Suburbanista: Food Fight in the Wegmans Parking Lot

There are battlefields in Afghanistan. In Iraq. In Ukraine. And then there is the parking lot of Wegmans.

Photograph by Clint Blowers

Photograph by Clint Blowers

At 3 p.m, on Saturday, the day before Winter Storm Titan was due to bury the entire Delaware Valley in a foot of snow, my friend Mandy did the stupidest thing any human being could ever do, ever.

She went to the Cherry Hill Wegmans.




I have long held the belief that the Cherry Hill Wegmans is the meanest place on earth. It’s not the people who work there. They’re quite lovely. Not only do they give you samples of brie with fig preserves on a freshly toasted baguette; they smile while doing it. No matter how many times management forces them to reorganize the store, they always, always know where to find canned whole clams. And if they make the error of doing their own shopping while still wearing their Wegmans employee golf shirts and you mistakenly ask them for help, they won’t hesitate to abandon their carts to go to the storeroom and find tahini for you. They are saints. And they have to be. Because the people who shop at Wegmans are evil.

Case in point: At 3:22 p.m. on said Saturday afternoon, I received this text from Mandy:

I am in Wegmans and a woman is SCREAMING at a man in the cheese section!

Mandy and I often share stories about the wickedness we witness at Wegmans. It started one Sunday a few years ago when we randomly bumped into each other there, near diapers and wipes, both unshowered and proud of it, moments before my wallet was stolen out of my purse in bulk food. (My own Wegmania may have been partly to blame for that. I’m not exactly myself there. Just a few weeks ago, Mandy happened upon me in the Asian food section, dazed and confused, mumbling to myself about low-sodium soy.)

And then there was that time during a school holiday when our friend Kris had no choice but to bring her four kids to the store. Her middle son accidentally nudged a woman’s cart into the kale, and the lady whipped her head around and shouted, “Those children do not belong here!” (Calmly, Kris replied, “Well, how about this: Next time I need to go food shopping, I’ll just drop them all at your house, ’kay?”)

And then there was that other time when my friend Maya bent down to snag some instant oatmeal off the bottom shelf in the gluten-free wing and was run over by another cart, then left there on the floor, prone and flailing, while the driver sprinted around a corner, executing a textbook Wegmans hit-and-run. And, of course, the time a woman F-bombed a man waiting at the prepared-foods counter because she thought he’d cut her in line and the man’s wife practically had to cover his mouth to prevent him from F-bombing the lady right back, all of this going down on Christmas Eve, the time of year when all our troubles are supposed to be miles away.

Apparently, those troubles reside permanently at the intersection of Route 70 and Haddonfield Road. At first I assumed that people who live in Cherry Hill and its environs were especially vile humans. But I run into the same clientele at other stores in the Wegmans shopping plaza, and I’ve never heard anyone in, say, Home Depot, shout, “Get the fuck out of my way, bitch!”

I’m pretty sure this new villainy comes hand-in-hand with the recent dawning of the Age of the Fancy Market. People who shop at Acme? Civil. People at ShopRite? Giddy. But go to Whole Foods, and someone wearing a NAMASTE t-shirt will smash her cart into your heels until they bleed to beat you to that extra-firm tofu on sale for $16.99 an ounce.

Still, Wegmans is worse. It’s where the twain meet — where you can buy the cheapest milk in town and organic medjool dates. Like the Shore, everyone is here, except they’re hungry. And they use their carts as weapons.

On a day like pre-Titan Saturday at Wegmans, the threat level for severe attacks escalates to red by 8 a.m. The explosion in the cheese section was inevitable. Mandy, eavesdropping on Cheesegate while pretending to read labels on the 54 different types of imported gouda, zipped me a second text:

She hunted him down in store because he did not stop for her in crosswalk. ‘I GOT THE COPS WAITING FOR YOU OUTSIDE. I GOT YOUR LICENSE AND I HAVE SEEN YOUR FACE!’

