When Alexis Grafakos moved to a small town in western New York in 2013, she couldn't find empanade dough anywhere.
One day while shopping in Geneseo at her local supermarket, Wegmans, Ms. Grafakos mentioned to staff how she wished she could buy some of the ingredients for her Caribbean dishes that she could easily find in Brooklyn. Within a week, she said, the dough was on the shelves. She could make the new life taste a little more like home.
Now living back in New York, Ms. woke up Grafakos, 30, at 5 a.m. Sunday for the opening of a Wegmans at Brooklyn Navy Yard, the first of the chain's supermarkets in town and the 1
Ms. Grafakos also remembered how her Geneseo employees used to t relieve her that New York City would never get a Wegmans because "we were too bad," she said.
Ms. Grafakos was one of of the more than 1,000 people who visited the new store to be among the first customers. Wegmans comes to the area after almost a decade of halted promises to bring a high-quality, affordable supermarket to this once abandoned stretch near Brooklyn Harbor.
The chain has a pretty cool following: Fans all over the Northeast call themselves "Wegmaniacs", a merchant version of BeyHive. A Wegmaniac knitted a suit from the store's bags. Another wrote a musical love story in high school as an ode to the chain.
On Sunday, buyers, glassy with an eye from getting out of bed so early, talked about the spotless baths, tomatoes that never rot, and friendliness of the staff. (In worker satisfaction, Wegman routinely ranks among Fortune magazine's top 10 companies.)
"I don't wake up at 5:30 to do anything, ever, but I did today," said Brittany Hank, 31, who grew up up in Rochester, NY, and admits to being a Wegmaniac. "There's pride in it, being that it's a hometown favorite."
Even Miss Grafakos, who swore to herself that she would never participate in a Black Friday-style rush, risked it. "I told my mom, 'I can actually die here,'" she said, laughing.
eagerly around the opening, and the longtime fan goes to proclaim their Wegmans philia, may confuse some New Yorkers. , founded in 1916 in Rochester, just a grocery store? Sure, at 74,000 square feet and with over 50,000 products, is bigger than most in New York (although smaller than most And certainly, it has prepared food and a bar on the second floor, but Whole Foods also has eateries. Is it the result of a marketing tactic, à la Popeyes Chicken sandwich? Is Wegmans a nostalgic for those suburb transplants that miss big grocery stores?
Whatever it is, people love it.
“Mat in sn oe you have to do personal, says Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. "You have to touch and feel for food."
Wegmans at Navy Yard arrive during a busy period in the New York area retail; Nordstrom in Manhattan opened on Thursday, and American Dream Shopping Center, in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, opened an ice rink and a Nickelodeon amusement park on Friday, with promises of future store space to come. Although Wegmans is working with the delivery service Instacart, bricks and mortar are still in focus.
"We wanted a New York City store, but finding the right place took time," Danny Wegman, the grocery's third-generation chairman, wrote in an email. "Everything we needed was right here in Brooklyn, including all the great people we could hire."
During the previous term of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, two developers tried and failed to get a bid on the coveted Admiral's Row page at the Navy Yard. One, PA Associates, was dropped after being charged in an unrelated bribery scandal; Another, Blumenfeld Development Group, said it couldn't find a supermarket that was willing to pay insurance premiums after Hurricane Sandy.
Residents of nearby buildings run by the New York City Housing Authority often had to leave the neighborhood to buy affordable products in bulk.
"You've gone from there people were really, really low-income, and now we" are talking about million-dollar apartments, "said Natasia Pinkney, 47, a full-time cheese department employee in the new store whose mother has lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years. "And still there wasn't much to choose from."
Gradually Steiner NYC was awarded the contract to develop Admiral's Row, and in 2015 Wegmans signed on as a supermarket in the complex.
Over 200 of the store's 540 employees were employed by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, which recruits from lower-income areas and assists with CV writing and interviewing skills.
"When we were looking for a grocery store to operate here, we not only wanted to supply a grocery store, but we also wanted a good employer," said David Ehrenberg, president of the development company.
Karen Lighter, 49, and Debby Eckstein 49, who are neighbors in Flatbush, Brooklyn, rolled carts through the hallways after the grand opening on Sunday, marveling at the variety. To find cozy meat with reasonable price, they said, they used to drive an hour each way to Queens.
"We have nothing like it – it's huge!" So Lighter. "I've never seen so many choices. Out of New York I've seen it. But not here."