Pattye Benson

Community Matters


Planning a Flash Mob? Better Keep it Quiet! The Noteable ‘Mobsters’ Perform in Wegmans’ Fruit & Vegetable Department

What is a ‘Flash Mob’?

For some, it is joining in with a crowd of strangers to dance in sync to the latest Lady Gaga song at a weekly exercise class. While many would be happy to keep their spastic limbs private, some groups of people prefer to gather spontaneously in a public space and perform a coordinated song or dance to thrill unwitting onlookers with their efforts.

According to Wikipedia, “A flash mob (or flashmob) [1] is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and/or artistic expression.”

The participants in a flash mob – the ‘mobsters’, behave in a predetermined manner for a predetermined amount of time, and then quickly disperse. A successful flash mob event depends on the element of surprise.

Of course, the meet-up and the performances of a flash mob are entirely coordinated and often rehearsed. If you are planning a flash mob, you had better keep it quiet. However, sometimes that can be easier said then done, especially if the group of people participating is 20 middle-aged women.

For the past 28 years, I have been a member and the public relations person for the Noteables, a women’s singing group from the Main Line – Valley Forge area whose 20-25 members sing in 4-part harmony. Under the musical direction of Christine Puk, the Noteables perform a holiday concert series and a spring concert series with 8-10 concerts each season for audiences of nursing and retirement homes, veterans groups and for special local events.

Although family commitments, travel and jobs may at times, take Noteable members away from the Noteables, the groups’ motto is “Once a Noteable – Always a Noteable!”

Our final Noteable concert of the season on Monday was followed by a special holiday luncheon. During the luncheon and gift exchange, a couple of members had the idea that the Noteables needed one final performance of the season.

A couple of glasses of wine later and we were planning a ‘flash mob’. But where . . . ?

Any of you that are regular followers of Community Matters, know of my fascination and enthusiasm for Wegmans so . . . I decided the Noteable’s Flash Mob performance should be at ‘my Wegmans’, in their fruits and vegetable department.

Tonight at 6 PM, performing between the cantaloupes and the tomatoes, the Noteables sang ‘Rockin’ the Baby’ and a jazzy version of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’. Proving once again that you never are ‘too old’, the Noteables can now add ‘Flash Mob’ to their list of memories!

Here’s the YouTube linkto our Noteable Flash Mob in the Wegmans Fruit and Vegetable Department. Tonight’s performance is dedicated to MJ Ormsbee and Natalie Zipkin . . . your dreams have now come true!

Community Matters Mentioned in Philadelphia Inquirer front page article!

I looked cover to cover in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer for the article on Genuardi’s, but nothing. However this morning the article appears on the front page of today’s paper! An interesting article, the writer explains the dynamics of the supermarket world, in particular the downturn of Genuardi’s grocery chain and the threat that Wegmans poses to local supermarkets. I was so excited to see ‘Community Matters’ get a mention – it’s validating, especially because there are some who may question the value (or influence) of a blog.

With a root canal scheduled for later this morning, I will take this as a good omen for the day!

Genuardi’s is closing another supermarket

By Kathy Boccella
Inquirer Staff Writer

Here we go again.The venerable Genuardi’s supermarket chain is closing another store. This time it’s the Towamencin Village Square market in Lansdale, which will shut down Saturday, nearly 20 years to the day after it opened. Lately, it seems as if every month brings a new Genuardi’s closing. Last spring, the Voorhees store went out of business, followed by one in the Edgemont Square Shopping Center in Newtown Square in July and two in August – in Tredyffrin’s Chesterbrook community and the Glen Eagle Shopping Center in Concord.

The problem for Genuardi’s is that Philadelphia is “overstored,” said Richard George, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University. From Walgreens to Wawa to Wegmans, a bounty of food retailers is making it hard for traditional stores to stay afloat.

“There are too many stores selling food in too concentrated an area,” said Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food Trade News, a food-industry publication.

Genuardi’s spokeswoman Maryanne Crager agreed that the competitive array was staggering. “At one time a drugstore might have one little aisle with chips. Now they sell yogurt, cheese. Everybody is trying to get a piece of the pie, and the pie is only so big,” she said, citing such nontraditional food sellers as Target and CVS.

