Wegmans wasn’t due to open for a few more hours, but Paula Hopson-Stanley didn’t mind waiting.
“It’s more than a store,” she insisted. “It’s a destination.”
Wegmans opened at 7 a.m. Sunday in The Crossings at Conestoga Creek, a new commercial and residential development on Harrisburg Pike, opposite Long’s Park.
Hopson-Stanley, of Bowie, Maryland, is a proud member of the Women of Wegmans, an informal group that tries to attend every new Wegmans store opening in the region. She arrived at the new Lancaster supermarket at about 3:30 a.m.
First in line, she said she greeted a lot of store employees as they arrived for their first morning shift.
“I left home at 10:30 last night,” she said Sunday morning. “I stayed at my sister’s house, here in Lancaster, then headed over here around 3.”
She brought a chair to help pass the time — and made a new best friend in line, Ronnie Burgess of Lancaster.
“I don’t drive by a Wegmans without stopping,” Burgess said.
Hundreds of people lined up before sunrise to be among the first in the new store.
Valerie Fox, media relations coordinator for the chain, said close to 2,000 people crowded inside soon after the doors opened.
Among them was Tom Ramsbottom of Leola.
“I love Wegmans,” he said. “I first discovered them up in Rochester, about 23 years ago.”
His son took him, Ramsbottom remembered.
“I wondered about that,” he said. “Why were we going to a grocery store? But my son said, ‘Pop, you’ll love it.’ ”
He did. For years, he said, he’s been going to a Wegmans near Philadelphia.
Now, he said, he wants to check out the state’s first Burger Bar, an in-store eatery.
Then, he said, “I just want to see the store. I’m not really shopping today.”
‘My favorite store ever’
Jo Natale, vice president of media relations, said this is the 98th Wegmans in the chain and the 18th in Pennsylvania.
It employs 475 full- and part-time workers, she said. Many employees who weren’t scheduled Sunday morning showed up anyway, just to be part of the opening cheer, she said.
“We only open three stores each year, which by supermarket standards is not a lot,” Natale said. “We put a lot of planning into it. We take a lot of pride in it, and the community supports that.”
Store manager Jimmy Bellis climbed onto a makeshift stage of pallets to lead employees — and customers, waiting in the lobby behind him — in a rousing cheer.
“Food shopping in Lancaster County will never be the same,” he yelled to the crowd.
At precisely 7 a.m., customers poured into the store — some high-fiving employees or shaking their hands as they passed.
“It’s my favorite store ever,” said Lulu Talbert, who came from Lower Windsor Township with her husband, Christopher.
“She’s been counting down the days for over a year,” he said.
Sarah McKnight of Lancaster said her husband, Dave, is from Rochester, New York — hometown of the Wegmans chain — so the store is “dear to his heart.”
“We’ve been emailing Wegmans for years, asking them to come to Lancaster,” she said.
“It takes a lot of loyalty to stand in line with two kids in the rain at 6:30 a.m.,” she added. “But everyone was in a good mood.”
Jackie Mullin made a beeline for the restaurant side of the store. She, along with John and Ruth Good, all of Lancaster, bought breakfast sandwiches to fuel the day.
“We’re eating first,” she said. “Then we shop.”