When Consumer Reports polled its readers on the best grocery store chain in the United States in 2019, Wegmans came in a strong second. (Central Market based in Texas took the top spot.) The supermarket headquartered in Rochester, New York earned high marks for food freshness, organic selection, and cleanliness. Privately owned and family operated, the chain's 99 mid-Atlantic stores are also renowned for their treatment of employees. Take a look at a few facts to keep in mind the next time you’re roaming one of their massive locations.
1. Wegmans was enormous even in the 1930s.
You might assume the trend of mega-markets is a relatively recent development, with quaint mom-and-pop shops dotting states in the 20th century. But when brothers John and Walter Wegman got into the grocery business in the 1920s, they quickly worked their way up to a 20,000 square foot store that included a cafeteria that seated 300 people. (Current stores run between 75,000 to 140,000 square feet.)
2. Wegmans once had their own television show.
In the 1950s, Wegmans gave its customers novelty currency along with their change; the money could be used during taping of a regional television program called Dollar Derby. The auction allowed the studio audience to bid on merchandise and pay using the phony money. (Using phony money for any current Wegmans transaction is, of course, very illegal.)
3. It might be easier to get into Harvard than to work at Wegmans.
When a new Wegmans store debuts, the demand for jobs usually far exceeds the open positions. In 2013, a location in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania received 10,000 applications for 500 available slots. That’s a five percent acceptance rate, compared to Harvard’s 5.8 percent for undergraduates.
4. Not everyone is happy when a new Wegmans store opens.
While Wegmans can get thousands of calls and letters pleading for a location to open up in an untapped market, not everyone is happy when they do. A store is Abingdon, Maryland caused considerable driver dissatisfaction when the stream of customers backed up traffic along nearby routes; A local ShopRite grocery chain was said to be the victim of unfair practices when Wegmans ran inaccurate pricing comparison ads in local papers.
5. Yes, Wegmans knows there should be an apostrophe.
"Wegmans" is sometimes erroneously spelled in media stories as "Wegman’s," which would make a bit more sense. But the company stopped using an apostrophe in 1931 when it wanted to "simplify" its logo. Correcting their own grammar would be an expensive proposition: The company estimates it would cost a total of $500,000 to add the proper punctuation to all of their store signage.
6. Wegmans employees can be issued scholarships.
If you run into more smiling faces at Wegmans than in other locations, it might be because of the employee perks. Since 1984, the company has handed out $120 million in scholarships to over 38,500 workers. The chain looks at transcripts, employee performance, and time requirements to find eligible candidates, who can receive up to $8800 over four years for tuition and school-related expenses.
7. There was a Wegmans musical.
Call it kitsch or just a genuine affection for the store: Area high school students were so enthusiastic about the arrival of a Wegmans in Northborough, Massachusetts that they decided to write and perform a musical based on the chain. In the show, two brothers work for rival groceries: one at Wegmans, one for Acme. An Acme store spy dispatched to sabotage Wegmans winds up falling in love with it. The 90-minute show included songs about cheeses. The store donated carts, signs, and chef’s hats to the production. (The school got to keep everything but the carts.)
8. Wegmans tried opening hardware stores.
Thinking it would be wise to try lending their consumer savvy to the hardware industry, Wegmans opened its first hardware store in Rochester in 1973. Several more stores followed, operating under the name Chase-Pitkin. By 2005, however, the chain was unable to keep up with the rapid expansion of both Lowe’s and Home Depot; all of the locations closed.
9. Wegmans has a store just for kids.
To prepare your little ones for a career in produce, the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester has a kid-sized Wegmans on site. The store—which stocks only fake foods—allows young visitors to go behind the counter and experience life as a sushi chef or a cashier. A similar space recently opened at the Smithsonian.
10. There's a reason Wegmans produce is so fresh.
If Wegmans produce looks and tastes better than what you typically find in other area markets, it might not just be a placebo effect. According to the Strategic Resource Group, a typical Wegmans store turns over its produce selection 100 times a year; most supermarkets do it just 18 to 20 times. Very little stays on the shelves long enough to turn bad.
11. Wegmans has their own cheese caves.
With a large section of their fresh food section devoted to more than 300 fine, aged cheeses, Wegmans made the unprecedented move of opening their own cheese caves near Rochester in 2014. The climate-controlled building is intended to replicate how European suppliers age their cheeses; there’s even a room just for brie.
12. Wegmans once scored a rare yellow lobster.
A Pittsford, New York Wegmans location got an unexpected delivery in July 2011 when a rare yellow lobster was dropped off as part of their regular seafood shipment. The color mutation is found in just one out of every 30 million of the little guys. Rather than offer it as dinner, the store donated it to a local aquarium.
13. Wegmans has an odd relationship with the Baldwin family.
In 2010 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, Alec Baldwin discussed his mother Carol’s unwavering love of the supermarket chain, claiming that she would not join her family on the West Coast because there aren’t any Wegmans locations there. The company was charmed by the story and enlisted both Baldwin and his mom to appear in a series of television spots. The relationship appeared to be severed in late 2011, after Baldwin got into a widely reported argument on an American Airlines flight. The company "thought it was best" to discontinue the ads. But just a week later, they apologized to Baldwin and decided to put the commercials back on the air.
14. One Wegmans store had a vending machine that poured wine.
At the forefront of inebriation technology, Wegmans installed a vending machine in 2011 that dispensed wine in their Allentown, Pennsylvania store. A glass costs between $6 and $10 depending on variety (white or red) and size (2.5 or 5 ounces). While this sounds like an amazing development in human ingenuity, the chain ultimately pulled the plug on the unit; in addition to frequent malfunctions, the devices required customers to scan their driver’s license and blow into a breathalyzer before being served.
15. Walgreens sued Wegmans over the "W."
In a battle of consonants, the pharmacy chain Walgreens decided to file a lawsuit against Wegmans in 2011 over claims the "W" logo appeared too similar to their own. The script-style lettering was first used in 2008, with Wegmans insisting it was based on promotional material from the 1930s. They agreed to stop using it as a single-letter logo in 2012, but the company can still make use of the script using their full brand name.
16. Some Wegmans devotees camp out waiting for new stores to open.
In 2010, three friends--Nadine Bailey-Joyner, Paula Hopson-Stanley, and Susan Myers--decided to camp outside a new Wegmans store in Lanham, Maryland. They were soon joined by three other women--Jill Green, Kim Harris, and Patricia Harrelson--to form the Women of Wegmans, a devoted group of superfans who have been to nine store openings across four states as of March 2018, camping out the night before the doors officially open. The women cite the variety and atmosphere of the stores as reasons they're enthusiastic about new locations.