With the latest closing, Genuardi’s now has 31 supermarkets in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, down from 39 when monster food company Safeway Inc. bought the chain from the family of founder Gaspare Genuardi and his wife, Josephine, in 2001. The Lansdale store, whose lease expires at the end of the month, was closed because it was not as profitable as expected, Crager said. The company will try to find openings at other Genuardi’s for the store’s 45 employees, as it has done at previously shuttered markets, but not everyone is able or willing to relocate, she said. She would not say how many workers had been laid off.

The job outlook, not surprisingly, is not great. Wendell W. Young IV, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776, said grocery stores had slowed or stopped hiring to offset lower profits.

Many of the new stores coming into the region are lower-end markets that pay minimum wage. And most supermarket employees are part time, working 25 to 30 hours a week, he said.

While Genuardi’s is downsizing, another chain is cementing its reputation as a local category killer. Wegmans, whose massive take-and-go prepared-food sections are magnets to busy suburbanites, opened a 130,000-square-foot megastore in Malvern in July, bringing to six the number of regional Wegmans, three of them in the greater King of Prussia area. Wegmans and other upscale niche retailers such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are muscling out middle-of-the-road supermarkets such as Genuardi’s, say the experts.

“Pathmark is closing, Super Freshes are closing. It’s that big middle that are neither the low-price guy like Wal-Mart and Save-A-Lot, yet don’t have the cachet of Wegmans and Trader Joe’s,” George said. “So people say, ‘Why do I shop there?’ ”

At Genuardi’s in Lansdale, few were shopping on a recent afternoon, despite a 20 percent-off sale that had already cleaned out many aisles. Employees looked as grim as pallbearers.

“It’s very, very sad,” said customer Nancy Demetrius, a mother of four who lives around the corner from the supermarket and says she shops there once or twice a week. “They’re very nice people here, very helpful.” She was picking up milk and chili fixings with her 3-year-old daughter, Camryn. The family did most of its shopping at Genuardi’s, she said, even renting movies at the Red Box out front. “At parties, if we needed rolls, soda, we’d run to Genuardi’s,” she said. She said she would miss the quality of the meats and produce. “Excellent, excellent.” Her children will miss the free cookies from the bakery.

The Lansdale area is a microcosm of the “overstore” phenomenon. There is a Super Fresh less than a mile away, although that, too, is closing, and an Acme and Giant nearby. A new ShopRite is expected to rise not far from Genuardi’s. Demetrius said she would probably shop at Giant. “It’s cheaper, but the quality is not as good,” she said. “You do what you have to do.”

Though the Lansdale store seemed robust to shoppers, other locations languished before finally going dark. The Chesterbrook Genuardi’s in Tredyffrin was “dated” and not maintained, said Pattye Benson, a Malvern bed-and-breakfast owner, who raves on her Community Matters blog about the gelato kiosk, 800 kinds of beer and large take-out section at the new Wegmans.

“Safeway took absolutely no interest in maintaining that store. . . . It just went downhill,” she said.

For many people, Genuardi’s was never the same after the corporate giant bought it from Gaspare and Josephine’s children, who transformed their vegetable garden in Norristown into one of the area’s most beloved businesses.

The company replaced many favorite Genuardi’s brands with Safeway products and downgraded two benchmarks of the Genuardi’s stores – produce and deli items, Metzger said. The Genuardi family “ran that store with terrific products and tremendous customer service,” said George. Safeway “lost sight of the customer,” he said. “Genuardi’s,” he said, “used to stand for something.”

Still, some Genuardi’s stores are now busier than ever and offer more locally grown produce, as Gaspare and Josephine did in the old days. Smaller than many other market leaders, between April 2009 and March 2010 Genuardi’s was the fifth-highest-grossing supermarket company in the region, with 38 stores and $983 million in sales. The leader was ShopRite, whose 67 stores earned $2.6 billion, according to Food Trade News.

Wegmans’ six stores had $364 million in sales, making it the sixth-largest in the area. Companies showing the biggest decline were Acme, which lost its number-one post after 32 years, Genuardi’s, and Giant.