Like black ops, Wegmans employees in their Wegmans shirts appeared out of nowhere — Mandy and I think there’s a secret door under the Mediterranean olive bar — and surrounded the 60-something accuser in her blue Chanel. They led her away to, maybe, a panic room behind the freezer cases, while the 50-year-old alleged Crosswalk Ignorer, his wife and their two teenage kids stood there, the man’s hands still gripping the handle on their cart, all four of them making “Can we go now?” faces to the employees still huddled around, as if nothing about what just happened was out of the ordinary. As if they accepted the universal truth I’ve come to accept, that we’ve all come to accept — the people who shop at Wegmans suck.

I texted Mandy back: “Get out while you can!!!”

Of course, that would mean Mandy would have to go out into the parking lot. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I’ve almost died three times in the Cherry Hill Wegmans parking lot — once after I hit the automatic button to open the back hatch on my minivan, which apparently frightened a woman walking by who retaliated by plowing her cart into me really hard; once when I was walking by a car waiting to turn into a parking space while the lady in the car behind it honked, nonstop, which inspired me to knock on her window and yell, “Stop it,” after which she turned to reach for something on the passenger seat and I ran away, figuring she was loading a crossbow; and once when I was standing in a crosswalk and a giant black Suburban decided the two of us should play a game of Frogger.

“Inside Wegmans is all sunshine and happiness and Disney when you compare it with the parking lot,” says my friend Brian, father of two, who shops there at least once a week because, as it does me, that place has him “by the balls,” what with the cheap organic ground beef, the tubs of hummus, the Wegmans brand dill pickles that are just so good. “Out there in the lot, man?” he whispers. “It’s like Lord of the Flies.”

BRIAN ISN’T EXACTLY a conscientious objector in the Wegmans parking lot. In fact, he’s more like Robin Hood. Except, well, meaner. Once he was walking to his car and saw an SUV filled with 20-somethings park in a “Parents with Children” spot. He stopped them as they stepped out of the SUV.

“Hey guys,” he shouted, really loudly, because he’s a man who believes in the great motivating power of public shaming. “It looks like you accidentally parked in the spot reserved for parents.”

“We did?”

“Yeah … see the sign? You should move.” The guys, to their credit, got back in the SUV and pulled out. But Brian wasn’t convinced. After he got in his car, he drove back around to check, and wouldn’t you know? Those guys had circled the lot like vultures and parked in the exact same spot.

Now, a normal person — one who fears the dark and inexplicable forces in humanity, like Wegmans and the people who shop at Wegmans — would have rolled his eyes and driven away. Not Brian.

“Hey guys,” he said, rolling down his window. “It looks like you accidentally parked in the spot for parents again! What are the odds?”

Another time, when the person he confronted ignored him, Brian yelled for all to hear, “You! In the red truck! Don’t worry. I’ll move your car for you. I’ll call and have it towed.” (He didn’t.) Another time, when the offender flipped him off, Brian bellowed, “So you’re just a dick?”

“Nothing drives me more insane than people being inconsiderate,” Brian explains. Because, you know, that makes sense.

Another friend, Tim, also a father of two, is even harder-core. He once accosted a solo guy who’d parked in a parents-with-kids spot. The guy, continuing to walk into the store, defended himself with this logic: “I’m fucking handicapped! That trumps people with kids.”

“Well, you can keep going,” Tim barked back. “But I can’t promise your car’s going to look like this when you come out.” The guy stopped, looked at Tim, looked at his car, then walked back to move it.

“I would have totally keyed his car,” Tim explained later. “I might even have stabbed his tires.” He wasn’t kidding. The weird thing is, everywhere else on Earth, Tim is a nice guy. He’s funny. He once randomly purchased ice-cream cones for the entire girls’ softball team and their parents. Wegmans changes people. It not only makes people mean; it makes people mean when they’re calling out other people at Wegmans for being mean. It’s, like, meta. The mean starts in the parking lot, seeps in through the doors and past the car-carts, then oozes around produce, spreading like some airborne pathogen, multiplying and mutating as it comes in contact with various foodstuffs.

“This kind of behavior is what’s wrong with the world,” says … well … just about everyone I talk to about Wegmans.

“Ridiculous!” exclaims one friend.

“Americans have become inconsiderate assholes!” condemns another.

