After years of delays, the long-awaited supermarket Wegmans opened its doors at a new location in Chapel Hill on Wednesday. The New York chain is known for its selection of organic and local foods, prepared meals and an assortment of restaurants within the store.
Not many grocery stores have fans like Wegmans does. But customers lined up more than an hour early on Wednesday to be the first through the door and celebrated the opening on social media.
Located on Fordham Boulevard, the store occupies 100,000 square feet, contains 29 registers and will eventually employ up to 450 people.
On the left side of the store, Wegmans contains a range of restaurant stations, including a pizza market, salad station, sushi and poke bowls, sandwich shop and coffee shop. It also boasts a large assortment of alcoholic beverages and even has a specialty wine room, tucked off to one side and smelling of wood like any other wine cellar.
A toy train chugs along overhead a cooler along the back wall, nestled between the floral arrangements and medicinal aisle. To some customers, it’s a spectacle and a destination as much as it is a grocery store.
Owen Conley, a UNC senior, said he found out Wegmans was hiring on an online job site and applied last December. When he graduates in the spring, Conley plans to continue working as a barista in the store.
“I've worked at other large corporations before and it feels impersonal or you don't really know your co-workers, but so far at Wegmans, I feel like it's a very familial atmosphere,” Conley said.
Wegmans first obtained a special permit to build the store in 2017, but public concern about increased traffic to the nearby University Heights neighborhood and the environmental footprint of the project delayed construction.
The building plan was eventually downsized from 130,000 square feet, but store manager Rick Walters said the reduced space did not affect the variety available to customers.
“The layout of the store is pretty similar if you were to go to one of our stores in Virginia that's a little bit bigger,” Walters said. “We just tightened up some of the backroom areas, some of the stuff that you don't see on the floor.”
Walters said Wegmans is distinguished by its assortment of organic and local produce, prepared foods, meat and cheese selection and easy shopping for customers with dietary restrictions.
The store offers grocery delivery, curbside pickup and in-store shopping.
“One cool thing we also have is our scan app, which allows you to scan your groceries as you go, it will run that total for you and you can put it in your bags," Walters said.
He said customers simply scan their phone at a self-checkout register at the end of their visit, so the entire process is completely contactless.
Steve Brantley, director of Orange County Economic Development, said he expects the store to bring benefits to the local economy.
Brantley said that the Wegmans site is expected to help generate $1 million in retail sales tax revenue for Orange County over the next five years.
Brantley also said the opening could help further reduce the county's unemployment rate, which rose to a high of nine percent over the past 20 years in May 2020 and fell to 4.5 percent by the end of the year. Walters speculated dozens of UNC students work at the Chapel Hill location.
“Right now, Wegmans is my post-grad plan, because I am taking a year off in Chapel Hill,” Conley said. “I was looking for a job that paid competitive wages and also would be a good working environment.”
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