Danny Wegman once proclaimed that his supermarket chain should be in Boston, not just its suburbs.
That was five years ago — at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event — and Wegmans still hasn’t found the right Boston location. Wegman, chairman of the Gates, N.Y.-based chain, and his team are learning how tough it can be to open a large supermarket inside the city limits.
The Wegmans growth model is built around bigger suburban stores — well over 100,000 square feet — with vast amounts of free parking. But the company squeezed its Chestnut Hill market into 80,000 square feet, a design that is supposed to be a model for the chain’s future urban locations.
In Boston, Wegmans’ hunt for space led it to the Landmark Center in the Fenway. In 2013, developer Samuels & Associates unveiled plans to expand that complex, with a 75,000-square-foot Wegmans supermarket as the project’s centerpiece.
The Fenway store was supposed to be the chain’s first in an urban neighborhood, outside of its upstate New York home base. Those bragging rights will instead go to Brooklyn, N.Y., and that store won’t open until 2019. Wegmans also plans to move into a redevelopment of the Fannie Mae headquarters in Washington, D.C., at a later date.
In fact, a Landmark Center Wegmans looks to be in doubt. A spokeswoman for the supermarket chain says it doesn’t have a lease but will remain in contact with Samuels as the redevelopment takes shape to discuss the possibility that it could include a Wegmans store at a future date.
The wrench in the works appears to be the Landmark Center parking garage. The 2013 plan called for the demolition of the 380,000-square-foot garage. Parking would go underground, while the Wegmans store and other retail spaces would rise from street level, with hundreds of housing units built above them.
But Samuels decided that eliminating the current parking garage, even on an interim basis, would be too much of a hit for existing tenants — especially because parking spots are now scarcer and more expensive in the Fenway area than when the Wegmans plans were unveiled four years ago.
For now, Samuels is building a 1.1-acre park at the Landmark Center and making some interior renovations to the building. The developer hasn’t offered any details about the retooling of the broader redevelopment. The developer may want to keep the existing garage, or most of it, which would make it harder to fit in a big supermarket.
“In evaluating the original plan, it became clear that the complexity associated with demolishing the garage and building out the entire complex all at once was too challenging,” said Diana Pisciotta, a spokeswoman for Samuels. “We have subsequently begun working on ways to achieve the goals of that original project in a more sustainable manner.”
In the meantime, local Wegmans fans will have to be satisfied with the growing roster of the chain’s stores encircling Boston. The company arrived here with much fanfare, opening a store in Northborough in 2011. That was eventually followed by the Chestnut Hill location, a store in Burlington, and a long-awaited market in Westwood that had been in the works for at least seven years.
Next up: Medford. The company is still hiring people for the 120,000-square-foot supermarket it plans to open in November at the Meadow Glen Mall site.
The company also announced this week that it has started to recruit for a store it plans to open next spring in Natick. Wegmans will hire about 550 workers, including 225 full-timers. The 134,000-square-foot supermarket will open on two floors in a space formerly occupied by a JCPenney.
Company officials say they’ll continue to consider locations in Boston, though finding enough room in the city for even one of its smaller-format stores isn’t going to get any easier.
At that Greater Boston Chamber meeting in 2012, Danny Wegman made it clear he understood the challenge. “In some ways,” he said, “coming to Boston is terrifying.”