New Wegmans hires train on the sub sandwich line in the store's Alexandria location. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of Chris DePumpo

With five months to go before the doors open at the Wegmans at 5th Street Station, the grocery chain’s temporary offices at the Ix Building are abuzz with new hires and hopefuls.

The 120,000-square-foot store will employ a total of 550 people — 200 full-time and 350 part-time — when it opens in November, said store manager Chris Depumpo.

Depumpo said recently that there are about 60 full-time slots still open and that part-time hiring is underway.

“We are finding with a lot of folks [that] part time meets their schedules a little better with what they have going on, so we are starting that process …,” he said.

At 5th Street Station, workers recently finished installing the building’s roof despite an unusually rainy spring. With the roof in place, crews have been able to move equipment onto the sales floor.

“The site looks good, and we are at about 80 percent on the outside, and the roof is on,” Depumpo said. “That is nice, because now we can go gangbusters on the inside. … We are in a good spot up there.”

The new hires, in the meantime, will not be left to sit around. Over the next several months, each new full-time staffer will travel to an existing Wegmans elsewhere in Virginia for 40-hour weeks of on-the-job training. Depending on when an employee is hired, the out-of-town training lasts for as many as 14 weeks, Depumpo said.

For Michael Cary, who last month started training to be the Albemarle County store’s “knowledge-based service” representative for the cheese shop, the experience so far has been good.

“It’s actually really neat,” he said. “We are learning from all these different stores, and each store is a little different. … We are going to be like the all stars.”

Cary, who spent five years working at Monticello before making the move to Wegmans, has a tall task ahead of him. The new job means learning the characteristics of more than 400 different kinds of cheese, as well as the proper way to cut and present them.

“My only grocery store experience was when I worked at Kroger over the summers when I was in high school, and it carried on into college,” he said. “I worked in the deli, so there are similar things, but then you have the whole 400 different cheeses and all that information.”

The training tactic is expensive. Every week, Wegmans pays each trainee’s mileage to the training site, puts them in a hotel, pays their regular wage and pays a per diem. The training budget for the 5th Street Station store will total about $2 million, Depumpo said.

The idea is to eliminate the mistakes inexperienced employees might make.

“Come time to open, we are going to know everything, and we are going to feel comfortable and confident running the store,” said Mary Johnston, a newly hired customer service lead and night manager. “Charlottesville, yes, is a new store, but it won’t feel like a bunch of newbies running around.”

Johnston and Bill Anderson, another service lead and night manager, have been traveling to Fredericksburg each week to train.

“Looking at the total structure of the training, it was really nice because, even though they have hundreds of people training, it is so well structured,” Anderson said. “It was refreshing to me to not have any disorganization.”

New hires and management staff will begin working in the store about two months before the store’s opening day of Nov. 6.

Normal operating hours for the store will be 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. The store also will have a pharmacy.

The first Wegmans opened in Rochester, New York, in 1921, according to the company history. There are currently eight stores in Virginia, with locations in Midlothian, Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia.