After months of preparation, Wegmans to open in Leesburg

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 8, 2009

A much-anticipated Wegmans supermarket opens for business Sunday on Route 7 in Leesburg.

Employees have spent the past month preparing for the opening of the vast store, which is expected to draw shoppers from beyond Loudoun County and ring up their purchases in 27 checkout lanes.

On Thursday afternoon, the main outdoor parking lot was full with the cars of hundreds of workers. They scurried around inside the 139,398-square-foot grocery, putting finishing touches on display cases.

Workers have also stayed busy with training during the final days before opening.

John Emerson, in charge of Japanese cuisine, has been visiting from corporate headquarters in Rochester, N.Y. He's been lecturing nine employees who will make sushi at the Leesburg store. He handed them a typed, 12-point list to guide them.

"We want to be compared to any restaurant, not really other retailers," he said.

Then he explained that sushimakers should seek to build a relationship with their customers, sort of like a butcher in a small town or a good bartender.

"It's a nerve-racking thing," he said after the session. "Grand opening volume can be scary. We try to prepare them for that as much as we can."

Downstairs, across the store, 13 workers listened patiently to vendor Frank Fimano, who also came from New York, as he explained the intricacies of various exotic foods. There's cactus pear juice, Buddha's hand (a citrus fruit that looks like it has fingers) and dragon fruit (tastes like kiwi with a pink outside). The workers hadn't seen some of them before, but the store wants them to be able to converse about them with customers.

The store has indoor and outdoor seating areas where 500 can eat after buying prepared foods in the sprawling Market Cafe. Last week, empty white bowls sat in the prepared food section. Yellow Post-it notes marked what foods would go in each: "Potato pancakes . . . crab cakes . . . Mac N Cheese."

A 19-seat seafood bar will have wine and beer on tap. Part of an aisle in the alcohol section features Virginia wines. A model train runs over a dairy case at the back of the store.

About 50 of the 530 employees came over from the Sterling store, near Dulles, which opened in February 2004. That store is also where Phil Quattrini, the new store's manager, comes from.

"We think when this is all done, it's really going to be something special for the folks in Leesburg," said Quattrini, 38, who lives in Leesburg and can now walk to work.

The employment office for the new branch opened in May. Spokeswoman Jo Natale said Wegmans chose the site in the Village because it's regionally accessible and has ample parking.

The company, which has 75 stores in the Northeast, will open three stores this year. Wegmans has already expanded to Gainesville, Woodbridge and Fredericksburg. The company plans on building a store in Alexandria.

Leesburg officials welcome the opening, saying the town is small enough that the store will noticeably expand the tax base and sales tax receipts.

They said they see Wegmans less as a new competitor that will steal business from other grocers -- a nearby Safeway and Giant have been advertising grand reopenings after renovations -- than as a retailer that will draw out-of-towners into Leesburg.

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