Wegmans receives final approvals for Long Island store

Wegmans Food Markets will be building its first store on Long Island starting this spring. (Photo courtesy of Wegmans)

Wegman Foods Markets has received final approvals to begin construction on its first Long Island location.

The village of Lake Grove recently granted special-use permits, setback and parking variances and site-plan approval for a 100,000-square-foot store on 8.5 acres of the DSW Plaza, according to Long Island Business News, a sister publication of the Rochester Business Journal.

Wegmans is under contract to purchase the development site from Prestige Properties & Development, owner of the plaza, the publication reported. Construction is expected to begin when the sale closes.

Wegmans currently operates 109 stores throughout New York, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

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Wegmans again a Great Place to Work; three other firms recognized

It might be time for Fortune and Great Place to Work to change the name of their annual Best Workplaces in Retail list.

Something like, Best Workplaces in Retail, other than Wegmans; that’s because Wegmans Food Markets continues to maintain a stranglehold on the top spot.

The Rochester-based grocer tops the Fortune Best Workplaces in Retail rankings for the seventh consecutive year. The lists were released Wednesday. Wegmans was the only local firm on the Retail list.

Three other local businesses earned spots on other lists. Dixon Schwabl + Co. is ranked No. 18 on the Fortune Best Workplaces in Advertising & Marketing, The Pike Cos. landed 25th on the Construction list for small- and medium-size firms) and The Bonadio Group is No. 50 on the Professional Services list for small and medium firms.

For Dixon Schwabl, this is the second time on the Advertising & Marketing list, and the 16th time the company has landed on a Great Place to Work list.

The Bonadio Group has been on the Professional Services list five years in a row while this is the first year The Pike Cos. earned recognition.

Great Place to Work annual rankings are based on an evaluation of employee surveys.

“Great Place to Work certification isn’t something that comes easily — it takes ongoing dedication to the employee experience,” Sarah Lewis-Kulin, vice president of global recognition at Great Place to Work, said in a news release. “It’s the only official recognition determined by employees’ real-time reports of their company culture.”

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As plastic bag ban approaches, some stores ahead of the curve, others merely react

A nickel can be a powerful thing.

Last summer Wegmans conducted a pilot study at two stores to see how customers would react if single-use plastic grocery bags were removed even before a statewide ban goes into effect March 1 in New York. The pilot introduced Wegmans’ new paper bag policy – they now cost 5 cents each with the fee going to charity.

The pilot results showed that most shoppers –  80 percent in the Corning and Ithaca stores –  will go to some lengths to avoid paying a few pennies for something they’ve received free for many, many years.

Then late last month, the Rochester-based grocery store chain stopped using disposable, plastic grocery bags in all of its New York stores, basically starting the plastic bag ban a month early.

“We knew we had a lot to figure out. We wanted to get ahead of it,” said Jason Wadsworth, manager of packaging and sustainability at Wegmans.

Some other organizations in the state also went the early route, including Goodwill stores and the stores and eateries on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology.

RIT’s new ban on single-use plastic went into effect in late January, too, with organizers hoping to divert not just filmy plastic bags (325,000 a year) but also plastic straws (413,500 a year) and coffee stirrers (140,000 a year) from local landfills. Paper and wooden alternatives are available upon request.

“This is something we’re definitely excited about to make a bigger impact environmentally,” said Kory Samuels, executive director of RIT Dining.

Some large retailers, though, are showing no such initiative.

A spokesman for New York Walmart stores responded to questions about the ban by saying the company would follow all local laws, but provided no particulars about how it will do that.

Target had some details about what it will be doing in New York stores: paper bags will be available after the ban starts, and it will continue giving a 5-cent-per-bag rebate to customers who bring in reusable bags for their purchases, as it has done for years.

In the Albany and New York City areas, Target’s paper bags will come with a small fee, in compliance with local rules on disposable bags, a spokeswoman said.

Anticipating the ban, Tops Friendly Markets has offered coupons providing a discount on its reusable bags and introduced Totes for Change, a line of durable grocery bags with original art, which provides a portion of profits to benefit charities.  A Tops spokeswoman, Kathy Sautter, said Totes for Change resulted in $30,000 being donated to charity in 2019.

Tops is waiting for March 1, however, before rolling out other changes, such as charging 5 cents for a paper bag (partial proceeds will go to charity) and abandoning single-use plastic grocery bags, Sautter said.

After the ban starts, the state will still allow some exceptions, such as bags for takeout food. So technically, Wegmans and Tops could continue offering plastic bags in their prepared-food areas, but both companies said they won’t do that.

“We removed plastic bags from our store on (Jan. 27) because we didn’t want there to be that confusion” for customers or employees, Wegmans’ Wadsworth said. “We’ll just get them out of the store and use paper for the Instacart orders and our Meals to Go.”

Both grocery stores said they will continue to accept clean plastic bags for recycling after the ban begins.

Interestingly, when Wegmans did its pilot study in New York, it also looked at the issue in Richmond, Va.

“Just about every state that we’ve been in has talked about plastic bags at one point or another,” Wadsworth said. Wegmans picked Richmond stores for the test because “We wanted to get feedback from a store that didn’t have a ban proposed.” Wadsworth said.

In Virginia, a plastic bag ban has not been a frequent topic of news, discussions and even social media posts like it has in New York during most of 2019. But reusable bag use still shot up there when Wegmans conducted its pilot, though not as high as in New York stores. Reusable/no bag reactions went from 20 percent in Richmond before the pilot to the mid- and high-60s during the pilot.

That might have been predicted. According to Wadsworth, a municipal ban in Germantown, Md., resulted in Wegmans shoppers at the store there relying on reusable bags in the high 60s.

When Wegmans stopped using plastic bags in New York stores late January, the event spurred some social media discussions that seemed to be under the assumption that the ban was Wegmans’ idea, rather than Wegmans reacting to a state ban. Some commenters also charged that Wegmans makes money off the sale of paper bags.

“Our communication obviously wasn’t a hundred percent,” Wadsworth said. “This comes with added expense that we are just making part of the cost of doing business. The 5 cents is clearly just a way to get folks to use reusable bags.”

Since before the end of January, Wegmans has expanded and increased the number of reusable bag displays in its stores. The bags start at 99 cents for a basic bag and rising to several dollars for special bags with thermal linings or interior support. Other retailers charge similar amounts.

Wadsworth said the stores are continuing to offer disposable plastic for bulk purchases, loose vegetables and raw meats and seafood, basically to shield foods and reusable bags from cross contamination, and to prevent food waste.

The store must consider whether the plastic is for convenience or “integral in protecting the product,” Wadsworth said. “If we were to change the package or use no package at all – that will increase food waste as a result of no packaging. That’s one of those things where we have to take a sustainability life-cycle approach,” he said.

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