Many of those gathered Wednesday night for a neighborhood meeting about improvements at the Wegmans supermarket along Amherst Street lavished praise on the Rochester-based company, which looks to enclose an outdoor dining area at the site and add a 15,000-square-foot, standalone retail store.
About a dozen of the 30 people who attended the Black Rock-Riverside Good Neighbor Planning Alliance meeting praised Wegmans as a good neighbor, sensitive to the wishes of the community. They raised questions about the aesthetics of the proposed new building, including its design, the choice of building materials, its height, traffic patterns, pedestrian access and more.
But they couldn't learn what might open at the new building.
"We can't specify what type of retail store it would be, but there are about 20 possible uses for it," Martin Herrmann, of Wegmans Site Development Group, told those gathered in Assumption Church Hall.
One of the operators of Gates Circle Wine & Liquors, a few blocks away at 1430 Delaware Ave., wasn't stumped.
"It's going to be a liquor store," Shannon Carscallen predicted, "and we're going to do what we can to fight it."
Family members of Wegmans corporate leaders are in the liquor business in the Rochester area, and Wegmans has come under severe criticism for using family members to open, or try to open, liquor stores near its supermarkets in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford, the Syracuse suburb of DeWitt, the Baltimore, Md., suburb of Columbia, and elsewhere.
Supermarkets in New York and Maryland are prohibited from selling liquor and most wines.
Herrmann told those gathered at Wednesday night's meeting that their comments would be considered before Wegmans submits any applications for the Amherst Street property to the Buffalo Planning Board or other regulatory agencies.
"This is the first fact-finding step for us," he said. "It's the first step in a very long process."
There was little discussion at the meeting about the possibility that the standalone building would be a liquor store - though at one point Herrmann said the site could be "a high-end, upscale wine and liquor store that would offer an additional product to our customers that can't be offered in a grocery store."
Regardless of what type of business leases the proposed building on Amherst Street, Herrmann said, the business would not be operated by Wegmans, but by "a third-party" tenant "through a partnership or alliance."
If it were to be a liquor store, he said, "It would be a unique opportunity in this community. It would offer something more to our customers and neighbors. It would complement our groceries for those customers who want to use wine in their recipes or to serve it at family dinners."
Carscallen, of Gates Circle Wine & Liquors, did not attend the neighborhood meeting, but she said afterward that a new liquor store would take customers away from her store and three other liquor stores within walking distance. Some of them, she said, could be put out of business by a 15,000-square-foot competitor.
Her sister and co-operator of the store, Lesle Heubach, said a new store would "hurt every independent, small store."
Herrmann and Dan Aken, Wegmans manager of site development, said they would meet again with the neighborhood alliance as their proposal becomes more firm. However, they said, they hoped construction of the standalone retail space on Amherst Street could begin next summer.