Crager said Genuardi’s had no plans to close more stores but acknowledged the challenges for the chain. Referring back to her pie analogy, she said: “Some of the slices for some operators are getting smaller and smaller. Obviously when you get smaller . . . it becomes more challenging to operate.”

On the bright side, “We’re part of a much larger corporation,” she said.

Inquirer Writer Asks About Genuardi’s & Wegmans . . . Bottom Dollar Food Opens Today . . . Wonder if There’s a Connection

Some people are going to start claiming that I have a fetish for grocery stores but I am fascinated by the closing and opening of supermarkets . . . particularly with today’s economy.

Yesterday, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer contacted me in regards to the closing of Genuardi’s and my fascination with Wegmans. She is writing an article for the Sunday edition of the newspaper and had tracked me down through Community Matters, having read my posts on Genuardi’s and Wegmans. We had an interesting conversation and I will be curious to see how much of our discussion ultimately ends up in Sunday’s article. The writer asked a variety of questions, including why I thought that Genuardi’s had failed. I gave a degree of credit on that topic to the Safeway people. In my opinion, the store was never maintained properly nor updated. (Chesterbrook residents will be pleased that the focus of the article will not be on whether the closing of the Genuardi’s will affect real estate values).

I wonder if the Inquirer’s article on supermarkets has a connection to the opening today of the discount supermarket, Bottom Dollar Food, this morning in King of Prussia. When I called to verify that the store had opened and find out where it was located, a very enthusiastic customer service representative greeted me. She didn’t know exactly where on Rt. 202 it was located, stating that she was from Virginia and had moved with Bottom Dollar to King of Prussia. I think that we figured it was on the right side of 202 North – she says that there is a Petco and Staples in the shopping center with Bottom Dollar Food.

The president of Bottom Dollar Food, Meg Ham, explains the concept of her discount supermarket saying, “We call ourselves a soft discount chain and what that means is that we’re discount, but with a full shop experience and we offer national brands as well as private brands, which is a little bit different and we have full shop, which includes fresh departments.”

The store cites examples of savings – they sell Breyers Ice Cream for $3.38 but their own “Hannaford” brand is $2.68 and a “Smart Option” bargain brand is $1.98. Another example – You can buy Charmin bath tissue for $2.85, Bottom Dollar Food’s “Home 360” brand for $2.50, or the “Smart Option” for $.98 for four rolls.

Bottom Dollar has some interesting ways to cut waste and save energy. They keep the fresh produce in a giant walk-in cooler section which gives it a longer shelf life. Since they are not throwing away as much spoiled produce, they can keep the produce prices lower (and hope to undercut the competition). The store is utilizing doors on the dairy cases to keep cold air in and reduce energy usage. The King of Prussia store has 19,000 square-feet and will offer more than 6,800 items.

In addition to bargain grocery shopping, the Bottom Dollar Food chain claims that each store will require the hiring of 30-35 employees. (This is interesting, considering that Wegmans claimed to have hired 500 people with their store’s opening). The King of Prussia store is the first of 15-20 Bottom Dollar Food stores scheduled for the Philadelphia area.

As part of the grand opening festivities, Bottom Dollar Food donated $10,000 to the Philabundance Food Bank, and donated $500 to the Upper Merion Township Police Department and Fire Department. In addition, $500 donations were made to the Upper Merion Township Emergency Fund and Lafayette Ambulance and Rescue Squad.

Wonder what it would take for Bottom Dollar Food to get interested in the Genuardi’s site in Chesterbrook? It will be curious to see if Bottom Dollar Food gets mentioned in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer article on local supermarkets. I’m also curious to see if Community Matters gets a mention in the article . . . my guess, probably not.

Discount Grocery Store ‘Bottom Dollar Food’ Coming to Philadelphia Area

In catching up on some of the local business news, I was reading about the local grocery market and was interested to read about a new grocery chain coming to the area, Bottom Dollar Food.

We know that Wegmans next step on their expansion plan is King of Prussia (I think the old golf course off Swedesford, correct?) so I was curious if our area would be getting one of these discount grocery stores. Bottom Dollar Food is a discount grocer that’s part of the Food Lion store chain and has said that it will open 21 stores in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, creating 600 jobs. A friend recently visited our new Wegmans and asked management how many employees in that location — yes, 600.

