Wal-Mart opening in Orchards

Long-planned store will greet customers Sept. 23

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Clark County will become home to another Wal-Mart Supercenter when the store officially opens on Sept. 23 with more than 200 employees and the chain’s first fueling station in the Vancouver-Portland area.

The Wal-Mart Supercenter at 145th Avenue and East Fourth Plain Boulevard will be the fifth of the company’s Supercenter stores and the seventh Wal-Mart in Clark County. The other two stores are neighborhood markets. Shelves at the 155,000-square-foot store are filling as employees, who started work a few weeks ago, prepare for the official opening.

Though the store at 14505 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd. is not open yet, cars are already driving by daily, with drivers rolling down their windows to ask: “Is Wal-Mart open?”

“There was definitely a need and a want from community members,” store manager Crystal Penney, who has worked for Wal-Mart for 13 years, said on a tour of the new store arranged for The Columbian. “They are just excited to have this here.”

But not everyone is looking forward to another Wal-Mart.

“I for one thing don’t see why our county needs another Wal-Mart,” said Mary Sisson, co-owner of Kazoodles and president of Buy Vancouver USA, a local and independent business advocacy group. “It just seems wasteful to take a chunk of land and cover it with asphalt.”

She also said the community members she encounters are not enthused. “It’s more like eyes rolling, why do we need another Wal-Mart,” she said.

This Wal-Mart is a typical Supercenter, offering a full vision facility with an optometrist available 32 hours a week and a Subway restaurant near its entrance. This store also includes “smart” LED lighting and “smart” automatic lighting on the coolers and freezers, Penney said.

The store will open to the public at 8 a.m. Sept. 23, following a grand opening celebration that starts at 7:30 a.m. with city officials and Wal-Mart executives on hand.

The store is the first development in the Birtcher Business Center, which encompasses about 200 acres generally south of the Wal-Mart site. The overall Birtcher Business Center site includes three commercial properties that are under separate ownership from the larger project, including the Wal-Mart property the retailer purchased a decade ago. The project had been stalled for years due to the economic downturn and a bankruptcy tied to the larger property. A sign placed on the property in 2006 said a Wal-Mart is “coming soon.”

The new store not only has Wal-Mart customers excited but some employees as well. The employees at the new store are a mix of people new to Wal-Mart and about 50 who transferred from other stores.

The pending opening of the Orchards store led to a promotion for 28-year-old Davie Norman. She has worked at Wal-Mart for six years, starting as a part-time seasonal worker in Camas as a way to make money to support her infant child.

She thought the job would be temporary but now she is an assistant manager.

“I really grew to appreciate the culture,” Norman said during a tour of the store with Wal-Mart officials. “We’re all about our people and our associates. I worked really hard for six years. Now I’m in the position where I can help other associates achieve their goals as well.”

Ashley Dye agrees. She started as a cashier when she was 17 and now, at age 27, will work at the new Wal-Mart as a front-end supervisor.

“I really like all the opportunities that Wal-Mart offers,” Dye said.

The average wage for Wal-Mart associates in Washington is $13.49 an hour, with benefits for the company’s regular, full-time hourly associates as of May 18, according to state data. Washington’s minimum wage is $9.47, and Wal-Mart recently announced it will raise its base wage for employees to $10 an hour starting in February 2016.

Several local nonprofit organizations will receive donation grants during the grand opening ceremony, including the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Washington and the Clark County Food Bank. The amount of the grants is still being determined, officials said.

The new Wal-Mart will also include the first fueling station at a Wal-Mart store in Oregon or Washington. The gas station and convenience store will have six pumps and offer diesel. It will open Sept. 23 as well, with a the grand opening ceremony for the gas station set for Oct. 3.