It's been a quarter century since Wegmans opened its big new store in Canandaigua, and customers and employees will share memories on Saturday
CANANDAIGUA — Nineteen employees who have greeted customers at the Wegmans "superstore" in Canandaigua since it opened in 1992 — having moved from its original Canandaigua spot at the South Main Street/Eastern.Boulevard intersection — will be there Saturday to celebrate the store’s 25th anniversary with customers and fellow employees.
Expect plenty of reminiscing and sharing memories at the big event from noon to 3 p.m., when customers can enjoy even more than the usual dollop of tastings. And it will be easy to find employees with 25 or more years with Wegmans — they’ll be wearing anniversary jackets.
On Monday, a number of those longtime employees were anticipating the May 13 celebration and talked about this store as special for many reasons, including its proximity to Canandaigua Lake, Wegmans Organic Farm and the Wegman family.
“The store becomes reunion central each year as summer cottages open, the pantries need to be stocked up again, and customers and employees who haven’t seen each other for months run across each other and catch up,” said store manager Sarah DePeters, who is moving to manage the Pittsford store and passing the torch to new Canandaigua Store Manager Larry Gamer. Gamer is a 30-year Wegmans employee who previously managed the Lyell Avenue store in Gates.
“I am excited to be joining the Canandaigua store at the beginning of our busiest time of year and just in time to celebrate our 25th anniversary,” he said at the store Monday, where he greeted fellow employees and customers and showed off the store's many features.
The store also has its own traditions that customers remember and look forward to. The patio is where summertime special events like oyster shucking or the Clam Slam happen. Every Thursday, the parking lot is where antique car aficionados bring their trophy vehicles to show them off and strike up friendships over car talk.
Then there are the generations of the Wegman family who routinely visit. Many employees recall the visits by the late Robert Wegman and his wife, Peggy.
Bulk Team Leader Lisa Narcott recalled the night before the store opened: “They gave us a dinner. We were all lined up in the back of the store and Mr. Wegman came in and spoke to each of us. It was really nice.”
Ronda Sperlazza, a 29-year employee currently working in Prepared Foods, remembers making omelets for Mr. Wegman on Sunday mornings while Mrs. Wegman shopped. Sperlazza’s brother, Chuck Hurlburt, has 25 years with Wegmans and currently works in the Sub Shop. He remembers working in the Market Café, busing Mr. Wegman’s table, and making sure he had everything he needed.
“He would hang around and talk to the people working in the Café after his breakfast,” Hurlburt said.
Employees also talked a lot about the closeness they feel with one another and their customers. “We are a family here,” said Sperlazza.
Wegmans encourages that closeness and that means there is always a birth, graduation, wedding or other special occasion to celebrate. DePeters said the store has great multi-use spaces, “so we’ve catered lots of baby and bridal showers,” she said.
Other times it’s not a celebration but a significant moment in a customer’s life. Nature’s Marketplace Manager Michelle Harford recalled that an elderly customer she chats with had stopped visiting the store recently and she wondered why.
“One day she called me at the store to say that her husband had passed away, and he wouldn’t be in to see me anymore. It was very touching,” Harford said. She said it's the connection with customers she finds the most satisfying.
The original Canandaigua store opened in 1966. When the new store opened in 1992 it created quite a buzz: It was twice the size of the old one at just over 100,000 square feet, and it took one-stop shopping to a whole new level — “a supermarket with plenty of extra attractions,” the Canandaigua Daily Messenger reported. It housed a multi-ethnic restaurant with Thai, Chinese, American and Italian cuisine, including a coffee bar. You could rent one of over 10,000 videos and save money on items your family used often by buying them in bulk. In nice weather, you could take a meal or snack outdoors on the patio, enjoying the view of a pond while relaxing and listening to music.
A few of those opening attractions have changed through the years (who rents videos today?), and the store has expanded to 113,600 square feet. What's stayed the same is what Wegmans prides itself in — regard for its employees and customers, who can expect a grand celebration on Saturday.