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Back in October 2010, Nadine Bailey-Joyner, Paula Hopson-Stanley, and Susan Myers camped out for hours at the new Woodmore Wegmans in Lanham. They’d arrived prepared—with coffee, warm throws, and lawn chairs—at 3AM even though the doors wouldn’t open until 7.
At the head of the line, they cheered on the employees who were setting up. Their enthusiasm attracted three new, equally fanatical friends: Jill Greene, Kim Harris, and Patricia Harrison.
Thus was born one of the stranger fan clubs in the area—a club that could exist only during an era in which the humble grocery store has moved from being a place that just sells lettuce and breakfast cereal to an institution rich with symbolism about the tastes and values of its clientele—the sort of place that can validate an entire town, not to mention a group of shoppers.
“We all loved Wegmans so much, we formed the Women of Wegmans,” Paula says.
Her first encounter with the chain had come years before, when a friend “dragged” her and Susan to the new Sterling Wegmans, an hour-and-a-half drive, saying they’d be amazed by the variety, the staff’s knowledge—the whole experience. Having a Wegmans open so close to their homes meant they wouldn’t have to travel as far to visit what to these foodies was more than a place to shop—it was a “food mall” where you could hang out. Paula’s sister had once camped out for a Wegmans opening in Fredericksburg, and Paula thought: “Well, if she can open a store, we can, too.”
Naturally, this is the kind of enthusiasm that catches the eye of corporate marketing types. Seeing the women at Lanham, a Wegmans official suggested they attend more openings. “We kept coming and kept coming,” Paula says. “At some point, we found out they put us on their website and in their training package.”
The Women of Wegmans have since been to every store opening in Maryland and to ones in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts—about nine in all. They pay their own way and receive no money or even coupons from the company. It’s all “for the love of Wegmans,” Patricia says.
At every launch, they sport strands of pearls paired with pink polos or purple vests they had made that say WOMEN OF WEGMANS. “It had to be pearls,” Paula says. “It had to be.”
Ayana Douglas, who was the opening manager of the Woodmore Wegmans, remembers the ladies’ cheers that day. But even she can’t explain the hype that store unveilings often bring across the country.
For the Maryland Women of Wegmans, passion for the retailer comes from a different place. Patricia is reminded of her hometown of Rochester, where Wegmans began, whenever she steps through the sliding glass doors. Kim loves the prepared foods and the prices. Paula likes the food variety, including truffles she says are usually found at more “high-end” grocers.
The women do spend time together beyond the walls of the stores. But the Woodmore Wegmans is a magnet.
Jill—who was a “Wegmans virgin” before going to the Woodmore opening—thinks so much of the store that she came out of retirement in 2011 (she’d previously worked for Verizon) and now works at Wegmans as a catering team lead.
The excitement these women feel for Wegmans as a “destination” seems akin to how teenagers talked about shopping malls in the ’80s. “They have everything,” Nadine says. “You can decorate from Wegmans. You can find prepared food items. If you want to sit and have a meeting or play chess or backgammon, you can. My husband and I use Woodmore for date night on Saturday because they have jazz. And they have some of the best ice-cream custard I’ve ever had.”
This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Washingtonian.