“Oy! They need yoga and mindfulness!” advises one more.

Right.

Cherry Hill Wegmans would be a nicer place if people did more yoga.

Probably.

But I already work pretty hard on being a kinder, nicer, gentler soul. I yoga on Wednesdays. I’ve read The Happiness Project — and even signed up for the blog. I’ve nodded knowingly each time I’ve read that proverb that always shows up on Facebook feeds: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I strive every single minute of every single day to not shoot up my middle finger when a driver pulls out in front of me without using a turn signal, to not roll my eyes when my husband comes home late from work again, to not yell at my kids for yelling at each other.

The truth is, randomly acting kind is a shit-ton of work. There’s so much social pressure to be nice all the time, to teach your kids to be nice all the time, to smile and say “Have a nice day!” all the time, even to the crossing guard at 8:17 a.m.

Suddenly, it occurs to me: Maybe I’m all wrong about the Cherry Hill Wegmans.

Maybe being the meanest place on Earth is actually a great service to society at large. Only there, in that three-acre abyss, does the general public expect the rest of the general public to not be nice. We can get our anger out there. We can get pissed off and get the best store-made guacamole ever. And here I’ve been struggling to be all civil and smiling — all kind — even in that constant traffic jam between the bagged whole wheat and the Club Packs of pork.

Not. Any. More.

THE FOLLOWING SATURDAY, after Winter Storm Titan basically passes us by (and leaves me at home with my three kids on a useless snow day), I write out a shopping list. The parking lot at the Cherry Hill Wegmans is so thronged that I’m forced to stalk people pushing their carts to their cars, inching behind them at two miles an hour. Other cars line up behind me. They honk. I want to flip them off in my rearview. But I do not.

Inside, there are so many people in the produce section, it probably would qualify in a census as a small town. I consider forsaking fresh fruits and vegetables, but my middle daughter wants a pineapple. So I forge ahead, zigzagging past a man smelling every cantaloupe in the crate, past a woman with children hanging off all four sides of her cart. Finally, I’m mere feet from the pineapples. But an obstacle is blocking my way — a woman, parked smack-dab in the middle of the thin aisle between the bags of organic Gala apples and the three-for-$3 Meyer lemons. And she’s chatting on her phone.

I try to back out, but another cart has come up behind me. And then another behind that. We’re all waiting. Eyes start rolling. I hear a “hmmph.” I know it’s my duty to fix this. I’m closest. It’s all up to me.

“Excuse me,” I say. Cell-Phone Talker ignores me. “Excuse me,” I say again, and push my cart an inch forward to bump her cart, which then lightly bumps her. She turns. Her eyes open wide, like I’ve just pulled down her pants. She mouths two words: “What the … ?”

Remember where you are, I think to myself. Remember.

“Lady,” I say, spitting out the “d” like it’s been festering there, like it’s been lying dormant in my kind-ish heart for 42 years waiting for an excuse to erupt and spew forth. Waiting … for Wegmans. “This would not be a problem,” I announce, almost shouting now, “if you just got off your GODDAMN PHONE!”

She stares into my eyes. I stare into hers. I’m pretty sure we’re about to crawl over our carts and start slapping each other. And then, just like that, her eyes soften. They soften. The corners of my mouth lift into a smile. Not an “I’m going to cut you” smile, but a genuine “We’re all in this together” smile. She gets it. She understands where we are. She’s well aware that thanks to me, in this little moment by the pineapples, she will leave this place a stronger person. So will I. She responds exactly how I expect her to: She flips me off, then moves her cart. I grab my pineapple. One of us grunts — I’m not sure who. And then we both walk away, on to the next battle.

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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  • AJ

    Omg! I loved this article. It is so true even at my Wegmans in Collegeville. I always tell my 16 year old daughter that is learning to drive that if she can drive in that parking lot she can drive anywhere.

  • Moved on…

    So true about Cherry Hill, and I lived there for 17 years! The Mount Laurel Wegman’s is much nicer!!

  • ChesterSprings

    Downingtown also is small and angry with not enough parking. Stick to Malvern or King of Prussia.

