April 27, 2018

Wegmans opens first-of-its-kind Natick store

Photo/Grant Welker
Yes, this is in a grocery store. Blue Dalia Restaurant & Tequila Bar opens May 4 inside the new Natick Mall Wegmans, which itself opened April 29.

Wegmans didn't quite know what to expect opening its new Natick Mall location Sunday.

That's because the New York-based grocery chain has never opened a store quite like the one replacing a former JCPenney there.

The new store is the first to be built inside a shopping mall, the first to include products on two full stories, and the first to have a full-service Mexican restaurant, one of several eateries there. There are also five entrances: two from the mall, two from outside and one from a parking garage.

That also means store leaders don't even necessarily know which entrances customers will likely use the most, or whether the prepared-food sections will appeal more to mall shoppers or workers, even those who live in the Nouvelle apartments attached to the mall.

"We're not sure how people are going to shop this store," Jo Natale, the vice president of media relations for Wegmans, said Friday, giving a tour as employees were busy preparing the store.

Wegmans Natick Mall

The store opened Sunday as Wegmans' sixth Massachusetts location. The 146,500-square-foot store is larger than most Wegmans and with two stories, featuring a center atrium with a specialized escalator to bring shopping carts from one floor to the next.

The second floor features the Mexican restaurant Blue Dalia Restaurant & Tequila Bar, which opens Friday, May 4, as well as the The Burger Bar and Buzz Coffee Shop, which is the chain's first to serve alcoholic coffee drinks, along with a fresh produce section, and a large prepared-food area with Wegmans's first build-your-own salads and an oven that cooks pizzas in just two minutes. The first floor features nonparishables, beer, wine and liquor.

Photo/Grant Welker
A special escalator was built to bring shopping carts between the first and second floors.

The store features 70,000 items in all, more than 3,000 of which are organic, and employs about 550 people. The store is still looking for help, particularly in food services.

Wegmans, which opened its first Massachusetts location at Northborough Crossing, had been looking at locations in Natick for years before the Natick Mall's JCPenney location became available, Natale said.

The chain also has Massachusetts locations in Burlington, Chestnut Hill, Medford and Westwood. It has been scouting a Boston location but has not settled on a site. Wegmans has 96 stores in all.

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