhood store. It's quick, easy and we know its quirks (and there are a lot of them). It appears to be the last truly urban store too (see our post about this), which I think is worth note. So I understand the mixed emotions being bandied about as the walls of the new store loom over the intersection at East and Winton.

When we first moved here, we heard about the proposed improvements to the East Ave store. And I did want to see some improvements, honestly. The original plans were for a much bigger store and a final "compromise" was reached between Wegmans and those wishing to preserve the character of the neighborhood by avoiding a big suburban style store. The final design still looks like a suburban style store, but on a smaller scale. It lacks the urban design flair I hoped to see and will have a big obvious mall-like parking lot, but still will be better than the store that is there now (my opinion; not shared by everyone).

I love how quick and easy it is to get in and out of the East Ave store. It's old school. And that comes with upsides and downsides. It's an efficient size; you don't need a map to get in and out of there. But you also can't take your kids with you in the store and walk down the aisles while another person tries to pass you. And things aren't stocked there that are in other stores, simply because there isn't room.

So while my neighbors and I are not looking forward to losing our efficient easy-in-and-out store, we are looking forward to being able to get more of what we need there (and not having to visit a suburban store for those things).

The design -- I, like many people, are shocked by the wall of building that has recently taken shape at the intersection of Winton and East. But it wasn't a pretty intersection before. I do wish the design would have incorporated more urban walkability concepts (and more windows) to inspire other developers around the new store to do the same. But I'm hopeful that the new store will spur the right kind of improvements around it (and we will all need to be active participants to make sure the right kind of urban development occurs, of course).

So, as I watch the first big Wegmans walls go up, I understand the mixed emotions. But I'm keeping an open mind, because I want to continue to be able to shop in my own neighborhood instead of having to go to the burbs.

Written by: Renee
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  1. gravatar
    Pete Tonery

    The City of Rochester has strict zoning regulations regarding new businesses building of street fronts. The have a very high requirement of "transparent" walls facing onto the street- meaning that most of the frontage (50%?) must be windows. If you drive behind any Wegmans you'll find two story solid block construction broken up only by loading docks and a few small windows for offices and/or staff rooms. Traditionally, the three non entry sides of every Wegmans looks like classic Soviet era prison construction. The cheesy facades Wegmans is offering their East Ave customers is cut from the Wal Mart mold, "Faux Village."

  2. gravatar

    I'm not thrilled about the design either, Pete. The company could have done something really unique in this city location. I was hoping for something that would be more urban and pedestrian focused that would encourage others to follow and create a walkable stretch of commerce there. I don't think "it's prettier than what was there" is a good excuse either. We need to encourage new urban smart, long-standing design thinking. But I understand the mixed opinions. Those of us who frequent the store are looking forward to being able to get more of what we need (instead of driving out to another store every-so-often to fill the gaps) in our neighborhood. But the design could have done more to encourage a more walkable area that fit in with the character of the neighborhood. Those fast food joints across the street aren't helping either, but the design could have been a giant leap for city loving kind.

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