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New Prince George's Wegmans becoming a social hot spot

Wegmans grocery store is gaining a reputation as the latest pickup place in Prince George's County.

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WiFi encourages people to linger with their laptops. Flat-panel televisions lure locals to watch the news or a basketball game. Fireplaces and comfortable chairs invite book clubs to meet. Restaurants offer gourmet meals.

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Supermarkets "have to meet customers' needs and have what customers want," said Karen Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Food Marketing Institute trade group. Some stores hold cooking classes and offer children's programs, she added.

Both the new Wegmans and the Social Safeway have lounges.

"It's definitely a meeting destination," said Craig Muckle, a Safeway spokesman.

Last month, the Safeway hosted a brief performance of "Stomp" - a percussion show that recently played the Warner Theatre - as part of a fundraiser for a food bank, Muckle said.

The store is also considering having ballroom dancing and a reunion event for couples who met there.

"Social Safeway is what our customers have called us, and I guess we have played to that," Muckle said.

Elizabeth Ribarsky, who teaches interpersonal communications at the University of Illinois in Springfield, said singles making connections in grocery stores is not a new phenomenon. But, she said, it is becoming increasingly popular because people feel safe approaching each other there.

"There is a lot of opportunity to open conversations without things that you would think of as a pickup line," said Ribarsky, who teaches a class about dating. It is called the " 'me, too' phenomenon," she said.

A woman might pick up a steak, she said, and a man might comment: "I like that same kind of steak," or "You like that? Me, too.' "

Bumping to the band

On a recent Friday night at Wegmans, George Raymond Jarvis Jr., 63, of Upper Marlboro dropped the tongs at the hot Asian food bar, left his plate and slid across the floor to his wife, Maureen, while Eric Marner and Hearsay, a five-piece jazz ensemble, opened its second set with a Gap Band classic.

"How about some 'Outstanding' in the supermarket - come on!" said Marner, a saxophonist.


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