I was walking through Wegman’s in Allentown, Pennsylvania earlier today, and at some point I stopped to observe the scene I’m shaping here.
What struck me about these scenes from Wegman’s were, on the one hand, how this section of the grocery store is designed to resemble both an Old World-style public market and a smaller feeling town square. Looking straight up at the ceiling to see warehouse style sheet metal and electrical breaks this spell, but on the ground level the aesthetic is convincing as far as it tries to be. It does succeed in making Wegman’s feel like a “place,” rather than just another frontage in a faceless, memory-less asphalt and concrete suburbia.
Another thing struck me, though, standing there: this place that’s constructed to appear solid and substantial—despite being fake—is more bountiful in both the quantity and variety of ready to eat meals, meats, cheeses, deserts, foods of other varieties, and beer, wine, and liquor than any typical, authentic Old World market of this kind ever was. Asian chicken, a dozen varieties of turkey lunchmeat, freshly cooked breads and cookies of all varieties, gourmet bagels and cream cheeses, live seafoods, organic fresh raspberries in winter, etc.
Places like this are in some sense places of unreality, yet they are also places of plenty on a scale that the Old World realities generally couldn’t hope to offer. You might live in a truly solid place, in the heart of a village that’s been there for a thousand years, but where your daily life is far less varied and less culinarily interesting than places like Wegman’s now offer.