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Walmart poised for 2013 opening

New neighborhood market among the first in Oregon

The new Walmart neighborhood market planned for Gresham 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. Gresham's store will be in a now vacant 60,000-square-foot space that housed the old QFC store in Gresham on the southeast corner of 182nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard. Closed grocery stores also are being renovated into neighborhood markets in Lake Oswego, West Linn and Beaverton.

It's unclear which will be the first to open, Restivo said, because they're all on similar construction timelines at this point. However, the Gresham store, as well as those in Lake Oswego and West Linn, will 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, which average about 185,000 square feet - the new neighborhood markets are smaller than what many people think of when they picture traditional Walmart stores.

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 fit in better in existing neighborhoods, Restivo said. One of the company's newest markets sits on the ground level of a high-rise apartment complex, whereas in Gresham, Lake Oswego and West Linn, markets will fit into vacant, former grocery stores.

Walmart plans to double the number of its approximately 150 neighborhood markets across the country by 2013, Restivo said.

When the company announced in July that it would open four local stores in the Portland-metro region, some people raised concerns about employment, general business practices and potential impact on smaller, local companies.

Such concerns had already been raised in Gresham, where residents five years ago successfully prevented Walmart from building a Supercenter on the property the company owned off 182nd and Powell Boulevard.

The fight helped inspire Gresham's 'big box ordinance,' approved a year ago to not only limit super-sized retailers, but to ensure that retail development is compatible with surrounding neighborhoods.

The changes create limits for building height, footprint (or the amount of land covered) and total square footage in various development zones.

Less opposition, more support

Members of the Southwest Gresham Neighborhood Association who opposed a Supercenter did not fight the new neighborhood market because it was smaller, produced less traffic impacts and complied with the new big box codes.

'We're finding that the more people learn facts about the company, the more they see the value in bringing a Walmart store to their community,' Restivo said. '… Our wages and benefits meet or exceed those offered by a majority of our competitors, union and non-union alike. And our stores are often magnets for growth and development all across the country. We're proud of the contributions we make in communities across the country - from creating jobs and generating tax revenue to helping customers save and contributing to local nonprofits - and look forward to engaging with Gresham residents to listen, answer questions and share information about our company.'

He expects the tide of public opinion will change once the local stores open, in part because the new stores will likely drive a surge of economic activity to the area, bringing more customers to surrounding businesses - even those that could be seen as competition. For example, a Safeway is right across 182nd Avenue/Highland Drive just west of Walmart's future Gresham location.

'We think a Walmart Neighborhood Market store can be part of the solution for customers in Gresham who want more affordable grocery options in their own neighborhood,' Restivo said.

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

The Gresham store will create about 95 jobs. Hiring is tentatively set to begin near the end of summer 2012, if all goes according to plan.

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.