An Ode to East Avenue Wegmans
Really, can you grieve a building? Can you miss a building the way you would a dead parent or a beloved pet? Can you grieve a building that was in no way distinguished architecturally or historical or remarkable, a building that was in fact nothing more than a pile of nondescript beige bricks? A building with dingy linoleum floors, narrow aisles and a vegetable section that was all but impossible to negotiate on Sunday morning.
The answer to each question is yes, yes, yes and yes.
This morning at 7 a.m., to the delight of a thousand people—a couple dozen of those who’d been waiting in line for twenty-four hours—the new East Avenue Wegmans opened. It’s not the old building, to be sure, whose old footprint is now forever underneath the lot I parked in this morning. It’s big and clean and I wager to say that no one will go missing in the vast room of veggies and fruits. But underneath the shine is the same old East Avenue Wegmans—the familiar faces of employees who, for nearly twenty-two years, have seemed like friends.
So much of my history here in Rochester is tied to that store. Wegmans is where I went the Tuesday afternoon in 1999 when my mother died, to buy cat food and litter before leaving for the week. When the clerk at the checkout counter asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for, I told her my mother died. She was the first person I’d spoken to and my voice sounded dusty and unused. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and leaned around the counter to give me a hug.
On September 11, 2001, when I couldn’t bear to see another replay of those planes crashing into the World Trade Center, I turned off my television and drove to Wegmans. The aisles were full of people who walked as if they were fragile, breakable, and yet it was as quiet as a church. I suspected they, like me, didn’t need much in the way of groceries, only to understand that the world would somehow go on.
When my Wegmans closed in late February, I missed it terribly. I deliberately avoided driving by that area. I didn’t want to see the line of bulldozers, the shattered glass and the eventual pile of bricks of the old store. It was late winter, and everything is harder here in late winter.
Just before seven this morning, minutes before the new store was about to open its doors, a longtime employee—apron in hand—waved as she walked past the line. There were shouts of “Karen! There’s Karen! Yay, Karen!” and several people applauded as if the sidewalk were suddenly a red carpet.