Friday evening found me prowling the prepared foods at Wegmans's for a quick dinner as a woman alone in the upstairs café. I can't always go to the Second Chance. Besides, dinner at the Second Chance means at least one Dogfish, and I had to be awake and ready to pick up the kid when she was done with her teen event at church.
So Wegman's for dinner it was.
First off, I was overwhelmed by the shrine to Valentine's Day at the entrance to the store. The flower display alone is rather breathtaking. If you haven't done your Valentine shopping--and if that is a thing that you do--let me tell you, Wegmans has flowers, cards, chocolate, stuffed animals, and any number of ways to express your (seasonal) love. Wow.
One of the things I love about the market café is the selection of international offerings. Some days I go straight for comfort food like barbecued chicken and mac and cheese, but most of the time I have portions of Indian food jockeying for position on my plate with Asian offerings and Mexican. Oh, and interesting vegetable dishes. I have trouble restraining myself in the buffet line. I'm sure that I am not alone in this.
The upstairs seating at Wegman's is a fun place for people-watching. As I sat with my crazy-quilt of dinner choices I had a good chance to look around. Nearby were two teens, or maybe young college students, lolling on chairs, laughing and chatting. Young couples passed on their way to find a table. Parents with young children. Older couples who looked to be enjoying a Wegman's dinner date. A few people seemed to be set up to get some work or studying done.
Down below, shoppers were pushing their carts and navigating the aisles. So many shoppers. So many different kinds of people. One thing unites them: they have the money and the transportation which makes it possible to shop at Wegman's. After that threshold is met the many differences are apparent.
Where were all of these people before Wegman's was built? What were they doing of a Friday night in February? Some were undoubtedly shopping at the stores closest to their homes. But Wegman's has filled a need not just for groceries but for eating out, gift shopping, and as a welcoming public space where one can hang out, have a snack, meet up with friends.
Or eat dinner as a woman alone, and feel perfectly fine doing so.
Some people see stores like Wegman's as sounding the death knell for smaller stores in the village centers. I don't deny that Columbia is facing the consequences of having more grocery stores than our market will truly support. And it does matter to me that we continue to have grocery stores for people who can't afford Wegman's and don't have the transportation to get there.
Last night I simply marveled at the slice of our community who turned up on a Friday night at Wegman's. In less than four years they've become an integral part of our community. We don't have many "third spaces" in Columbia. Perhaps you think it's silly that a suburban mega-grocery gives us a sense of community. Maybe it is.
But you just can't beat it for people-watching. And the food is pretty good, too.