Are big cities craving more than just big business?
Wegmans Food Market, a family-owned regional chain with a significant cult following, has moved into the industrial backdrop of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The 74,000-square-foot store opened after a decade long process of community development and city planning, as well as three separate requests and proposals.
This is the company's 101st store to open in its 103-year history and a first for New York City. Headquartered further upstate in Rochester, Wegmans locations stretch the east coast as far south as North Carolina.
"I love Wegmans so much that up until now, when my mom takes quarterly trips upstate, she comes home with a cooler full of marinated chicken and pork from Wegmans," said Alex Bronson, a first day shopper and Brooklyn resident.
"Now I can go every week and my weekly meal prep will never be the same," Bronson said.
Wegmans stores typically stock between 50,000 - 70,000 products throughout its open-market warehouse space, outpacing competitors who typically offer closer to 40,000 options and products.
However in 2018, Wegmans annual sales only totaled $9.2 billion – a fraction of major grocery chains like Krogers and Publix which saw sales total over $120 billion and $36 billion respectively in the same year.
So how does a family-run grocery store successfully win the bid to develop in New York City, and beat competitors seeking to service an area locals and elected officials refer to as a "food desert"?
"They are what an American company should be," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Sen. Schumer attended the store's grand opening ceremony, and shared his own appreciation for the company's ethical practices.
"It's not simply caring about a bottom-line, not simply caring about profits, but caring about customers and employees," he said
Wegmans will offer job opportunities to over 540 newly hired employees, nearly half of which came from targeted local hiring efforts in the Brooklyn community.
"Wegmans has worked very hard at employing local residents," said New York City Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who represents the district where the grocer is now located.
"They put tremendous effort into that which demonstrates to everyone that they cared about serving local residents."
Doug Steiner, a driving force behind the store's development and Chairman of Steiner Studios located in a Navy Yard neighboring lot, also praised the company's good business practice.
"Their [Wegmans] attitude is take care of the employees and the customers, and the rest takes care of itself," said Steiner.
This development comes to completion only nine months after Amazon announced it would withdraw plans to build its headquarters in New York.
The decision was fueled by local opposition from the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens and great community after its development plans. The company's HQ2 campus would have offered 25,000 jobs to the state and over $27 billion in revenue, but local and state leaders voiced their opposition when the company was offered performance-based incentives amounting to nearly $3 billion.
At the time New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shared his disappointment in Amazon, issuing the following statement: "You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can't recognize what that's worth, its competitors will."
While Wegmans may not appear to be a direct competitor to Amazon, it is expected to pull a significant amount of the grocery store traffic from neighboring Whole Foods Market locations.
The future of big business development in New York City remains uncertain after Amazon's debacle. But for more local companies like Wegmans, it appears to be true that small business still has a home in the big city.