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Prince George's to Gain Upscale Grocer Wegmans

Wegmans has one store each in Sterling and Fairfax. It recently announced plans to build stores in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.
Wegmans has one store each in Sterling and Fairfax. It recently announced plans to build stores in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. (By Mark Finkenstaedt For The Washington Post)

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By Ylan Q. Mui and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Prince George's County has inked a deal with high-end Wegmans Food Markets Inc. to build a store near Largo, a major coup for a region that has long struggled to attract upscale retailers.

The deal is expected to be announced tomorrow in a joint news conference with County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), according to two people familiar with the project. The store will anchor Woodmore Towne Centre, a mixed-used development off Route 202 near the Capital Beltway that will include 750,000 square feet of retail and 1 million square feet of office space. The site also features 950 single-family homes and condominiums.

"We're looking for quality retailers that raise the bar for the available services and goods to the residents in our marketplace," said Phillip Ross, president of Petrie Ross Ventures Inc., which is developing the project.

Wegmans fits that bill. A family-owned company based in Rochester, N.Y., the chain offers pastries made with French butter, soy raspberry yogurt and cotija cheese. It also boasts a European-style cafe, quality wines and a specialty housewares department and can be four times the size of the average supermarket.

The chain operates 70 stores in the Northeast, including one each in Fairfax and Sterling. Last week, Wegmans announced it is also building a store in Anne Arundel County, near Crofton.

The site in Prince George's carries special significance for a community that has largely been ignored by upscale retailers. The county, part urban and part rural, has an ailing school system and last year recorded a record number of homicides. It is also home to expensive gated communities, a growing number of $1 million homes and a population that bristles at having to travel outside the county to spend money.

Gregory Holmes of Upper Marlboro, who helped launch a grass-roots group last summer called Upscale Prince George's, was delighted yesterday to learn about the new Wegmans.

"It's long overdue. The residents have a thirst and a hunger for a place like this," he said. "The bottom line is we live here; we'd love to spend here as well."

Arthur Turner, chairman of the Economic Development Committee for the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce, said Wegmans' decision signifies that the county is "moving onward and upward."

"People are recognizing that money can and will be made in Prince George's County," he said.

About 10 years ago, presidents of six homeowners associations and civic federations in central Prince George's County wrote to more than 30 retail organizations, making them aware of the county's growing middle-class population.

Turner was one of them.

"It's been a very long fight," he said. "This shows that we've won a battle. And we're still not there yet. We have more fighting to do."

Jeffrey W. Metzger, publisher of trade magazine Food World, said that Wegmans has pursued an aggressive growth strategy in the Washington area but that Prince George's was a surprising choice.

"I think the demographic is narrower compared to the other sites they've opened in the Baltimore-Washington area," he said. "But one of the advantages they have is the tremendous attraction as a destination shop, and they will draw people from adjacent areas, including D.C. proper."

Developer Ross said he is wooing retailers to the Woodmore development by touting the county's statistics. Household income around the town center is about $70,000, he said.

"People are well-educated, have a high level of disposable income, and this market is underserved," he said. "If others don't see it, that's too bad. They're missing out on a great opportunity."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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