North Carolina’s Wegmans hype is well-documented, especially after the store’s grand opening in Raleigh in 2019. Nearly 3,000 people waited in line for entry before 7 a.m. on a Monday. That is dedication.
A second store in West Cary opened not long after. And as of Feb. 24, there’s a third – one off Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard that was nearly six years in the making. “It’s crazy to think about how long it’s been,” Chapel Hill store manager Rick Walters says.
“It is such a big deal for the town,” says Mayor Pam Hemminger. “We were very pleased that Wegmans wanted to come to Chapel Hill in Orange County. It’s slated to be one of the biggest sales tax producers in our county.”
Wegmans’ passionate following – many who are Northerners more familiar with the grocery chain – may seem foreign to locals who don’t yet understand the hype. But it is well-founded, and for several reasons: The European-inspired open-air market is much larger than a typical grocery store. In this case, the Chapel Hill location is more than twice the size of the average 38,000-square-foot store. It’s less about getting in and out quickly and more of an experience. It’s not about leaving; it’s about getting lost in every department until your grocery cart is spilling over.
In fact, Wegmans invests in specializing in as many culinary departments as possible, from an entire aisle dedicated to hundreds of gluten-free items to thousands of organic items offered in every department. Maybe that’s why it’s able to compete against the likes of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. (Wegmans even beat out Amazon and Costco as the most loved brand on the Harris Poll in 2019. FYI, this location stocks hundreds of family-size, Costco-like products, too.)
Wegmans even produces its own cheeses in what Rick calls a “cheese cave” at its headquarters in Rochester, New York. “You might wonder what a cheese cave is,” Rick laughs. “It’s not a real cave, but it simulates that. And really what it is – it’s a state-of-the-art cheese facility, and it’s the first of its kind in an American supermarket chain. So we’re the only chain in America that has this. And what it allows us to do is to create an environment to control and ripen cheese.”
Wegmans’ “Professor’s Brie” was named second place “Best of Show” among more than 1,700 entries at the American Cheese Society competition in 2019. The Chapel Hill location even took its cheese capabilities to the next level by establishing a partnership with Chapel Hill Creamery a few years ago. Wegmans now carries four varieties of Chapel Hill Creamery cheeses at all North Carolina and Virginia locations with the hopes of bringing their team in to do educational training with its Chapel Hill employees and customers.
Rick emphasizes that Wegmans actively seeks these local partnerships. And for the grand opening of this location, Wegmans partnered with Durham’s Hi-Wire Brewing, who produced a beer only available at Wegmans. The hazy IPA will be available among more than 100 other local beers – feel free to crack open a cold one at its in-house restaurant, Burger Bar, while you’re at it.
Rick attests that customers can be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the store and amount of products, so his advice: Take it slow. Plan to take some time.