Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications




Rochester Markets

Introduction to Supermarket Shopping in Rochester, NY

by Max Lent

Revised May 2004

The first version of this introduction was written in 1998.  That document is still available in RTF format if you would like to read it for comparison (Rochester Markets 1998).  The reason for such a long lapse between reviews was that not much had changed during that period.  Wegmans was still experimenting with new concepts in marketing, Tops still had greater variety at their Maiden Lane store, and there were no new competitors.  It's now time to re-examine the Rochester market choices and see which market achieves the title of best market.

Rochester is now served by three major chain supermarkets.  Tops, Walmart, and Wegmans.  Walmart is the relative newcomer with its store on Chili Avenue in Gates.  Even with the new competition there is no question that the Wegmans Pittsford store is still the best supermarket in Rochester, Upstate New York, and perhaps the entire U.S.  Tops and Walmart markets are excellent markets.  In other metropolitan areas, like Washington D.C. they would be considered outstanding.  They are bright, clean, and well stocked.  However, in Rochester, those features are not enough to achieve a top rating.

I have criticized Wegmans for abandoning the inner city, especially racially mixed neighborhoods.  That criticism still stands.  Tops deserves high marks where Wegmans fails.  Tops opened a store on West Avenue that serves the mostly black clientele from the 19th Ward.  Unfortunately, Tops doesn't do a very good job of managing this store or their other stores.  I can only guess that the management issues are a result of the stores being owned by a foreign corporation too far removed from their stores.  The relatively new West Avenue Tops has long slow check out lines that are staffed by poorly trained clerks.  The store's shelves are often messy and products are often found on the floor.  Opened and partially eaten packages of food were found more frequently than in other stores.  Parking lot security is also not as good as it should be.  The problem is that Tops appears to manage their stores the same no matter what kind of neighborhood they are in.  Low income neighborhood markets require additional care and Tops isn't doing all it could do.  One example of poor management that I observed at the West Avenue Tops was a check out clerk complaining to another about having been on duty for 10 hours without a break by yelling their complaint across three check stands.  The clerk was surly to customers (why wouldn't they be after 10 hours without a break).  A complaint was sent to Tops.  They followed up with a form letter and a $10 coupon.  Additional follow-up from the store manager was promised, but never happened.  Perhaps the worst chain supermarket in Rochester was the Wegman's store on Mt. Hope avenue.  This store was small and poorly maintained.  It is now gone.

The Tops Maiden Lane store in Greece is a shadow of its former glory as the best international market in Rochester.  When it opened it set the standard for varieties of international foods.  Since it opened the international foods section has continuously shrunk.  Now its international food section is barely on par with a standard Wegman's market.  Its staff can rarely answer questions about the locations of products.  This is perhaps another example of the executive management being too far removed from the actual store locations.

The Walmart supermarkets are beautiful.  They are brightly lit, the food is displayed well, and they are huge.  Walmart will certainly compete well with the Wegmans.  Wegmans could use the competition as an excuse to improve.  For the average shopper Walmart may have a slight perceived advantage on price and newness.  For those who cook from scratch and value high quality produce and meats, Wegmans will maintain desirability.  Wegmans appears to maintain its superiority in the area of varieties of products available when compared to Tops or Walmart.

The Wegmans market without a peer is Wegmans Pittsford.  Tour buses still bring international tourists to this store as part of the Rochester tour.  International supermarket professionals are still seen strolling the isles in suits and scribbling on their clipboards.  It is not uncommon to stroll the isles of this store and hear Rochester residents extolling the virtues of the store to visiting out of town relatives and friends.  The Pittsford store is being revised again.  Since this is always the case, it almost goes without saying.  The restaurant area, now named Tastings, has expanded into the already overcrowded parking lot.  This store outgrew its location years ago and it is still growing.  On more than one occasion I have gone to another market because the entire parking lot was full with parked cars and more cars looking for places to park. 

