Friday, January 05, 2007

Say No to Wegmans at Midtown

By now you've seen or heard about the consultant's report regarding the condition of Midtown Plaza and the costs related to its rehabilitation or demolition. Likewise, you've probably already formed an opinion regarding the "Made in Italy" Italian marketplace proposed for 400,000 square feet of existing Midtown space. Synthesizing the two, many of you have begun thinking about what should happen to the enormous facility. Perusing the Democrat & Chronicle's public forum, you find a wealth of ideas on the subject. Tear it down and put in a large park. Convert it to housing and hotel space. Build the mid-sized theatre there (yeah, that was me). Ikea. Crate & Barrel. Free parking. Wegmans.

That last one makes me wince. Why, oh why is everyone so infatuated with Wegmans? Sure, they're a local success story. Yeah, they're the "best" upscale grocery store in the nation. True, the Pittsford store is a magnet for shoppers and unimaginative tourists. But what has Wegmans done for the City of Rochester that should prompt our elected officials to bend over backwards for them? Let's check the scorecard. Wegmans used to be a neigborhood supermarket. At one time, there were at least five (and probably more) Wegmans stores in the limits of the City of Rochester (Mt Hope, Bay, Driving Park, Culver, and East). Now, there are two (East and Driving Park). The most recent store closing on Mt Hope caused a lot of pain for that neighborhood. I have already blogged on this subject in the past, so I won't belabor it here. I will note however, that the late Robert Wegman issued the following quote after having trouble siting a new store on Elmwood Avenue in the City and a new store in Henrietta, while being welcomed with open arms in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia:

“Our treatment in those areas is so much different than our treatment in Rochester that if you had a choice, you would say, ‘Why struggle the way we have to in Rochester to get the zoning or the opportunity to replace a store or even sometimes to enlarge a store?'' Wegman said.

That's a great way to show how much you care about the local community and its people. If they don't like our bland design and enormous parking lots, then they don't deserve our store! And now some folks out there want to knock down Midtown and replace it with a Wegmans????? Those who share this opinion should drive to downtown Auburn, NY to see how well a Wegmans fits into a downtown. It's embarrassing. If Wegmans can't figure out that their East Avenue store can be expanded without knocking down the historic buildings there by adding underground parking, then I can only imagine what they would do to a site at Main & Clinton.

Besides, Wegmans has already closed a store that was perfect for downtown. They have no interest in serving urban-minded people. If they did, surely they would already have a midtown Manhattan location. Don't get me wrong, if Wegmans wanted to change their ways or develop a new format store that would be proper for an urban downtown location, I would certainly support working with them to establish such a store in downtown Rochester. But the fact of the matter is that Wegmans has been nothing but a headache for the City of Rochester, and they do not deserve the red carpet treatment some are calling for.