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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy … coming to you this week from Natick, Massachusetts, where I am visiting the new Wegmans store that’s been open for about a month.

Now, let me start with an apology to Wegmans. During the time that this store was being built, I expressed a certain amount of skepticism about the fact that it is attached to a mall … largely because it isn’t like malls are where the action is this days. Malls are in trouble all over the country, and I worry about supermarket companies that decide to take a flyer by opening stores in them. I understand why malls want supermarkets, but I’m less persuaded why most supermarket companies should want malls.

The apology is because the Natick Mall seems to have some life left in it. It has a Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, so that’s all good. But then again, it also has a Sears … so it sort of goes from the sublime to the ridiculous.

There’s a lot about this Wegmans about which to be impressed. Not only is this Wegmans’ first store in a mall, it also is Wegmans’ first two-story store; it is in a former JC Penney. At more than 145,000 square feet, it is beautiful, and very much a food market … in some ways, it reminds me of food-oriented stores that I’ve seen in Europe and Asia. The store has a dedicated parking garage, with spaces for 1,800 cars … so they’re expecting to do some business.

There’s a lot going on here. (You can see pictures below.) On the top floor, a foodie paradise, the fresh food departments have a farmers market vibe, especially in seafood. There is a greater emphasis on restaurants, going beyond the popular foodservice departments - there is a Burger Bar with a wonderful selection (I had a great salmon sandwich), and a tequila bar called Blue Dalia, designed by celebrity chef Roberto Santibañez, who also serves as culinary director. (I was there on Tuesday, in the early afternoon … it probably was just as well that it was closed.)

I have to admit to being less overwhelmed by the lower floor, which is more traditional in terms of grocery aisles and a strong value proposition. I did love the expansive beer-and-wine department, which includes a fine wine section and a testing room. But I could not help thinking that the aisles were almost too wide and the arrangement almost too spacious … though it is entirely possible that the lack of business on a Tuesday afternoon made it seem more spacious than it is, and that on a busy weekend the place might seem downright crowded.

Here’s the thing that occurred to me. The departments and selection on the top floor, focused on fresh food, all are aimed at offering something that the online experience cannot. Downstairs, however, while probably about 70,000 square feet in size, the majority of products can be obtained elsewhere, including online.

For the moment, I think, Wegmans is fine. (It is not like they need me to tell them they’re fine. They are, after all, freakin’ Wegmans. I offer this critique in the knowledge that even a scintilla of skepticism about Wegmans’ offering could undermine my credibility.)

But I do wonder if down the road - five years from now, maybe? - they will find that the store has been overbuilt, considering the changing buying habits of consumers?

Then again, it is entirely possible that Wegmans has this all built into its business plans … that is a store for the present, not the future. Danny Wegman likes to say that every new store needs to be state-of-the-art, and since the art of the retail store always is moving forward, every store has to reflect an evolving reality.

Which means that when they build a store near me, in White Plans, New York, it may be an entirely different animal.

I’m not suggesting that this Wegmans is anything other than a great store. What I am saying is that it has to be seen as just one, current step in a continuing evolution … not so much a finished product as kind of an evolutionary moment in time.

That’s what is on my mind, and, as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.







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