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Wegmans previews its Northborough store

Northborough site is state’s biggest market

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Wegmans Food Markets offered a sneak preview yesterday of the Northborough store - the first in Massachusetts.

NORTHBOROUGH - At 138,000 square feet, it is larger than two football fields and the biggest supermarket in New England. This is Wegmans, the grocery chain that aspires to change the food-shopping experience.

Wegmans Food Markets yesterday offered a sneak preview of its Northborough store - the first in Massachusetts - which is scheduled to open Sunday. It features more than 70,000 items, including 700 varieties of fruits and vegetables, 600 types of beer, and 300 cheeses.

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Wegmans, a family-run New York chain which has long coveted a Massachusetts location, is hoping to woo customers with low prices, attentive customer service, and a vast assortment of groceries and prepared meals.

In the supermarket’s Market Cafe section, there is a wing bar, dedicated to all things chicken wings; a Dim Sum bar; a Thai bar; and an Indian bar. For the meat-averse, there is a vegetarian bar with choices such as coconut cream kale, shaved brussels sprouts, and artichoke and Asiago cakes.

Other counters will offer made-to-order sushi, burritos, paninis, pizzas, and old-fashioned subs. Customers can eat while they browse the massive aisles, or hang out in the cafe with free wireless Internet access. There is seating inside and out for more than 300, including a man cave-esque section known as the “Fireside Room’’ with a gas fireplace, couches, and a 55-inch flat-screen television for watching sports.

“When I came here a year and a half ago there was nothing but rocks and dirt,’’ said Bill Congdon, vice president of Wegmans’ New England division. “We just can’t wait to get open.’’

The produce section has chopping stations set up so workers can cut up fresh fruits and vegetables for customized salads and stir fries. Employees yesterday received training on some of the more exotic items, including tamarind and dragon fruit.

Meat lovers will find numerous options at the kosher deli, the charcuterie counter, and the rotisserie section. The supermarket also has a large natural foods area, an aisle dedicated to gluten-free products, and a variety of kosher meals.

About 15,000 square feet is dedicated to adult beverages - more than 600 beers, 2,500 kinds of wine, and roughly 900 spirits. The wine section includes temperature and humidity controlled cases to store mostly French blends, such as a $499.99 bottle of a first growth 2007 Chateau Latour Bordeaux. For the more casual consumer, Wegmans offers an exclusive selection of $6 bottles, including a Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Customers can expect dozens of food and beverage sampling stations throughout the store on Sunday. Wegmans officials said they hope to break the 78-store chain’s previous record of 20,000 customers for a grand opening, but acknowledge they will be competing with the New England Patriots football game in the afternoon.

Still, the buzz keeps building. More than 25,500 customers have signed up online for the Northborough store’s discount card - a company record.

The chain is also looking to lure shoppers with low prices. In the beer section, Wegmans contrasts its prices to competitors on signs above the coolers. For example, a 30-pack of Coors Light beer will cost $18.99 at Wegmans compared with $19.99 at Price Chopper.

Wegmans appeared to have the cheapest prices on Pringles, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and 2-liter Pepsi when compared with other drugstores and supermarkets, according to an Oct. 2 Boston-area survey by the consumer education website ConsumerWorld.org. But Market Basket, known for its low prices, beat Wegmans by 5 cents on its 2-liter Coke bottle. And Stop & Shop had the best deal on Cheeze-its during a recent sale.

Wegmans is continuing to tweak the store during the final countdown. The company said it is spending more than $2.9 million on training, and is bringing more than 1,000 workers from other Wegmans markets to make sure the grand opening is seamless. Daniel Tartaglia, Northborough’s executive chef who oversees 134 employees in his cooking brigade, said food is being prepared almost around the clock in advance of the grand opening. But he is planning to hold back on a few of the splashy attention grabbers, such as live cooking demonstrations in the aisles.

“We don’t want to overwhelm everyone on the first day,’’ Tartaglia said.

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.
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