The staff at the Wegmans Pittsford store are well trained.  Even trainees are often better prepared to handle customers than experienced staff at other markets.  The store is nearly spotless.  Fish counters don't smell of fish.  Meat counters are well stocked and the meats always beautifully presented.  The vegetable section, an area as large as other entire markets, is always being maintained.  The produce is the best available in Rochester with the exception of farm markets.  But even in this area Wegmans has begun to compete.  During harvest season Wegmans offers produce from local growers with uneven but mostly great success.  Some people don't like this store.  They complain that they can't find anything and that the isles are too narrow and crowded.  I have often heard complaints that Wegmans especially the Pittsford store is more expensive than Tops.  One reason for this is that the Pittsford Wegmans carries a greater variety of foods that may include some higher priced products.  For example, seeing truffles selling for hundreds of dollars a pound in the produce section could suggest to some people that the produce at Wegmans might be more expensive.  On everyday items I have not noticed that Wegmans is higher priced than any other supermarket.  This store has a patisserie with justifiably expensive pastries.  It also has a standard Wegmans doughnut counter where shoppers pay the same price for doughnuts as they would at any other Wegmans.  The doughnuts are good.  If you attend a Rochester breakfast business meeting that has doughnuts, most likely those doughnuts are from Wegmans.  Their bakery also produces better breads than any other supermarket and nearly all of the Rochester area bakeries.  The plain Italian and French breads suffer from being too light and airy and lack texture.  However, their sourdough breads are better than one might expect from a supermarket.  Unlike some other Wegmans stores the restrooms at the Pittsford store are well maintained and clean. 

The Sushi counter at Wegmans Pittsford produces sushi and rolls on par with any Asian restaurant in upstate New York.  It's one of my favorite quick lunches.  The old dining area, which is being renovated and expanded, was pleasant and a comfortable place to have an informal lunch.

If the Wegmans Pittsford store is so perfect one might ask if there any way it could improve and the answer is yes.  The translucent bags used for produce drive customers and staff to despair.  Check out clerks waste what must be hours every shift opening these bags and removing the contents to scan bar codes.  This is especially problematic for berry cartons.  The weigh-it-yourself and label-it-yourself system set up in the produce section is conceptually a great idea for using technology.  However, I never use it.  I reuse nearly all of the plastic produce bags I get from Wegmans and I don't like having large paper labels glued to the bags when I go to reuse them.  The Pittsford Wegmans has too many non-food products that detract from the function of the store.  The Godiva Chocolate counter is appreciated, but having lawn furniture and other seasonal non-food products take up valuable shelf space is not acceptable to cooks like me.  I would rather see the same space used to sell unusual food items from around the world. 

A friend of mine had her purse stolen at the Wegmans Pittsford store.  Both Wegmans and my friend share responsibility for the theft.  Wegmans does not do enough to warn women not to leave their purses in shopping carts and walk away.  Management was rude and unhelpful regarding the theft.  Executive management was unresponsive to my friend's complaint-an increasing problem at the executive level.  My friend should have known better than to leave a purse in a shopping cart and walk away.  Women do this in every Rochester store that has shopping carts.  It's easy picking for thieves.

Rochester residents are probably not aware how lucky they are to live in an area served by Wegmans markets.  It isn't until they move to another city or go grocery shopping in other cities that they realize how good Wegmans really is.  The reason why Wegmans is so much better than other supermarkets is, in a word, management.  Danny Wegman is often seen walking the isles of his stores paying attention to detail.  Wegmans staff know Danny Wegman by sight and he often knows them by name.  Danny Wegman's commitment to excellence is directly communicated to Wegmens employees.  This is in direct contrast to other markets that are owned by foreign corporations where employees probably couldn't name the CEO of their corporations.  As long as Danny Wegman sets the standards and personally stands behind them there is little chance that a national or international chain will successfully compete with the Wegmans tradition.

Names and addresses of markets discussed above

(All area codes are 585 unless otherwise specified.)

Do you have a favorite market?  Are there markets you don't like?  Share your stories in the Inforochester discussion.



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