  • joedog

    Wow, quite the article. I’ve been shopping at this Wegman’s since they’ve opened and never experienced anything that you speak of. I understand that parking might be a bit further on weekends, oh dear you walk an extra 100-200 feet, but other than that, never a problem. You must have been having a bad day to write such a sensational piece for your bosses. Never seen any arguments or the flipping of the birds, and I shop here in the heat of the holidays as well. If you would like to learn a few strategies, I’m happy to show you how its done with no confrontations. Namaste.

  • G

    Hilarious article. I was there this past Monday. I am 34 and had knee surgery 4 weeks prior. I road around in one of those electric cart things. I had to stop making eye contact. I either received pity or hurry-up stares as people cut me off. It was unbelievable.

  • diane

    my feelings of fear of the Cherry Hill Wegman ‘s parking lot have now been validated. I’ve even been hit as a pedestrian while walking from my car to the entrance! I, too, loved this article

  • kensico
    • dalemcclinton

      Saw the same article….and thought the same thing. Replace Wegman’s with Whole Foods and look, a new story!

      • lizc

        Me too. More proof that journalism is dead… :(

  • http://www.abreezylife.com Brie Wexler-Latini

    This is hilarious and true and perfect and I wish I had written it!!

  • Bryan F. Irrera

    a few weeks ago, I actually went off on a pair of women upstairs in the Market Cafe. I was getting a refill of my soda (which I’d paid for…had the paper cup and the receipt to prove it) and watched a woman walk up to the Coke Freestyle machine, take the plastic cups next to it (clearly marked “For water only”) and pour herself and a companion a pair of free sodas. I got my soda and then sought her out. I walked over to where she was eating by the center balcony overlooking the hot meals (formerly overlooking the sushi area) and said “Excuse me, but you DO know that those cups were clearly labeled “for water only”, right?” She looked at me like I was speaking another language, but then said “yeah, but so what?” I responded with “would you consider yourself a thief? Would you shoplift in this store?” She said no. “well, that’s what you JUST did. I paid for my soda.” I pointed to my cup. She rolled her eyes at me as did her poshly dressed companion. “YOU are a thief. You SHOP LIFTED those drinks!” I raised my voice so that hopefully it would shame her and cause someone else to notice, but everyone ignored it. I did call them to the attention of an employee, but they said “thank you. It happens. We aren’t allowed to do anything about it” It pissed me off the rest of the day. The nerve of the woman.

  • Jane Aquila

    I go there but I haven’t had any problems

  • Gemma Seymour

    What is it with people who feel like it’s their duty to police everyone else’s behavior? Maybe that’s why the Cherry Hill Wegman’s, in particular, is so horrific.

    Maybe it’s not the handicapped person or the 20-something SUV driver parking in the “parents with small children” spot that’s the problem; maybe it’s the people who spend their time energy and gasoline monitoring where other people park. Maybe it’s the people who think that keying someone else’s car is an acceptable “punishment” for having offended their sensibilities, and that it’s their right and position to mete out that punishment.

    Cherry Hill is one of the most affluent communities in the country. You’re surprised that there are people who shop there with an over-inflated sense of entitlement? Maybe you should be more angry at the town planning commission, who allowed such incredibly poorly designed shopping centers such as the Wegman’s shopping center and the adjacent Shop-Rite center to be built in the first place, or the “architects” (and I use that term extremely loosely) who designed them.

    I lived in Voorhees for 5 years, and another 8 in Merchantville. Before that, I lived for 7 years in downtown Philadelphia, the last few months right around the corner from the Whole Foods on 20th St. I remember the first time I went into Wegman’s; I was looking for coffee, but the aisle signs didn’t display where the coffee was located. I walked up and down the store twice before I finally had to corner an employee to show me where the coffee was kept. I’ve been pretty sour on Wegman’s ever since.

    Yes, Wegman’s has good food, I’ll give them that, and they apparently treat their employees better than most, which is the most important reason why I would consider shopping there, but I live on the West Coast now, and I couldn’t be happier. People are much…nicer…here.

