February 23, 2011

Drafting Wegmans

As many have read, there is a movement to entice Wegmans Supermarkets to build a store in Lockport. Good for the folks behind the effort - everybody needs a cause. The reality is that Wegmans is never coming to Lockport.

While the fact that Lockport does not hold the demographic that Wegmans seeks is reason enough for them not to locate here, it is not the primary reason. In fact, you'll never hear Wegmans actually state their rationale, but it is as absolute as the day is long.

Wegmans has not forgotten their experience in building their lone Niagara County location, on Military Road in Niagara Falls. They ran into massive delays, cost overruns, and most problematic, huge union problems.

It was 1997 when the chain first announced its intention to expand into Niagara. If you are unsure of how construction projects got done in Niagara County in 1997, I've got two words for you: Local 91. As this piece from Buffalo News reporter Dan Herbeck from 2000 illustrates, threats, assaults, vandalism and sabotage were the way of life at Niagara County construction sites in the 90's, including at the Wegmans site in the Town of Niagara. Of the 19 former Local 91 leaders ultimately targeted in a federal racketeering indictment first handed down in 2002, 17 pleaded guilty, one died and one was acquitted of the charges.

While the landscape in Niagara County has changed from the not-so-long-ago days of thuggery, do not for one second think that Wegmans has forgotten about their lone experience doing business in Niagara County - they haven't, and they likely won't for a long, long time. Local 91, to their credit, has put this horrendous period in their history behind them, but the scars remain.

Wegmans is one of the most successful supermarket franchises to ever exist. They are consistently voted one of the best companies to work for and are a model of efficiency. What they were forced to endure in Niagara County will have everlasting effects on their perception of this county. Right or wrong, good or bad, that is reality. No petition is going to change that.

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