Wal-Mart Supercenter opening in east Gainesville
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:38 p.m.
The first Wal-Mart Supercenter in Alachua County opens next week,
bringing the company's new modern look and design, its
everything-under-one-roof discount shopping and a vital shot in the arm to
economic development efforts in Gainesville's east side.
The store's 425 employees are working 24 hours a day in shifts putting the
finishing touches on general merchandise and dry goods stocks and displays
before perishable foods arrive next week in time for the May 7 opening. A
ribbon cutting ceremony starts at 7:30 a.m. that day with the doors open
for business at 8 a.m.
For the uninitiated, a Supercenter includes groceries — in this case
45,000 square feet worth — along with Wal-Mart's usual general merchandise
The east Gainesville store includes a 21,000-square-foot lawn and garden
center with a drive-through to load mulch and other supplies on the west
side and a drive-through pharmacy on the east side.
Inside stores include McDonald's, the Smart Style hair salon and the
Picture Me portrait studio. The Kansas City, Mo.-based Southern Commerce
Bank, with 10 branches in Florida, will be open seven days a week. Other
inside stores include Wal-Mart's Money Center, Vision Center and the Sports
Shop emphasizing Gator gear in place of a nail salon common in other
The store has Wal-Mart's new, more modern look and design with new signage
and colors — blue for general merchandise, green for groceries — more open
space near the registers, wider aisles and lower shelving.
The grocery area includes a sushi bar, a deli, hot prepared foods, a
seafood bar with live fish and a lobster tank.
Outside, the façade includes brick and high windows to give the appearance
of a two-story building, and the parking lot is interspersed with green
areas with sidewalks and trees. The city of Gainesville recently gave the
new store a beautification award for the façade and landscaping.
The Supercenter comes at a time when Americans are flocking to discount
stores with prices of almost everything on the rise and the economy in the
doldrums. Wal-Mart is seeing more affluent shoppers and The Wall Street
Journal reported this week that more people are buying bulk quantities of
food from discount retailers.
Vettel said she expects the store to draw from throughout the county since
Supercenters in Chiefland, Lake City, Starke and Ocala have been drawing
customers from Alachua County.
“The one thing that is so exciting here is how everybody can not wait
until we open,” said Store Manager Gene Gessler. “I don't think I've ever
felt so welcome.”
The Supercenter is about halfway between the Food Lion grocery store in
east Gainesville and the Publix on North Main Street.
Betty Stanford, 70, lives in southeast Gainesville and was shopping at
“I'll be shopping both places,” she said, “the one that gives me the best
price for my buck.”
Colette Rosa, 77, of Northeast Gainesville, said outside Publix that she
would be shopping at the Supercenter but is also loyal to some goods she
can only get at Publix.
The Supercenter was built with many sustainability features. Skylights
allow natural light to supplant 75 percent of the electric light energy.
LED lights are used in exterior signs, as well as freezer and refrigeration
cases with sensors that automatically shut the lights off when the areas
are unoccupied. Recycled plastic baseboards are used throughout the
Heating, air conditioning, refrigeration and lighting systems are
monitored and controlled from headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Gessler
said he will get a call telling him exactly which display case door was
The sustainability efforts have garnered praise from environmental leaders
and good public relations for a company that has its share of critics over
issues of the environment, local commerce and labor.
City officials cited environmental concerns in turning down Supercenter
proposals in other parts of Gainesville, but efforts to revitalize East
Gainesville made it an easier sell there. The company will submit plans for
a Supercenter at U.S. 441 and NW 34th Street this summer that would include
a 250-kilowatt solar system. Wal-Mart is also working on bringing a
Supercenter to Alachua and hopes to include one in the proposed Butler
Spokeswoman Quenta Vettel said Wal-Mart offers part-time workers the same
benefits as full-time workers, including health and life insurance,
retirement savings, bonuses and store discounts.
More than half of the 425 East Gainesville staff are full-time, Gessler
said. The company's average wage in Florida is $10.88 per hour. He said 90
percent of the store's hires are new to the company and the other 10
percent transferred from other stores.
After 20 years of community activism on Gainesville's east side, including
pushing local officials to support the Supercenter, Doris Edwards came out
of retirement to be the store's first local hire as its training
“This is the pilot that is going to ignite a lot of the other development
that we have on the table for east Gainesville,” she said. “It is really a
great feeling to know that people can have good quality jobs right in your
Vettel said a majority of employees are from east gainesville and more
than half are minorities.
“This community worked for a long time trying to bring back retail and
economic opportunities to east Gainesville and people are very proud to be
the catalyst of what we're going to see in the future, to really start
seeing retail and other opportunities,” she said.
Edwards said the project had its detractors at first with concerns about
trees being removed and other issues. “Many of those same people now are
on board with us because they travel to the other side of town to use
Vonda Williams, a merchandise supervisor from Williston, said the job is a
good opportunity for her and the experience with both grocery and retail
will improve her resume.
“There are so many different directions you can go in this company and
they give you the learning tools on the computer where you can definitely
get the knowledge that you need so you can get promoted to a different
position,” she said.
The main entrance is at Waldo Road and NE 12th Avenue. Roadwork at 19th
Terrace to NE 8th Avenue is not yet complete. There is also an entrance
from the Cedar Grove II neighborhood to the east.
Anthony Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352)
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