Monday, March 9, 2015

WALMART NEIGHBORHOOD MARKET quietly coming to Athens

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart is quietly planning a new Walmart Neighborhood Market in Athens-Clarke county.  The new 41,000 square foot store would be built in the 3000 block of Atlanta Highway in Athens, adjacent to an older Ingles.  

Interestingly, the store is being developed in near complete secrecy. Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Polestar Development is listed on planning materials  as the developer of the store.  Brief research shows that Polestar has previously developed multiple Walmart Neighborhood Markets.  Plans for the store are labeled only as "Grocery Store" with some plans labeling the store as "more than 100,000 square feet," although in reality, the store is 60% smaller. Multiple readers I spoke with who live in Athens credit this to the likelihood of significant community uproar over the possibility of having yet another Walmart, of any kind, in Athens-Clarke county.  

This site plan is for the "Grocery Store" coming soon to Athens (click image to enlarge)

This site plan is for an upcoming Walmart Neighborhood Market in Warner Robins 

Notice anything similar between the two?  

Personally, I think that had Walmart adopted a less-Walmart-ized name for their market concept, they might have faced less opposition. Could they not honor their founder Sam Walton and call the stores "Walton's Neighborhood Market" ?

According to a source at the Athens-Clarke county planning department, the "Grocery Store" planned for 3140 Atlanta Highway has a building permit.  Amazingly, I confirmed with the same source that the store could go quite far into the zoning & permitting process without disclosing the actual name of the business. Additionally, the parcel is nearly 14 acres, but over half of the property is reportedly unusable because of Georgia Power easements, environmental issues and other reasons.   

According to site plans, the Athens Walmart Neighborhood Market will also have a fuel station, an amenity added to newer locations of the concept.

Athens is already home to a number of grocery stores including two Publix Supermarkets, the aforementioned Ingles, and a new Kroger Marketplace.  The Kroger Marketplace, located about ten miles from the planned Walmart Neighborhood Market, opened this past August and measures 123,000 square feet

Walmart has tried multiple times over the past few years to add new stores to Athens-Clarke county and has been rebuffed in many of their attempts.  Most recently, Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises proposed a Walmart Supercenter- anchored development in Athens in 2011.  The project, dubbed "The Foundry at Broad" would have covered three city blocks, with several buildings on nine acres between East Broad and Oconee Streets.  After facing stiff opposition from the neighborhood, and after multiple reworks, Walmart pulled out of the project in 2012. The following year, Selig abandoned the project altogether.  

The first Walmart in Athens opened in 1990 and was in the Perimeter Square shopping center on Huntington Road across Atlanta Highway from Georgia Square Mall.  It was a standard Walmart of the time, without groceries.  In the late 90s, Walmart tried to get a site on Atlanta Highway near Mitchell Bridge Road rezoned to allow for the construction of a new Supercenter that would have replaced the old Perimeter Square store. Due to significant push-back from the community on that proposal, Walmart withdrew their zoning application for the proposed Atlanta Highway Supercenter in March, 2000. 

The original Perimeter Square Walmart later became a Steve and Barry's. Following Steve & Barry's bankruptcy and store liquidation in 2009, the store sat vacant for a time before Athens Church purchased the store in 2011 and renovated it for their congregation. Athens Church, part of Alpharetta-based North Point Ministries,  is reportedly the largest church in Athens. 

In place of the store, Walmart purchased land on Epps Bridge Parkway in Oconee County in 2001 and opened the new Supercenter in 2002.  The now outdated Perimeter Square store was closed at the same time.  

According to one of my readers with whom I consulted in preparing this article, it is believed that the proposed Walmart from the late 90s would have been somewhere around the current intersection of Heyward Allen Parkway and Atlanta Highway. The new Walmart Neighborhood Market will be located just west of this area in that remaining green space fronting Atlanta Highway, between Athens W Parkway and Ultimate Drive.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market banner was launched by Walmart in 1998.  Although growth was slow at first, with more Supercenters being built than Neighborhood Market locations, the opposite is true now. 

Interestingly, many Walmart Neighborhood Market that have opened in metro Atlanta are only a few miles from existing Supercenter stores.  In the case of the Athens store, there is already an existing Walmart Supercenter less than three miles away on Epps Bridge Parkway (opened 2002).  There is also another Walmart Supercenter on Lexington Road in East Athens (opened 2000).  

Given Walmart's size and reputation, it has faced more than its fair share of community battles to get new stores built.   

Lindbergh Place
Though Walmart was never officially publicized as the anchor at Fuqua Development's Lindbergh Place redevelopment, it was understood that they were the "150,000 square foot Anchor Tenant."  After over two years of bureaucratic wrangling and neighborhood  uproar, Fuqua officially took Walmart off the table and replaced them with an 82,000 square foot Kroger.  The neighborhood has been far more receptive to the revised plan.  

Glenwood Place
Another intown Fuqua project, Glenwood Place, would have been anchored by a 143,000 sq' Walmart Supercenter. After neighbors and community organizers made clear their preference for basically anything but Walmart, a deal was brokered to bring a Kroger to the project instead. The Kroger that will open there is not your average Kroger.  At about 114,000 square feet, the new Kroger will be a "Marketplace" store and carry far more items than a typical Kroger. Having visited a few, I've observed that the Marketplace stores are almost Walmart-like in size and variety and also feature fuel stations.  

