This City Is Secretly The Supermarket Capital of America
A surprising number of the country’s most popular grocery store chains have opened their doors in Richmond, Virginia
Floridians will carry on all day about Publix, if you let them, about that excellent, reasonably-priced store brand product, and those very good deli subs. Mid-Atlantic types can get downright obsessive over all things Wegmans. (Take it easy everyone, it's just a store.) Shoppers across the Carolinas are quietly in on what might very well be the future of low-cost grocery shopping at German import Lidl, and they're loving it. Regional supermarket loyalty—it's a thing, and if you're not on board, look around, because maybe you're living in the wrong region.
Help could be on the way. Today's interesting supermarket desert could end up tomorrow's embarrassed-with-riches paradise—in recent years, the old lines have become rather blurred, as many popular brands branch out beyond their comfort zones. Publix, for example, is now a way of life for many shoppers in Nashville, far away from the employee-owned company's Florida homeland; Rochester, New York-based Wegmans, for generations a hyper-regional curiosity, is now hiring for its first North Carolina store, while Lidl is readying itself for the big time, opening the first New York City area store—in Union, New Jersey, practically within view of the Manhattan skyline—shortly before Thanksgiving.
In some very lucky regions, the lines no longer exist at all. Let us for a moment assume that you are looking to go grocery shopping in Richmond, the capital city of Virginia. Follow Broad Street out of downtown, up toward the suburbs, and eventually you will end up in the Short Pump area. Here, along a nicely manicured, four-lane stretch of highway, right near where I-64 and I-295 converge, you will find the usual upmarket suburban fare, including a nice shopping center, complete with Nordstrom. Unless somebody told you, the most interesting, clearly terribly important fact about this part of Richmond might just escape you. Supermarket people will see it, however, if slowly—here, like no place anywhere else in America, at least not for the moment, worlds are colliding. There’s the Publix, which is, as of 2017, now a thing in a growing number of Virginia communities. Wegmans? They’ve got that too—there are multiple stores in the Richmond area now, for the moment the southernmost Wegmans in Wegmans Land, while North Carolina gets whipped into shape.
Then there’s the Lidl, which is right near the Aldi; you will find Trader Joe’s down the street a little, practically across from the Whole Foods. Very nearby, you’ll find a Costco, and even a Fresh Market, too. (It's kind of like a Whole Foods, and there are lots of them down South.) Many of these stores, you can walk from one to the other—there’s even a well-kept sidewalk. Without much fanfare, Richmond seems to have become something of an unwitting guinea pig in an experiment in having it all, at least supermarket-wise, and apparently, it's going great, because nobody's out of business, at least not yet. Oh, and did we mention Wawa, that Pennsylvania institution, just in case you didn't have enough choices for subs that people obsess over? Because there are two of them, bookending the main Short Pump strip. Not technically a supermarket, but still—important.
And why Richmond? Good demographics is the standard answer you'll get, when you ask—high median income, lots of well-educated people, the double-whammy for retailers looking to expand, and that includes grocery stores; if you’re thinking what’s happened here might be an accident, it's really not—other popular regional chains have reportedly been scouting around, in the last couple of years; one of them, Asheville, North Carolina favorite Earth Fare, is now opening Virginia locations.
Richmond’s singular supermarket situation will end up being shortlived, and the next region to share the distinction isn’t all that far away, turns out—Raleigh-Durham, that steadily growing, tech-friendly metropolitan area just a couple of hours away in North Carolina, is already home to every single one of the above-mentioned supermarket brands, save for one, and they’re on it—Raleigh welcomes the state's first Wegmans this year. (This is something of a major milestone for the family-owned company, which has been inching its way from frigid Western New York toward sunnier climes for decades now.)
Supermarkets seeking new audiences appears to be the wave of the future, nationally—from the Pacific Northwest, where Portland’s popular New Seasons Market successfully made inroads into Seattle (after a botched effort in the Bay Area, but who's keeping score), to South Florida, where you now have multiple locations (with more to come) of Boulder, Colorado fave Lucky’s Market, all the rules about who gets to shop where, in which part of the country, appear to be going by the wayside. Over the last decade, Hy-Vee, a Des Moines-based brand strongly associated strongly with Iowa made an intense push into the competitive Twin Cities region; you'll find them in Madison, Wisconsin, too. West Coast low-cost favorite Grocery Outlet, a staple in many a working class area in California, has been spotted all the way across the country, as far east as Pennsylvania. H Mart, a Korean-American chain that began life as a corner shop in New York City, now brags more than sixty locations from coast to coast. Idaho’s employee-owned WinCo Foods, for years a staple out west, has become a fixture as far away from home as Dallas-Fort Worth.
Speaking of Texas, not all supermarkets are all that interested in moving away from home; the state's most popular grocery store chain, H-E-B, along with their better-than-Whole Foods Central Market brand, will still only be found in very specific parts of the state, with no documented plans to venture out much further. To be fair, the San Antonio-based company already has a lot on its plate—after a relatively rough entry into Mexico a while back, you will now find dozens of H-E-B stores there, in cities like Monterrey and San Luis Potosí, all the way down to León, just a few hours drive from Mexico City.
Curious to read more on the subject? Dig into the history of the American supermarket, check out our guide to the ten best grocery store brands in the United States, or sample from our roundup of ten regional greats you may not have heard of, at least not yet.