This is a significant expansion for the Salisbury, N.C.-based Bottom Dollar Food, which has 28 stores in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. I did a bit of research on the company – they opened their first store in 2005, 5 years ago! They seemed to have discovered a niche market-place by keeping their stores very simple in design. One of the ways they are able to drive the prices down to bargain-basement level is by removing the fancy, expensive displays. Interesting concept given Wegmans over-the-top approach! They keep the isles wide, displays simple and have a color-coding system showing the various levels of mark-downs. Special ‘bargain’ areas in the stores are indicated with color-coded signage. Kind of reminds me of the Syms approach — you read the price tag and the date determines the price. The longer the item remains at Syms, the lower the price.

Bottom Dollar Food will open their first Philadelphia area store in the fall. The president of the Bottom Dollar Food Meg Ham, reports that “Bottom Dollar Food has great potential in the market as we believe it is underserved in the soft-discount grocer arena”. Interesting.

However, the most interesting point of the article was the list of new store locations, including 197 E. Dekalb Pike, Upper Merion (King of Prussia). Short of driving up 202 north and looking for the address, I’m wondering if that is the Genuardi’s store on 202? I looked at all the stores on the list and unfortunately a Chesterbrook location was not on the list. But that poses an interesting question, would people rather see an empty anchor store in the Chesterbrook Shopping Center as opposed to some kind of discount store? Comments . . .

Wegmans Didn’t Disappoint — It’s All That and More!

Of course I was not going to miss Opening Day at Wegmans. I actually ended up going to the store twice today. The first time was around noon, but after spending 20 min. finding a parking space, I discovered that once inside there was no available space to move! The crowds were overwhelming (to be expected!) and in less than 10 min. I found myself back in my car headed home.

But around 7 PM, my husband and I set out again for Wegman’s; Jeff wanted to experience the Pub. The food, service and staff were amazing and so friendly. The beer selection lives up to Wegmans advertising; over 800 kinds including micro-brews and International brands. All beer is offered in 6-packs and most are available to try as singles. Wegmans Pub has a full-service bar so grocery-shopping may have just gotten more exciting!

As we were leaving Wegmans, we stopped by the Gelato Italian ice cream kiosk – fabulous! Today’s grand opening certainly didn’t disappoint . . . but I have a feeling it may be quiet at the Paoli Acme for a while.

Less Than 48 Hours to Wegmans Opening . . . But Who’s Counting?

Wegmans on Rt. 29 in Malvern is opening Sunday morning, less than 48 hours. Maybe if you live in the eastern part of the township, this news is not nearly as exciting; but for many of us in the Great Valley Wegmans will actually be the closest grocery store. If you have follow Community Matters, you know I’m a Wegmans groupie (nearing obsession). . . and yes, my husband and I plan to be there on opening day.

An amusing aside to Wegmans opening is Acme’s new game plan of counter attack with over-the-top customer service. I’m in the Paoli Acme at least 3 times a week and I have noticed that during the last 30 days there has been a noticeable customer service upgrade. All employees, regardless of the hour of the day, are now falling over themselves with hellos, can I help yous, etc. In addition, they have now outfitted 8-10 employees with yellow vests whose job is to take customers groceries to the parking lot. The customer service has risen to such a high level that I actually kidded a clerk yesterday about the over-the-top friendliness of staff (and remarked, that I assumed it was due to Wegmans upcoming opening). And yes, Acme is concerned with the ‘new kid on the block’ and the clerk reported that there have been 2 mandatory employee customer service meetings in the last 30 days . . . the game plan is to woo their customers back after the novelty of Wegmans wears off. Hmm, we will see!

My Obsession With Wegmans at Worthington Soon to be Recognized . . . Grand Opening Set for July 18!

After much delay, I am excited to report that the waiting for the opening of the new Wegmans at Worthington will soon be over. Wegmans has scheduled their grand opening for Sunday, July 18, 7 AM. To see the complete announcement from Wegmans, click here. The Wegmans grand opening announcement is creative with a video and a ticking countdown clock — 39 days, 18 hours, 48 min. & 20 sec. as I write this post. Free gifts available if you sign up for a Wegmans card before July 17!