Suburban Plaza / Decatur 
It was June 2011 when I first broke news of Walmart's planned opening at Suburban Plaza, and inadvertently set off a firestorm of debate, mostly from those vehemently opposed to the retailer. After over three years of legal wrangling, the nearly 150,000 square Walmart Supercenter is finally under construction with a planned opening in March of next year.  

A new Walmart Neighborhood Market opened at Tucker Square in 2013.  The new 40,000 square foot store replaced what was originally a Wayfield Foods and was most recently operating as Mercado del Pueblo.  The new Neighborhood Market is less than three miles from an existing, recently remodeled Walmart Supercenter in Cofer Crossing, at LaVista Road and Lawrenceville Highway.

What are your thoughts on this (secretly) planned Walmart Neighborhood Market?  Does Athens need another grocery store?  Does the world need another Walmart?

Please share your thoughts below.  


AJ said...

I am not a fan of Walmart - any of their stores. This is for a variety of reasons (treatment of employees, horrible customer service, etc). That being said, Walmarts are ALWAYS packed. People welcome Target to their neighborhood, people welcome Kroger, but they shop at Walmart. I guess it's like people from rural areas. They don't want a liquor store in their county, but they'll drive under cover of night to get their booze and drive it back home! Why so much opposition to a store that most of those folks will ultimately shop at? I'm assuming it's the usual reason that no one wants to admit - race, socio-economic reasons... To me Walmart has taken 2 steps forward in recent weeks - 1) essentially told the Governor of Arkansas not to sign the "religious freedom" bill and 2) have stated that they will be raising wages of their lowest paid employees. If they keep this up, maybe I will start shopping there again. Whether in my backyard or not. Maybe this is their plan overall - be more like Target & Kroger and then they'll be wanted. It'll take a long time, a lot of work, and a lot of changes, but who knows...

Anonymous said...

I have no big issues with their grocery stores. They typically do have some self checkout lanes. I'm not sure if the prices are really all that great or not, but the stores look a bit nicer inside and out than the dumps that preceded them.

They also have a grocery store on Winters Chapel, probably 4 miles or so from their store on Ashford Dunwoody.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the Lindbergh Place development, the neighborhood is not recepetive to it at all, regardless of the anchor tenent. But a Kroger is definitely better.

Ham said...

I too have never really been a fan of Walmart and their terrible customer service. I will gladly pay a little more to be treated with respect as I give the merchant my money. However, I will admit sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to go out of my way and pay significantly more for a major purchase that I can get for less at Walmart.

Also, while I’m not a fan of them in general I do support their right to open new locations as long as they meet the local zoning requirements. Regardless of how much opposition they receive each new location is packed on opening day, so obvious people want them in these communities. I think much of the resistance comes from people who see Walmart shoppers as lower class and don’t want stores that might draw these people into their communities.

ImAndy said...

I honestly have no problem with the Neighborhood Markets either I just wish they would repurpose existing real estate as much as possible like they did in Tucker and Dunwoody rather than build new. The Dunwoody store was in a food desert for the Hispanic population that largely walk in that area and it took care of an eyesore that was the old Wayfield. I would never stop at a Supercenter in a million years after work but I do stop at the Neighborhood Market a couple times a month. Whats sad is they'll build this and the Ingles will inevitably close leaving a huge hole in the community again further upsetting the community.

Ralphie M. said...


vespajet said...

In most cases, Walmart has opened their Neighborhood markets in former grocery store spaces or torn down former grocery store spaces and rebuilt on that site. I know that the one on Hwy 78 in Snellville is on the former site of an RV dealer. There's one on Hwy 29 in Lawrenceville that is in a former Publix, and there's one on Covington Hwy at Panola Road in which they torn down a former Winn-Dixie location that had been a Big Lots.

I just wish they'd open some up here in the Southside of town.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the comments above re: Dunwoody Neighborhood Market. I avoid going into a super center like the plague but find the neighborhood market just fine for running in for a few items since I pass it on the way home from work. I especially like that the "light hardware" type offerings are much greater than you find in a typical grocery store and have saved me many a trip to the Tilly Mill home Depot. The one in Dunwoody at least has a very attractive stacked stone column exterior.

Anonymous said...

I never understand why people hate WalMart so much. They bring jobs to the community. Also, I feel they serve the purpose of avoiding having to go into a Supercenter if you don't need groceries. Talk about customer service, ever been in Publix between 5pm and 7pm? There lines are always long. Oh yeah, and to be honest Kroger beats all when it comes to pricing!

Anonymous said...

I wish a wal Mart neighborhood market would come on Candler rd

Jerry NeSmith said...

This would be a welcome addition to that part of Atlanta Highway in Athens. We need new businesses on that corridor, and a Walmart Neighborhood Market is of appropriate scale for that location. Also, their plans review shows that they are being careful to adhere to Athens' environmental and buffering laws.

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