Wegmans nearing its opening day in Germantown -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated and corrected on Sept. 12, 2013. An explanation follows the story.

If the openings of other Wegmans stores are any indication, the streets just west of Interstate 270 near Father Hurley Boulevard in Germantown will be packed Sunday morning.

There will be lines of people waiting outside the 123,000-square-foot anchor of the multi-use Shops at Seneca Meadows at 7 a.m. They will be there not for Black Friday bargains or Justin Timberlake tickets, but to sample cherry walnut sourdough bread and havarti cheese, hunt for value-priced organic foods and bulk merchandise and be treated by employees like family.

“We strive for a different kind of shopping experience,” said Phil Quattrini, manager of the Germantown store, the first Wegmans to open in Montgomery County.

When Wegmans opened a 130,000-square-foot store in Frederick on a Sunday morning in 2011, hundreds lined up for hours before, and upwards of 20,000 shoppers packed the aisles that initial day.

Planning for how much specialty food, housewares, beverages and other items on shelves can pose a challenge, said Quattrini, a 25-year veteran of the $6.6 billion family-owned company who managed the Frederick store. Then, there is the fresh seafood shipped in daily from ports that include those in Maryland, and the meats, produce and other perishable items.

“It’s like this,” Quattrini said, making a rolling-the-dice gesture as he guided a reporter on a sneak-preview tour through the Germantown store Tuesday.

Special promotions for that day are not planned, though shoppers have access to store coupons, Quattrini said. “Our prices are so good already,” he said.

Kevin Grenzig, executive chef of the Germantown store who has helped open several Maryland Wegmans, said preparations this week were as smooth as he has seen. “By now, we’re usually scrambling to get things done, but I don’t see a lot of that here,” he said on Tuesday.

With stores that seem almost like European open-air markets in places, Wegmans packs more than 70,000 products, including 700 produce items and 300 imported and domestic cheeses, among its aisles, cafés, shops and seafood and meats stations.

There is a team of culinary chefs preparing lasagna, spaghetti squash and other dishes. There are full sushi and rice-bowl bars, a coffee shop, pharmacy and a market café that can seat 200 indoors and outdoors with a special fireside TV viewing room.

The Germantown store has a number of distinctive touches. It offers a new pizza menu, featuring crust enriched with olive oil and hand-stretched before baking, and an organic salad bar, Grenzig said.

The set-up is a little different in the bread and bakery section from Frederick, with desserts first to tie with the larger coffee shop, Quattrini said. The layout helps employees with a more efficient, tighter equipment setup, he said.

Skylights give the store more natural light. A covered parking garage is connected to a bridge from the second level for easy access to the store.

Focus on employees leads to great customer service, managers say

Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans, which dates to 1916 and has 81 stores in six Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states with seven in Maryland, has made Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for 16 consecutive years and was ranked fifth this year.

“Turnover is an exceptionally low 3.6 percent,” Fortune says. “Employees reward one another with gift cards for good service. Many workers like it there so much they bring in relatives — one in five employees are related.”

Rigorous training is a company hallmark. Some of the Germantown store’s employees have been training for almost nine months, which correlates to great customer service, Quattrini said.

Wegmans sends butchers to Colorado and South America to learn about beef, and deli managers to Wisconsin and Europe to discern trade secrets about cheese. It awards several million dollars in college scholarships to employees each year, as well as offers free smoking-cessation programs.

“We apply the same values — caring, respect, high standards, making a difference and empowerment — to our employees and to our customers,” Quattrini said. “That’s the foundation we work from every day.”

A large part of the Wegmans store’s 550 employees live in the county, and some can even walk to the store, said Quattrini, who began working for Wegmans in his hometown of Corning, N.Y., and lives in New Market. The culinary team alone has 180 full- and part-time employees.

The Germantown store is within walking distance of the 150,000-square-foot Wal-Mart on a parcel the company found some four years ago. Wegmans will be the first store or restaurant opening in the Shops at Seneca Meadows.

A Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant plans to have its opening ceremony Sept. 23 in the center. The Famous Dave’s on Quince Orchard Road in Gaithersburg closed Sunday. The 5,200-square-foot Germantown store is larger, seating 171 people inside and another 57 in an outdoor patio.

Other planned tenants at the Seneca Meadows center include Café Rio Mexican Grill, Smashburger, La Tagliatella, Panera Bread, Mattress Discounters, Little Gym, Sprint, Bella Nails, Bank of America and Hair Cuttery, according to broker KLNB Retail.

kshay@gazette.net

An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for the opening ceremony of Famous Dave’s.