Wegmans fails to cast a spell over this 5-cheese fan

October 06, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

THIS IS HOW PATHETIC my generation of smug, self-centered baby boomers has become: We now get giddy with excitement over supermarket openings.

Think I'm kidding? Look what's happened over the last few days.

A trendy new Wegmans opens in Hunt Valley and the boomers flock to it like it's Woodstock all over again.

That's all you hear from people my age who live in northern Baltimore County: "Have you checked out the new Wegmans?"

And they ask this in the same excited tones they used to use when discussing the new Beatles album or the latest film from Martin Scorsese.

Did you get a load of the crowds that showed up at Wegmans for its grand opening?

They showed it on the 11 o'clock news that night and it looked like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, only with a lot of shopping carts.

Not only that, but some people actually camped outside the store overnight so they could be the first ones inside when the doors opened.

Think about that for a moment: People actually camped out all night to get into a supermarket.

Has this ever happened before in all of recorded history?

Remember when boomers used to camp out all night for Rolling Stones tickets?

Or tickets to a Muhammad Ali fight?

Or to watch Evil Knievel jump across the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle? (Now that was quality entertainment.)

Now we're camping out to get the first shot at Jolly Green Giant corn niblets and Scott paper towels.

Hoo, boy. What did the Who sing. "Hope I die before I get old"?

Yep, now we know why. They could see the future of the boomers, and it wasn't pretty.

But this is what it's been like at the new Wegmans, which is getting the kind of buzz and media coverage normally reserved for the opening of a downtown stadium or hot new nightclub.

When I visited it the other night about 8:30, the place was packed and a party atmosphere was in the air.

But after wandering around for a while, I had one recurring thought: Hey, it's still just a supermarket.

Sure, it's a really big supermarket.

And, sure, it's got a sushi bar and gourmet coffee stand and a patisserie and brick ovens for baking fresh, hot breads.

And sure, it sells more than 400 varieties of cheese (more on that in a minute) and matches the cheeses with the right wines, on the assumption you're too dumb to do this.

But it's still just a supermarket.

OK, back to the 400 varieties of cheese for a moment.

I don't know about you, but this is approximately 395 more cheese choices than I need in my life.

It seems every retail store in the land wants to offer me more choices in products.

But the truth is, I don't want more choices.

In fact, I want fewer choices. All the choices they throw at me are driving me crazy.

I go to Home Depot to get a light bulb and there are 27 different types of light bulbs to choose from.

I go to Office Depot to buy a ballpoint pen and I have to figure out which of the 70 different ballpoint pens on display best fits my needs.

Now if I go to Wegmans for cheese - maybe they should call it Cheese Depot - it's like an all-day quest for just the right variety.

And it's not just cheese that overwhelms you at Wegmans.

Let's talk about onions. Do you know how many different types of onions they have?

No? Well, I'll tell you how many they have: 61.

Or at least it seems that way.

They have cipolline onions. They have Mayan sweet onions. They have shallots. They have white onions. They have Spanish onions. They have pearl onions and red onions and cooking onions and onions that are grown on a tiny outcropping on the island of Madagascar, where they can be harvested only once a year, during a lunar eclipse when the tide is favorable and the wild lemurs that guard the onions are napping.

OK, I made that last one up.

But you see my point here.

If my wife sends me up to Wegmans to get an onion, I would become paralyzed with indecision over all the choices.

I'd probably go berserk and attack the manager of the produce section. They'd find me with my hands around his throat screaming: "I just want a @#$%&* onion!"

Look, I don't want to have to choose from 400 types of cheese and 61 types of onions, OK?

It's too much pressure.

As far as cheese is concerned, there should be only about, oh, five different types. Cheddar, Swiss, provolone, Muenster, Monterey Jack - what else do you need?

And an onion is an onion, isn't it? But that's not what Wegmans is all about.

No, what Wegmans is all about is dazzling you with variety. Eight thousand different candies. Three hundred different peppers. A separate showroom for the 60,000 different varieties of salmon they offer.

And 400 kinds of cheeses.

Please. Don't get me started with the cheese.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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