Come Nov. 3, the Montgomery Mall will become a new kind of mecca—one where shoppers can get groceries, grab a glass of wine and a meal with table service, get some work done on Wi-Fi in a coffeeshop, chill to the sounds of live music inside and outside on the patio, and mix and match to craft 6- or 12-packs from more than 500 varieties of beer.
Wegmans is set to open its 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week grocery superstore that day and preparations for the big day are winding down as the company looks to bring 400-plus part-time and full-time jobs to the area.
(Sorry: Beer sales will be cutoff at 11 p.m.)
"There's a lot to be done from a construction standpoint," said store manager Keith Grierson during a discussion Friday inside the hiring center at Montgomery Mall on the store's upcoming grand opening. "There's more work to be done inside the store and we are putting our employees through computer-based training here. As we get closer to two to three weeks out, there will be a lot of transition over to the store and employees will learn the lay of the land."
There is still additional site work to be done on the exterior; as part of the lease, the mall is responsible for the parking lot, the receiving area and landscaping," he said.
"We design and construct our own stores," added Jo Natale, Wegmans director of media relations.
Now, the main thing Wegmans is doing is finding the right candidates to staff its store. Grierson said about 200 people have been hired already, and there will be 400-plus hired between now and the grand opening.
"We don't hire seasonal help," Grierson said. "All employees are part of the normal staff with us into 2014 and beyond."
About 320 full-time and part-time positions are still available. The full-time jobs are culinary positions in the cafe and pub, Grierson said.
"We look to hire the best employees we can find to take care of the customers that come into our store," Grierson said.
Natale said Wegmans invests heavily in its training for employees.
"It is our people that set us apart," she said. "If you don't know how to properly filet a fish, they can help you. If you want a certain cheese for your beer, they can do that. Our employees offer incredible service to our customers."
There will be no access to Wegmans from inside Montgomery Mall. The store is opening in the location that once housed Boscov's and Wanamaker's.
"It's about an elevation difference," said Natale. "Our main level, the first floor, is between the first and second floor of the mall here. From a design standpoint, the decision was made not to access the mall."
The new store will also be the very first Wegmans abutting a shopping mall.
"It's new to us," Natale said. "We're in town centers, but this offers convenience. Customers can do clothes shopping at the mall and do grocery shopping and have a meal at our store."
Natale said Wegmans opens two to three stores every year. Other nearby Wegmans currently in operation are in Collegeville, King of Prussia, Warrington, Downingtown, and Bethlehem. The Collegeville and King of Prussia sites are the only local ones that have a pub inside the store.
When looking at the very large stores Wegmans builds, Grierson said the company takes into account the large chunk of money it costs to build such sites.
"We build high volume stores to bring in customers," he said.
Recently, Wegmans opened a distribution center in Pottsville, which, Grierson said, allowed Wegmans the ability to grow in the Mid-Atlantic region.
"Montgomeryville is a very densely-populated area," said Natale, "and that's one of the key demographics when we look for a site. We are very, very selective of where we open. We want to draw customers regionally. We want to be in the very best location that is easy to find and get to. All that came together for this site."
The new cafe at Wegmans in Montgomeryville boasts a variety of flavors and tastes: pizza, calzones, hot wings, rotisserie, sushi, a "wokery," and Indian and Asian cuisine. There will also be a pâtisserie—a French bakery specializing in sweets.
Wegmans holds a liquor license to sell beer to the public, and serve beer and wine in its pub.
Grierson said there would be more than 500 varieties of beer, both refrigerated and non-refrigerated. State law allows Wegmans to sell only 149 ounces of beer per purchase, Grierson said.
There is a good chance, Grierson said, that customers can find selections from local breweries like Prism Beer and Round Guys Brewery in the pub and cafe.
"One of our points of pride is to be different and differentiate ourselves from distributors," Grierson said.
This includes bringing in brewers to the store, where they can talk with customers and offer pairings with beers.
"Beer and food go hand-in-hand," Grierson said. "We work to educate our customers on beer and food pairings. What are the items of importance to our customers in that area? We look at the size of the store and get the right items into the store."
Wegmans in Montgomeryville will also partner with local growers during the proper seasons to bring their crops into the store.
"We highlight those items in our store," Natale said.
Homegrown doesn't stop at taste—Wegmans also expects to please the ears with local musicians playing inside the restaurant and outside on the patio.
"It goes to speak to homegrown talent," Natale said.
Natale said Wegmans is aware of the local competition, specifically Giant Food Store around the corner. In fact, Giant on Knapp Road is looking to get a liquor license into its store.
"We make sure our prices are in line or lower than other markets," she said. "Before we open, we see retailers remodel and offer new promotions. Many react that way to new competition."
Natale said, regardless, Wegmans has focused its energy on its new store and customers.
Natale said there is a perception that Wegmans is expensive and caters to the upper class; she said that perception comes from those who never shopped in its stores.
People come in with a shopping list, she said, and end up buying more than they expected or had not considered, as they see items they cannot get anywhere else.
"We have lower prices than other markets and club stores, about 10 to 15 percent," she said, adding Wegmans offers "Family Packs" which are comparable to bulk items. "We have a commitment to be priced correctly, in our grocery and dining items."
Wegmans also manufactures its own line of gluten-free products and offers hundreds of organic produce items, Natale said.
"We have 70,000 different products. If you can't find it in one brand, we have it in another brand," she said.
Wegmans Montgomeryville will also be the only store to offer a new expanded nut and grain section.
"It's a work in progress, but it's a new area we're excited about having," Natale said.
Other amenities at the new Wegmans: a pharmacy, Redbox, and Coinstar. There will be no bank inside the store.
"Wegmans has been on Fortune Magazine's '100 Best Places to Work For' since 1998," Grierson said, who has made a career out of Wegmans since starting as a teen. "It's a great place to shop and a great place to work. It's important to us that it's our employees working for us."