- Wegmans has elevated the supermarket experience even by its own Disney-like standards, according to reports. The retailer's new 146,500-square-foot store, located in the upscale Natick Mall in Massachusetts, is a two-story space with three restaurants and a second floor dedicated to fresh selections.
- Restaurants include The Burger Bar, Buzz Coffee Shop and the Blue Dalia Restaurant & Tequila Bar. Second floor selections include baked goods, fresh produce, fresh meat and seafood, cheese and deli departments and a floral store. The ground level houses natural foods and grocery products along with bulk offerings, wine and beer.
- Because the supermarket chain is repurposing a former J.C. Penney, the store includes five entrances rather than the typical one. The store features an escalator, stairs and elevators to help shoppers go between floors, and has a conveyor system to get bulky shopping carts from the first to the second floor and back.
While this is a new foray for the adventurous grocer, it continues its high standards for customer service and store experience. Store manager Rich Boscia told The Shelby Report that some employees at the new store were trained for six months at other locations.
Wegmans expects customers will visit the beautiful space for the experience, to enjoy anything from a cup of coffee, to a full meal at Blue Dalia, in addition to picking up any groceries they might need. “We want to be the place where families, business people, mall shoppers and the community gather,” Boscia said.
This seems more like a destination site than a place shoppers would schlep to in their sweatpants for a loaf of bread. The Boston Globe describes the restaurant space as “essentially the fanciest mall food court you could imagine.” The Blue Dalia is a sizeable 260-seat Mexican restaurant, and the Burger Bar is set up with a "loungier feel" with a combined coffee and cocktail bar intended to serve both the day and nighttime crowd, the newspaper says.
The setup certainly makes sense for today’s customers. The second floor is geared to people who may want to pick up a few fresh products, while also grabbing a bite to eat and perhaps picking up other items they need at the mall – assuming they do their mall shopping first and don’t visit Lord & Taylor’s with a bag of fruit and yogurt. The first floor will accommodate the serious shopper stocking up on necessities such as frozen foods and toilet paper.
But while moving grocery stores into emptying mall space may make sense for malls, is it really good for supermarkets? It certainly doesn’t look good. Between 2010 and 2013, mall traffic declined by 50%, and has declined every year since, according to research firm Cushman and Wakefield. In that same time period, Amazon’s annual sales rose from $16 billion to more than $100 billion.
Malls near residential centers, tourist hotspots and other favorable economic centers, however, have thrived. Among industry experts, the consensus seems to be not that malls are dying, but that there are too many of them. According to research firm Cowen and Company, malls grew at twice the rate of the country’s population between 1970 and 2015. Nationwide, the U.S. has 1,200 malls, and by some estimates that number will reduce to around 900 in the coming years.
One has to wonder if a two-story grocery store located in a shopping center will field the same complaints malls in general have – namely, that it's too much work. But Wegmans will make the trip a sensory experience for shoppers, which is something all grocers are trying to do to some extent in the age of Amazon. Industry leaders likely will be watching to see whether the experiment pays off for the grocer, and just who the customer using this shopping space will be.