Oftentimes when new folks move to an area, they find themselves nostalgic for their old hometown. That nostalgia can take many forms, even a quest for a similar grocery store. If you’re moving to Williamsburg, Virginia from – let’s say Florida – then our Publix won’t be new to you. If you lived in Richmond up until 2010 or so, then you’re sure to have a fondness for the iconic family owned Ukrops Supermarkets (and, by the way, you will love Publix). If you’re from upstate New York and it’s a Wegmans you seek, you will have to travel to Richmond or Virginia Beach to find one.
Instead of talking about what we don’t have here, though, let’s focus on what we do have. The following stores will nicely serve your needs, including many regional or national chains.
Let’s start big and work our way down.
Looking for bargains?
National chain Walmart is here, both a Walmart superstore in York County, as well as a Walmart neighborhood market in Williamsburg’s New Town. Love them or not, Walmart’s prices are usually pretty competitive, and their inventory is regularly stocked. The lower prices you pay at the larger superstores can come with crowded aisles and long lines, however, both at the cashier and in customer service. So, the smaller neighborhood Walmart market is preferred by many. The only difference is the smaller Walmart sticks to the basics with all food items, toiletries, beer, and wine. You’ll have to go elsewhere for clothing, shoes, automotive supplies (or patio furniture).
You’ll find discounted and bulk products at Costco Wholesale stores, but you have to travel to Costco Newport News or Costco Richmond to shop there. There are also Sam’s Club stores in both cities (Newport News Sam’s Club and Richmond Sam’s Club). You will have to join as members in order to take advantage of their lower prices. If your home is small on storage space, please note that Costco and Sam’s Club offer products mostly sold in bulk. I once filled a cart with toilet paper and paper towels alone, leaving little space for all of the other wonderful bargains to be found!
The following grocery chains are popular with Williamsburgers, but not everyone will admit it. During the pandemic, Food Lion struggled somewhat to keep their shelves stocked but we’d be lost without them.
Have you ever noticed how some store chains are laid out the same, no matter where you shop? Not Food Lion. There are four Food Lion stores in the area, with each serving its own area of the city or county so you’ll soon learn your way around.
You will soon develop your own preference but to be honest, when I need a few things, I usually choose whichever store that lies along the route home that day. For shoppers with young children, the family-friendly store provides carts that youngsters can “drive” themselves. Aisles are wide and lines move pretty quickly here. Each of the four stores has a different vibe, but they all have a certain neighborhood charm. This is a basic grocery store, and the prices are pretty reasonable. Make sure to sign up for their MVP Club discount card.
A shopping experience
With its three locations in Williamsburg, Virginia, Harris Teeter also enjoys a loyal following. Owned by the Kroger Co., this store features an excellent selection of produce, a decent butcher and meat shop and a great deli that serves boar’s head products. Their take-out pizza is delicious, and their wine selections are vast with sometimes drastic mark-downs. When I want to sample a $30 bottle of cabernet, I can generally find one marked down by 50%.
Pre-pandemic, you could almost eat your way through the store because they offered samples of some of their higher end foods. A marketing ploy, but a delicious one. Here’s hoping those days return soon!
At Harris Teeter, customer service is top notch, and the checkout folks are very smart, helpful, and talkative. If you’re over 60, you can expect to receive a 5% discount on Thursdays which are designated “senior days.”
Prices trend higher than the aforementioned markets, but sales prices are very competitive. Sign up for discounts with the HT VIC Card, which is free.
Publix is very popular, and as alluded to before, reminiscent of the Richmond-based Ukrops of yore. In fact, there used to be a Ukrops in this very location. Publix (like Food Lion and Harris Teeter) carries some of the Ukrops bakery and deli items still. Even though the grocery chain was dissolved years ago, their brand is still very much alive and easy to find in local stores.
Publix is different from any other grocery store I have ever encountered. They have a great sandwich counter which is similar to Subway, but they offer all the meats and cheeses from the deli. Their bakery has the most extraordinary cakes I’ve ever encountered at a grocery store. I can’t explain it, but everything is absolutely delicious. Shop here when you’re not in a hurry because it’s a fabulous store in which to browse.
Prices at Publix are reasonable, and the quality of the food and the caliber of the employees is exemplary.
Just as Walmart was opening a smaller store that sold groceries only, the two area Target stores expanded their inventory to include groceries. I love them both. Both the Target on Monticello and the Marquis Target are super convenient if you are shopping for other merchandise, then realize there are a few groceries you need. Otherwise, there isn’t a vast selection of meats and produce. Fresh produce is usually limited to a table or two, and the meat/deli selections are sparse. But prices are reasonable for the items they do carry.
