Wegmans moves ahead with expansion

Massive Allentown project that includes Pub restaurant hits the half-way point.

When you pull into the parking lot, the changes that have been under way for the past year are immediately clear.

No more struggling for a parking space, thanks to an additional 100 spaces.

Inside, the produce, floral and cheese departments have been streamlined, expanded and upgraded. And the long-awaited addition with The Pub restaurant stands — not open to the public yet — but slated for late spring.

It's all part of a massive expansion and remodeling project at the Allentown Wegmans.

I shop there a lot so I thought it might be time to update readers on how the project is going.

The 15,000-square-foot expansion and upgrade to the Lehigh Valley's first Wegmans store began in April and is about half-way finished, scheduled for completion in October.

"This is pretty extensive in that it is going to touch virtually every corner of the store," says Jo Natale, director of media relations for the Rochester, NY.-based supermarket company.

So why so much emphasis on the Allentown store? The Valley of course is also home to Wegmans stores in Hanover Township, Northampton County, and Nazareth.

"[Allentown] is the busiest store of the three and it was time to update there," Natale says.

With all this in mind, I took a tour of the supermarket with store manager Mike Kier to see what's been finished so far on the project.

Kier says customers are particularly interested in The Pub and the planned expansion of the store's beer section (more on that later).

"It has been the No. 1 question customers have been asking me," Kier says.

Looking at what's been finished so far, Kier said he was especially proud of the changes made to the cheese/produce and floral sections.

"I think it made the store look new," Kier said.

A new counter dedicated to freshly squeezed 100 percent juice has been popular with customers. We sampled the refreshingly tart blood orange juice. Fruits (and later on — vegetables) used in the juices will be seasonal.

There's a reconfigured cheese section and a station for freshly grated cheeses, conveniently located near pasta and sauces. The new configuration allows for much more space to look at the cheese offerings.

Near the cheese section is the expanded floral department, where shoppers can pick up bouquets (hint: Valentine's is coming up.) A full-time floral designer staffs the section and can help with custom orders.

The frozen foods section was in the process of being changed as we toured the store. Kier explained that they are getting rid of the waist-high freezers and are replacing them with larger, more space and energy efficient cabinet-style freezers. The revamped section will make way for more of the products customers have been asking for, including vegetarian, gluten-free and organic frozen foods. The dairy section is next, with an expanded area for yogurt. Greek-style is especially popular, Kier says.

But probably the most highly anticipated part of the project is the addition, which will be home to The Pub restaurant.

Projected to open this spring, the additionwill have new café seating for 30 and a new entrance and exit. The seating is in addition to the 160 café seats already on the mezzanine level.