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

departments.

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

Supercenters.

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

Publix Thursday.

“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

building.

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

left open.

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

Plaza expansion.

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

coordinator.

“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

own backyard.”

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

facilities.”

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 anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or (352)

374-5094.

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