Walmart poised for 2013 LO opening

New LO and WL markets, among the first in the state, will help double Walmart neighborhood stores nationwide

The new Walmart neighborhood market slated for Lake Oswego will likely open its doors in early 2013.

That's according to Steven Restivo, Walmart senior director of community affairs, who made his first visit to the area to look at planned market sites last week.

The company is in the process of opening four neighborhood market stores in Oregon. One is planned at 17711 Jean Way, a former Wild Oats off Boones Ferry Road in Lake Oswego, where the company recently applied for building permits to make interior improvements. Another will be at 19133 Willamette Drive, in West Linn's Robinwood Shopping Center off Highway 43.

Others are in the works in Beaverton and Gresham.

It's unclear which will be the first to open its doors, Restivo said, because they're all on similar construction timelines at this point. Like Lake Oswego's store, he said, West Linn's will also likely be open in early 2013.

Scaled down to an average 42,000 square feet - about a quarter of the size or smaller than the company's supercenters - the new neighborhood markets are smaller than what many people think of when they picture traditional Walmart stores.

The latest versions are also even smaller than many of the company's 150 or so markets that already exist nationwide.

'We've gotten more efficiency out of the box,' Restivo said.

The markets typically offer groceries, pharmacies, paper goods, health-and-beauty sections, pet and household supplies and sometimes clothing, a selection similar to what Oregonians now find at places like Fred Meyer.

Because they're smaller, they give the company more 'flexibility' in serving community needs while fitting in better in existing neighborhoods, Restivo said. For example, he said, that flexibility is evident in one of the company's newest markets: A store that opened last month sits on the ground level of a high-rise apartment complex, whereas in Lake Oswego and West Linn, the markets will fit into vacant, former grocery stores.

Walmart plans to double the number of neighborhood markets across the country by 2013, Restivo said.

When the company announced in July that it would open local stores, some Lake Oswegans raised concerns about employment and general business practices and its potential impact on smaller, local companies. Zupan's Markets is in the process of building its fourth store about a mile away. Walmart is the world's largest corporation.

Restivo said he has heard the criticism, but he contends most of it is based on 'urban myth' rather than fact.

He expects the tide of public opinion will change once the local stores are actually open.

'If we open a store in West Linn or Lake Oswego and no one comes, we'll have learned a really important lesson about those communities,' he said.

But he expects the stores to do well in both cities, and to drive a surge of economic activity to the area, bringing more customers to surrounding businesses, even those that could be seen as competition.

'Those that can diversify and (differentiate) themselves can take advantage of the spike in economic activity,' Restivo said.

The stores will each employ about 75 to 100 people, with hiring tentatively set to begin near the end of summer 2012, if all goes according to plan. He said compared to similar stores, employee pay is competitive, averaging $12.81 for full-time, hourly workers in Oregon.

Each store will also have a 'giving budget' to support local nonprofit organizations, Restivo said.