Monday, October 29, 2007

Wegmans Boycott Comes to an End

You read that title right. My self-imposed boycott of hometown favorite Wegmans has met its end. Not that I've actually patronized Wegmans since I lifted the ban, but I will no longer refuse to shop there. Is this a sign of a more mature Man About Town? Certainly not. But two recent gestures of good will on the part of Wegmans has prompted me to announce that I will no longer judge you for being a Wegmans shopper.

First off, I recently learned of multiple donations to neighborhood associations in the City of Rochester by Wegmans. These donations to Swillburg and Corn Hill are just the tip of the iceberg for Wegmans as they gave more than $1.6 million for "area-wide and neighborhood contributions" as well as another $1.4 million for "community events" chain-wide in 2006. If you know of other noteworthy contributions that Wegmans has made to groups within the City of Rochester, I'm interested to learn more. The more I know of, the more likely I am to shop there once again.

Secondly, I have to thank Wegmans for not only allowing the City to bring in a competing grocery chain for their closed Dewey/Driving Park store, but for actually helping make it a reality. Wegmans donated the site to the City with no restrictions and, as a result, the City was able to find investors willing to bring Price Rite to town. Not only that, but the City swung a $425,000 profit on the deal! That profit will be used to spruce up the Dewey Ave business district, breathing new life into the neighborhood and hopefully stabilizing what should be a thriving working class commercial center.

These are great things that Wegmans has done and is doing. There is no denying that. However, I still need more from them before I return to being a full-time Wegmans shopper. Luckily for Danny & Co., I'm easy to please. My only request: bring a full-size Wegmans to the south side of the City of Rochester. The closing of the Mt. Hope Avenue store still stings for residents of the south side and we've all gotten pretty used to the Brighton Tops store by now. But I'm willing to bet that most of us are more than willing to become Wegmans customers once again, if they return to the neighborhood. And wouldn't you know it, I've got options for them to consider.

The first potential location for the Big W: the long-rumored Psych Center site on Elmwood Avenue opposite Goodman street. A developer is planning major investment in the tower there, bringing affordable apartments geared towards college students to the huge structure. I have to assume that the apartments will be much more attractive to would-be tenants if a large commercial plaza containing a Wegmans were right in their backyard. I understand that local residents are opposed to such development due to fears of traffic, noise, and light pollution. But I've taken a long look at this site and I see no reason why this project could not be designed to minimize negative community impacts while maximizing city-wide benefit.

A second option for Wegmans is the CityGate property. This project, to be developed by Costello at the site of the former Iola campus at Westfall Road & East Henrietta Road, has been shrouded in mystery. I understand that it is Costello's intention to create a walkable mixed-use neighborhood with shops, restaurants, offices, and a mix of housing styles. While it may be impossible to make a Wegmans store "walkable," there certainly is plenty of room on the former Iola campus for a Wegmans or two. I'll settle for just one, thank you.

But it is my third option that has the most potential for overall benefit to the City. I propose that Wegmans purchase the Monroe County Department of Health property at the corner of Westfall Road and Mt. Hope Avenue, demolish the ugly high-rise that houses the Health Department offices, and construct a full-sized Wegmans with at least one restaurant outparcel fronting Mt. Hope. Under my plan, most of the County Health Department would move to the vacant, County-owned Terminal Building downtown on West Broad Street. Any remaining offices would move to unutilized space at the Civic Center.

The word on the street is that Monroe County wants to knock down the Terminal Building and replace it with a surface parking lot. If you're familiar with the Broad/Plymouth area, you know the last thing needed there is more surface parking. My plan would bring significant tax benefits to the City, revitalize a historic downtown office building, and embody a commitment to the City of Rochester on the part of Wegmans. It's a win-win-win for pretty much everyone involved. And best of all, it will make me a loyal Wegmans shopper once again.