    • bernie

      gemma for president

  • John Hutchinson

    Am I just going to Wegman’s at the wrong time? Or is it because I’m a big beardy dude? I never see ANY of this stuff! I’m not bragging, mind you, I’m lamenting. I wish I could. It sounds hilarious! Any idea what prime Wegman’s drama time might be?

    • pac

      sunday

      • Guest

        1-3 PM

  • Amber

    As a former Wegmans employee, I can tell you we are all so “happy” due to the large number of medications we are on to deal with these ridiculous people and their ridiculous problems…there’s a reason low cost prescriptions are part of the health care plan. The customers are in general horrible…I have been physically assaulted, run over and hit by carts and cars alike, screamed at, tormented, and threatened. What makes it worse is management does nothing to back up the employees/curb this, they merely give the customer a gift card for their “troubles.” Utterly ridiculous.

  • Chelsea

    This article had me in tears, particularly the Lord of the Flies line. Hilarious!

    Side note- if anyone has finally just had enough with that Wegmans the Shop Rite about a half mile down Route 70 is pretty decent! And the liquor store is built right in there (but the booze is pricier than at Wegmans). Plus there’s a ton of empty lot space, so no parking lot battles.

  • jbc

    This article is almost a carbon copy of the Whole Foods article in March, and earlier articles on the evil on Whole Foods suburbanites.

    https://medium.com/race-class/d778c31aa9be

  • Missami

    I have a love/hate relationship with the Cherry Hill Wegmans…and the only time I will go there *willingly* is before 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. I love the store, I hate the crowds.

  • Nina

    I WALK to this Wegmans..problem solved!

  • Helen Azar

    Really? I have been to that Wegmans several times and never saw anything unusual there…

  • Lulu

    Agreed – the Wegmans in Warrington, Collegeville and Montgomeryville have the same level of awful customers. I have honestly wanted to assault people at each of these locations. That said, I think the parking spots designated for expectant mothers are ridiculous. Where are the spots for the elderly without handicapped tags, or parents of special needs kids, etc.? If they really want to help out frazzled mothers, then they should take a page out of the Ikea manual and put in a play area.

  • Rebecca

    I agree. There is ALWAYS an incident in the parking lot. People fly down and it’s not fun to go there. I only go there when I want the good stuff and I fill in from other stores with the basics. It’s no fun getting in the Plaza and it’s worse to get out. The flow of traffic is frustrating. Better watch out, Whole Food is opening up soon just down the road!!

  • Beth

    I don’t think it’s a Wegmans issue as much as a location issue. I grew up in western NY (home of Wegmans) and the customers are friendly, just like the people who live there. Now I live in MD and the customers at our local Wegmans are often jackasses. And honestly, the store employees are nowhere near as nice as in western NY either.

  • kate

    I don’t agree with the child spots. Its not the same as handicapped spots. if your kids are so misbehaved they can’t walk up to the store, you have other problems than parking.

  • Brian Jason Turner

    Very funny, the writer needs a sitcom.

  • quita19426

    The only thing I’ve taken away from this article is that the author’s friends, Brian and Tim are @&&holes! Why do grown men feel the need to police the “Parents with Children” spots? And, if I encountered Tim threatening to do harm to my car – I’d guarantee you I’d call the police right then and there. They obviously have way too much time on their hands to worry about this minutiae! FYI – I park in those spots if they’re not filled and don’t feel an ounce of guilt about it. They may be for parents with small children, but I have a 14 year old who may or may not be with me when I shop. I wait for the day someone dare says something to me about where I park!

  • Mollynj

    It is unfortunate the such a wonderful store is demeaned in such a way due to the customers who shop there. I go to the Cherry Hill Wegmans several times a week and I know not to go at peak times because the parking can be difficult. The lots are so crowded because Wegmans is a great store and so many want to go there,, if the lot was empty during those times, that would bring up another question. Parking lot aggression happens everywhere-recently a woman had her finger bit in the Mall parking lot and we all know other stories of violence in other parking stress situations. There simply isn’t enough parking for all at peak times at Wegmans (try Trader Joe’s or Shop Rite on a Sunday afternoon- nice people, great stores, but Parking aggression there too). So please lets not put down a great store for the nasty people who shop there.