Wegman’s Columbia opened in June of 2012 with much fanfare and a large quantity of seating both upstairs and downstairs for patrons of their prepared foods section. It was, briefly, a place to see and be seen for local notables. It then settled in to a comfortable existence as a place to grab a casual meal or to take a break before shopping.
Over time the Wegman’s public spaces evolved into a great place for meet-ups of local groups: Book clubs, PTA committees, and so on. CA even hosted a World Language Café there for a while. It has become what is known as a “third space” for some:
In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as churches, cafes, clubs, public libraries, or parks.
I was first introduced to the concept of a third space by blogger/social media guru Jessie Newburn on her blog Jessie X. She described the Columbia Starbucks as such a place, also an ideal center for co-working.
But, according to signs posted recently throughout the public areas, the Wegman’s meetup era is to be no more.
Photo credit: Mickey Gomez
I have two thoughts on this:
1. Usually companies do this in response to problems. I’m curious as to just what those problems were.
2. Could this backfire by alienating folks who might otherwise have occasionally shopped at Wegman’s.?
I myself have never had difficulty finding a seat when eating dinner or lunch with my family there. It has always seemed to me to have more than enough space to accommodate the community. If you have had a different experience I’d be interested to hear from you. If non-paying customers are causing real inconvenience for paying customers, I can see that as an issue Wegman’s would want to address. I would be very disappointed if this came down to something penny wise and poundfoolish
that takes away a lively and useful place in the community.
I’d be extremely disappointed if it were the sort of complaint driven action of the “You kids get off my lawn” variety. You know, the “those people are too loud” kind of complaints. I have no evidence of any kind, mind you, Merely the notices posted by Wegman’s themselves.
There is one other possibility. I noticed on social media that Ilana Bittner of HoCOMoJo was pondering this as well. The upstairs portions of Wegman’s will need to be reconfigured when the Loft Wine and Spirits goes in. That will reduce upstairs seating. Perhaps this move is a precursor to that?
All in all, I don’t think that anyone disputes that Wegman’s has a right to do this. But most people feel it’s shortsighted and not very community-minded. This tweet addressed to Wegman’s said it bluntly:
@Wegmans Sorry to hear you don’t want folks using your seating areas for group meetings anymore at the Columbia, MD store. The only time I shop there is after my book club; in fact, we all shop afterwards. Oh well, the parking lots sucks and the prices are too high anyway.
What do you think? Have you used the Wegman’s space as a meeting place for a group? Are there other local institutions that you think might be able to fill this need? Comment here.