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Wegmans filling new need in Harford County

One door has closed and another has opened.

That’s the scenario in Harford County this month, as the main phase of the Base Realignment and Closure process came to an end and Wegmans, the super-sized grocer from Rochester, N.Y., opened a 125,000-square-foot store on Route 924.

And the two are linked, said Gerry Troisi, Wegmans’ assistant manager.

“With BRAC and 26,000 families moving to this area, it made sense for us to open in Harford County,” Troisi said Wednesday, referring to the military expansion nearby at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. “It’s exciting. It’s energetic.”

Since Wegmans opened in Abingdon early on Sunday morning, the parking lot has been overflowing with curious customers, many who traveled for miles to explore the store, located less than a mile from Interstate 95 at Route 24 in a new center called The Boulevard at Box Hill.

Troisi described the store as “a full-service grocery store on steroids.”

“If Disney decided to go into the grocery business…” he said, “This is what we’re all about.”

Wegmans is famous for its bakery, seafood aisle, meat department, produce and even a flower shop within the store. One signature characteristic, a toy train that constantly runs on elevated tracks, circles overhead a gourmet cheese display.

On the shelves are the ordinary and the exotic, from cactus leaves for $2.99 a pound to black truffles for $299 per pound.

“It is the talk of the county,” said Elizabeth Johnson, a shopper who lives nearby who came to Wegmans with her friend Ruth Tarbert.

Montrae Jones, who lives in Baltimore, drove the 15 miles to check the new store out.

His first glimpse of the in-store Market Café and food court looked like a “5-star restaurant,” he said.

“The location is nice. The setup is really nice,” Jones said, sampling sweets from the bakery.

Wegmans has another store in the metropolitan area, at the Hunt Valley Towne Centre. Other stores are planned to open in 2012 in Columbia and Crofton, Troisi said. Another store is planned for Germantown in 2013.

The Abingdon store is considered an anchor to the county’s growth in the area, county officials have said.

Nearby, a DSW shoe store, a Home Goods, Panera Bread and Joe’s Crab House are expected to open soon.

More than 400 new jobs materialized with the new store, Troisi said, adding two-thirds of the new hires were Harford County residents.

The store even has employees who are assigned to clean and chop fresh vegetables so they are ready for a wok or a soup pot.

There is a small restaurant inside, too. In the store’s food court Wednesday, hundreds of customers milled around at lunchtime and placed orders from nine different counters, including a panini station, Chinese, Indian and Mexican cuisine and a sandwich station.

“We want to be everything to everyone,” Troisi said.

Nancy Goding, who was visiting from Greenville, S.C., said she wandered into Wegmans on an impulse to look into what all the fuss was about.

“I am absolutely blown away,” Goding said. “The fish counter. The meat counter. The bakery. This is not the Piggly Wiggly. I am absolutely starving for everything I see.”