Punch Drunk 

Jack Develops Wegmania


Surely you've heard by now.

The exulted, the benevolent, the magnificent, the food-shopping experience nonpareil, the holy trinity of grocery stores — is coming to Richmond.

And I'm not talking about last week's news that Whole Foods plans to open a second location — and the first within Richmond city limits. More hyperventilation on that another time.

I'm talking about Wegmans.

Bow down and kiss the ring, you worthless peon.

Hyperbole this is not. Wegmans, according to its followers — also known as Aisle Apostles or Wegmaniacs — is the greatest thing since sliced bread, of which Wegmans has more than 9,000 varieties.

Allow me to explain.

Wegmans aisles are spacious and clean, like a well-appointed garden of Versailles walking path, and of course the air always smells of fresh lilacs, even in the seafood section.

Wegmans walls are tastefully decorated with impressionist prints depicting soothing pastoral splendor, perfect for finding inspiration while you explore ingredients for your next kitchen masterpiece.

A constantly rotating list of easy listening, '70s and '80s staples floods your senses with serene thoughts as you wander. It's Gordon Lightfoot week at the Fredericksburg Wegmans. Next week, James Taylor makes a special appearance to rock-a-bye sweet baby carrots.

In what may be Wegmans' pièce de résistance, the fruit and salad bars contain no fewer than 800 exquisitely cut produce selections. The design of each location's fruit bar is individually supervised and personalized by the 97-year-old architecture master, I.M. Pei, who aims for something with style and panache, but also restraint. Should one ever find fault in this section, perhaps a piece of fruit that isn't completely fresh, or a shred of lettuce that's slightly brown, it is Wegmans custom to force the acting salad bar manager to commit hara-kiri in the parking lot, in full view of all. That's a Wegmans guarantee.

The produce section alone, with its dizzying array of textures and colors, is said to be disorienting to first timers. Luckily, Wegmans offers plush sitting areas, where one can indulge in a fish-oil, deep-tissue foot massage administered by a young Filipino boy. After that, Darren, that young man over there who looks like Ryan Gosling and who doubles as a butcher (and who is inexplicably shirtless) will hand-feed you ruby roman grapes from Japan, which can be found on aisle four, on sale for $26 apiece.

No detail is overlooked. In Wegmans, you aren't "shopping," you're "experiencing."

So you can see why people in North Chesterfield and Short Pump are so excited, especially after dealing with immaculately refurbished Krogers, Fresh Markets and Trader Joes for so long. There's a reason that readers in Style Weekly's Best of Richmond issue last year voted Wegmans as the business they most wanted to come to Richmond. It's because we're so neglected right now.

Boo hoo.


So when did news of high-end grocery store arrivals become overwhelming enough to make Richmonders lose their collective shit? Are we really that bored? Are we so bereft, so left with a dearth of places to buy milk that a grocery store opening governs the headlines? Is this really enough to make moms stop posting kid pictures in my Facebook feed?

Meanwhile, in the East End and North Side there's a noticeable absence of any major big-box grocers. These are areas of town where a grocery store opening would dominate the conversation for the right reasons. Instead, convenience stores and small, independent grocers are the only places that much of Richmond has access to. Places that have about one-hundredth of the variety of a Wegmans and somewhere around one-millionth of the charm — with the same, and in some cases, more exorbitant pricing.

That's life though.

All that aside, after all the hullabaloo dies down and the slack-jawed gawkers dissipate, which I imagine will be sometime about two years after they open, I'll go shop at Wegmans. Good food and good selection isn't what I'm sneering at here.

I'll go bask in the greatness that is Wegmans. And there I'll grab a $75 bottle of Wegmans brand olive oil off the shelf and pour it out in aisle seven.

In my mind, I'm going to Ukrop's.

Rest in peace, homie.

Connect with Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback at bartender@styleweekly.com. Lauterback also is co-host of "Mornings with Melissa and Jack" on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. On Twitter @jackgoesforth.


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