What: Vancouver’s first Walmart grocery-only concept store has opened at Vancouver Plaza.
Where: 7809 N.E. Vancouver Plaza Drive.
Employees: 65 to 80.
What’s next: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has submitted plans for a second Neighborhood Market at the former Fred Meyer store site on Fourth Plain Boulevard and Grand Avenue.
Local musicians performed the national anthem, city officials gushed and employees cheered for Vancouver’s sparkling new Walmart Neighborhood Market, which held its grand opening Wednesday morning.
A first for Vancouver, the grocery- and pharmacy-only store concept was warmly received by about 100 people from local businesses and neighborhoods on its inaugural day of business. The store is in a remodeled portion of the long-vacant WinCo Foods grocery store site at 7809 N.E. Vancouver Plaza Drive.
“It’s always a pleasure to be part of a new business opening that creates jobs,” said Larry Smith, a Vancouver city councilman and deputy mayor.
About 80 people were initially hired to open the 41,000-square-foot Vancouver store, operated by Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with a staff of about 65 full- and part-time employees.
Others applauded the jobs and the fact that the store has filled a vacancy in the Vancouver Plaza shopping center as good signs for the local economy.
“This is promising for the community,” said Kelly Parker, Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce president. She reminded the crowd that the building sat empty for five years after WinCo’s move to another location.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has also submitted plans to build a similar grocery store at the former Fred Meyer store site at Fourth Plain and Grand boulevards and expects to open the store in 2014. The company also plans to break ground on a new Battle Ground Walmart Supercenter planned to open in 2014 as part of the Mill Creek Town Center retail complex at Southwest Scotton Way and state Highway 503.
WinCo opened a larger store less than two miles away at Northeast Andresen Road and 18th Street. However, some longtime customers of the former WinCo said they missed the convenience and were pleased to see a new Walmart at the site.
“It will be great to have it so close to us,” said Amanda Burch, who attended the grand opening with Kenneth Williams on the couple’s way to work Wednesday morning. They live near Clark College. Both work at the HomeTown Buffet restaurant in the Vancouver Plaza.
Burch expects grocery shopping to be more convenient with the new Walmart, within walking distance of work and just off the C-Tran bus line.
The area surrounding the once-vacant grocery store had been designated a “food desert,” a term used to describe neighborhoods without full-service food stores within one mile.
“I’m excited to see what they have,” said Katie Chittester, at the grand opening with her daughter, Scarlet Chittester; her niece, Madison Chittester; and her mother, aunt and sister.
Chittester, who lives just a few blocks from the new store, said she expects to make it a regular stop.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” she said.
To some, the new Walmart represents more than a place to buy food and prescriptions. The store means a chance at gainful employment for some, such as Vancouver resident Jon Peterson. He landed a job at Walmart after a three-year stint of unemployment.
“I’m so happy,” said Peterson, who will work as a stock clerk in the store’s general merchandise department.
His mom, Joan Peterson, expressed gratitude, as well, at Wednesday’s event. She said the past three years have been tough for her son, who has disabilities.
She attended Wednesday’s event with her neighbor Cyndi Vanskyver and Vanskyver’s granddaughter Katelyn Nerton, 11, who both approved of the new store as well.
“It’s good,” Nerton said, clutching the sample package of cookies she’d received from a costumed Oreo Cookie-man who spent the morning moving up and down the bright store’s wide grocery aisles.
Vanskyver was surprised by the groceries-only concept. She expects the smaller store will remain tidier than Wal-Mart’s 80,000-square-foot and larger “supercenter” model.
“It will stay nice all the time,” she said. “That’s my first impression.”
Moments before a ribbon-cutting, Wal-Mart officials handed out checks to local nonprofits focused on alleviating poverty and promoting healthy communities.
Donation recipients and dollar amounts: Partners in Careers, $500; Children’s Home Society, $1,000; the Vancouver Police Activity League, $1,000; the Parks Foundation of Clark County, $1,000; and the Clark County Food Bank, $115,657. The food bank expects to use the money for a refrigerated truck to deliver fresh donations to partner agencies, said Melinda Berg, the food bank’s director of development.
“It supports our fresh alliance program,” which collects donated food from 18 area grocery stores to deliver to the food bank’s 29 partner agencies.