In looking at the floor plan online I noted some unusual marketing — Wegmans lists Timber, Alcove and Conference rooms next to the Market Cafe & Pub as available for meetings. Now isn’t that an out-of-the-box idea for a grocery store — you can use the conference room for your meeting and have beer/wine from the Pub and lunch from Market Cafe. Their Beverage & Beer Center is indicating that they will have 700 imported and regional beers for sale. Their Deli is touting 300 specialty cheeses from all over the world. Wegmans is also offering free WiFi — nothing like keeping you in the store, you know the longer the shopper is in the store, the more likely they are to continue to spend money!

Besides my personal obsession with Wegmans, I am excited to see positive economic growth in our community. It looks like the Worthington Target may also be close to opening; last update I heard was July 2010.

More Encouraging Local Economic News . . . another Wegmans!

The Mega-Billion Dollar Lawsuits of Brian O'Neill and Citizens Bank Will Not Keep Wegmans Supermarket from Opening!

Like many people I have been watching the progress (or lack there of) of the Uptown Worthington project on Route 29 in Malvern. Back in the fall, Citizens Bank had sued Brian O’Neill and O’Neill Properties for $61 million, claiming that the company had defaulted on bank loans. Last month, Brian O’Neill countersued Citizens Bank for $8 billion in damages ($4 billion in compensatory damages and $4 billion in punitive damages), claiming that the bank wrongly called for loans before they were due and that the bank did not follow through with their end of the agreement with construction financing. With O’Neill and Citizens Bank pointing fingers at each other, I was concerned where that left the project. I feared that Uptown Worthington would just become a very expensive mud hole, and one we could look at from 202 for years to come.

The $540 million Uptown Worthington mixed-town center plan called for 752,500 square feet of lifestyle retail space, 227,960 square feet of office space, 753 residential units and 160,000 square feet of hotel space. The site location of Uptown Worthington is on Route 29, between Route 202 and Route 30 in Malvern. My real fascination with this project, beyond the obvious unfinished appearance of the 100 acre site, was the Wegmans supermarket story. A planned anchor store at the Uptown Worthington center, construction had continued on Wegmans. But after multiple delayed openings, I wondered if the grocery store would remain shuttered; a byproduct of the legal wrangling of O’Neill and Citizens Bank.

Good news. I received what I hope is official news; Wegmans supermarket is nearing completion and is set to open in June! Further good news, Wegmans has decided to model the Worthington location after the Collegeville Wegmans. Yes, our new Wegmans will have ‘The Pub’ inside the supermarket. Of the 75 stores in the Wegmans chain, the Collegeville store was the only one with a supermarket pub. This was a social experiment of sorts, connecting one of life’s most mundane chores of grocery-shopping with something that could go a long way toward blunting its misery: alcohol. I have a husband that hates running out to the grocery store, but that attitude may change with the opening of Wegmans. Wegmans will offer spirits for consumption on the premises and will also sell six-packs of beer for carryout. For the singles in the area, there’s even a chance for romance. Apparently, the pub at Collegeville’s Wegmans is reporting one engagement – with the happy couple toasted with champagne.

The Pub experiment at the Wegmans Collegeville location was intended to fill a gap in the store’s Market Café complex, where shoppers can buy prepared foods either to take out or to eat at nearby tables. The Pub is a full-service restaurant where you have a complete meal and enjoy a drink with the meal. Assuming that our Malvern Wegmans stays with the Collegeville model, domestic 12-oz beers go for $3.75; 15-oz drafts range from $3-4. Wine is $5 a glass. Cocktails – $5.25 to $10. And no tipping allowed! The notion being that you don’t tip the guy at the deli counter for a pound of roast beef. I wonder if Wegmans thinks that if you have a drink or two, you may end of running up that grocery tab. You come in, have a couple of cocktails and may buy all sorts of things you didn’t come in for.

Our new Worthington Wegmans supermarket is advertising that it will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The opening of Wegmans is just one more reason to countdown to spring!

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