In the interest of full disclosure, my own personal favorite is Aldi because the store always meets or exceeds my expectations. With their rock-bottom prices, quality selection of items that I like, and above average customer service this store consistently comes out on top with me.
I admit that I was a bit skeptical when I first found out Aldi was coming to Williamsburg. From what I had heard about the chain, I was expecting a bargain store with random knick-knacks. I figured I’d come from time to time to pick up inexpensive items. While their products are certainly a bargain, I quickly learned that Aldi has a smaller footprint than traditional grocery stores, and literally offers everything we stock our kitchen with, from pita chips to strong coffee, fresh meats to affordable and delicious wines. I probably shop there 98% of the time.
Pro tip: bring a quarter for the cart and your own totes for transporting your purchases home.
Another favorite grocery store (but for different reasons) is Trader Joe’s. This fun, eclectic market is full of surprising values, many of them private label. Their inventory is such that you’ll probably need to find bulk and staples somewhere else, but if it’s a bouquet of fresh flowers, tuna steak, fresh asparagus, and fresh artisan bread you seek, you’ll find it here. If you’re looking for a favorite wine at a good price, or a bottle that is similar to your favorite – at a better price – you’ll find that too. The staff is friendly and the prices on organic and “natural” food items are very competitive.
Trending toward upscale
A newer store in town, Earth Fare, has a loyal following and is particularly popular with an eco and health-conscious clientele as it features products that are organic, non-GMO, and humanely raised. In addition to organic groceries, Earth Fare has a prepared food area featuring hot foods and a salad bar. It also features a juice bar offering certified organic smoothies and juices, as well as coffee and other fresh beverages. Whether you are dairy free, nut free, or gluten free they have you covered.
Located on Monticello Avenue adjacent to Trader Joe’s, The Fresh Market also enjoys a loyal following. Shopping there feels like a bit of a European market experience. From the moment you walk inside, your senses will come alive as the smell of spices, flowers, fresh fruits, and roasted coffee waft through the store. The butcher shop is stellar, as are the bakery and seafood offerings. Load up on pastries and gourmet cheeses here. Everything is delicious but nothing is cheap. No discount cards.
If, however, it’s Whole Foods Market you must have, an hour’s drive will deliver you to Whole Foods Virginia Beach or Whole Foods Richmond. Fans of the popular gourmet store know that their selection of specialty goods and organic and health products are probably second-to-one. Typically, twice the size of The Fresh Market, and three times as large as Trader Joe’s, the produce section alone is immense, and the stocked shelves are like works of art. Really, you just kind of stand there and gawk.
Whole Foods features a major seafood selection, butcher (no hormones, animal welfare standards in place) and a vast array of cheeses. You will find a variety of ethnic and international foods here as well, and an enviable wine selection. There’s even a section dedicated to au natural body care and makeup. Prices are a tad higher here, which does not come as a surprise.
Williamsburg does not have many ethnic grocers, but there are a few.
La Tienda is a 3600 square foot store that offers great products from Spain, plus wine tastings and other special events. There’s always someone on hand to guide your exploration of Spanish food or regale you with stories from the byways of Spain.
For Latino cuisine, visit El Nuevo Latino Market and Restaurant, located at 122 Waller Mill Road.
For other international grocery options, you may have to travel a bit outside of the immediate area. Addresses are included for the following stores located in nearby Newport News, as they do not all have their own websites:
E-Mart, located at 13276 Warwick Blvd. in Newport News, is a unique, one-of-a-kind grocery store that offers a vast selection of Asian groceries as well as various multi-ethnic foods, fresh seafoods and meats, international produce and even novelty kitchenware items.
Kundan International Grocery, 627 Pilot House Drive (in the Shoppes at Oyster Point) is well-stocked for all of your international needs. Primarily Indian but offers Southeast Asian and other products from all over the world.
For Korean foods, plan a visit to the Far Eastern Food Store at 340 Oriana Road E. Also, one of the best places for most of your exotic, foreign, Asian grocery needs.
The Oriental Market at 13678 Warwick Blvd, Suite D is a good and authentic source for Asian foods, especially Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai. It’s a great market shock full of hard-to-find items.
Jung Ha Oriental Market, 13310 Warwick Blvd, is another Korean grocery store that also specializes in Japanese items.
With the number of active duty and retired military in the area, it bears mentioning that the Commissary at nearby Fort Eustis is always stocked and never expensive. The selection of meats, seafood, and deli products rivals Harris Teeter. You need your military ID to get on base and at check-out.
No article on grocery shopping would be complete without mentioning the wildly popular Farmers Markets here. The Williamsburg Farmers Market is the oldest, but the more recent Toano Open Air Market is an experience unto itself. Do check them out for locally sourced everything!
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