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Liquor vote could lure specialty grocery

Westwood Station gets OK for license sought by Wegmans chain

Wegmans has no stores in New England. Wegmans has no stores in New England. (Aaron Houston/for the New York times)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 6, 2008

WESTWOOD - A New York-based gourmet grocery store could make its first move into the New England market with a superstore in the Westwood Station development.

Voters agreed to create the town's first liquor license for off-premise consumption solely for Westwood Station, a vote in direct support of Wegmans, a high-end grocery chain with 71 stores, mostly in New York.

Wegmans officials have called Westwood Station a "bull's-eye" site for the company's move into New England, but also said the ability to sell alcohol would be a critical factor in any decision. The company incorporates the sale of beer and wine in its superstore design and wants to keep the design as it continues to expand.

The town's approval of the license could be the catalyst for luring the grocery chain here, bringing a unique store to a project that is already changing the landscape of Westwood.

"There has been so much focus on Wegmans because they are the type of anchor tenant that helps to bring viability to Westwood Station," said Nancy Hyde, the chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.

The measure was approved by a 410-to-372 vote. The state Legislature must now grant the town's home-rule petition for the liquor license, typically a routine vote after Town Meeting decides on an issue.

Wegmans bills itself as a specialized, multipurpose store with a fresh variety of produce and also restaurant-quality prepared foods.

Its stores include tea bars, cafes, sushi stands, and bakeries. Stores also carry everyday household products, making Wegmans a cross among a supermarket, restaurant, and retail store.

"They're top of the line when you think of a food-shopping experience," said Kevin Griffin, publisher of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, a Duxbury-based trade newspaper for the Northeast.

"We don't have anything in the New England market that has a similar experience."

Griffin said the southern Boston suburbs are saturated with supermarkets, with several traditional stores in the Walpole area, a Whole Foods Market planned for Dedham, and a Target with a full-blown grocery store planned in Randolph.

But consumers will benefit from the competition, he said, and he predicts Wegmans will capitalize on what he called a high-density, high-affluent market in Westwood.

"Westwood is a perfect launching ground for Wegmans to come to the Boston market, and if there's any way to make it happen at Westwood Station, they will find a way to make that happen."

Jay Doherty, president of Cabot, Cabot & Forbes, the lead developer of Westwood Station, said the store will help lure other high-end businesses that the town is looking for.

The vote on the liquor license was significant for a town that up until five years ago banned the sale of any alcohol, and then restricted alcohol sales to restaurants that serve food.

But town officials have said that past decisions to approve the sale of alcohol have always been tied to promoting economic development, and they said that a Wegmans move here would further legitimize Westwood Station, a $1.5 billion mixed-use development of commercial and office space and high-end condominiums.

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.

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