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Fascinating piece in the Democrat and Chronicle about what appears to be simmering discontent with the Rochester region on the part of Wegmans Food Markets, enough so that chairman/CEO Robert Wegman recently said that the company was considering focusing on expansion plans elsewhere in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

What appears to be fueling Wegman’s annoyance is the resistance in certain areas to rezoning parcels of land that would allow the company to build new stores. “Our treatment in those areas is so much different than our treatment in Rochester that if you had a choice, you would say, ‘Why struggle the way we have to in Rochester to get the zoning or the opportunity to replace a store or even sometimes to enlarge a store?’” Wegman told the newspaper.

Wegmans is a major force in the area, though the area has become less important to the company as it has grown. The Democrat and Chronicle reports that Wegmans is a major employer in the region, with some 5,600 full-time and more than 9,200 part-time workers there. “Although Wegmans does about 70 percent of the area's grocery business, that represents less than one-third of the chain's total sales of $3.3 billion, even though 25 of its 66 grocery stores are in the Rochester market,” the paper reports.

The furor seems to have different constituencies choosing up sides, with business leaders calling Wegmans a “job engine” that is critically important to the area’s economy and image, and with some community leaders resisting zoning changes that they feel will impact their neighborhoods adversely.

In some ways, it is the same battle that giant retailers such as Wal-Mart face, though Wegmans isn’t being accused of putting smaller retailers out of business, which is one of the usual charges leveled at Wal-Mart.
KC's View:
This is a tough one.

Wegmans isn’t just one of the best food retailers in the country, it happens to be one of the best retailers overall. Its stores are state-of-the-art, Wegmans always has had a “raise the bar” approach, as opposed to a ”lowest common denominator” strategy – and for those reasons, we’d love to have one coming to our community.

And yet, community resistance must be taken seriously. Wegmans isn’t threatening to leave its hometown, just to focus its development plans where it is wanted…which seems like an appropriate response to us. (As opposed to, say, trying to bully neighborhoods into accepting the company.)

So now the ball is in the court of community leaders. They need to decide what’s better for their neighborhoods – a Wegmans on the corner, or a Wegmans in Connecticut, Delaware, or Pennsylvania.