Grocery store is retail giants fourth in Oregon

by: VERN UYETAKE - Ashley Knipe, manager of the new Walmart neighborhood market off Boones Ferry Road, oversees the chaos as the store comes together ahead of its opening, planned for Wednesday.Walmart will open its fourth neighborhood market in Oregon next week.

The new Lake Oswego neighborhood market occupies a former Wild Oats store on Jean Way, just off Boones Ferry Road. The building has been vacant for about five years.

The grand opening is set for 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

In the weeks leading up to the big event, store manager Ashley Knipe was confident the store would be ready faster than initially anticipated.

“We are a few days ahead of the game,” she said during a store tour Oct. 9. “Everything is on order and on its way in.”

Employees have been hard at work building displays and stocking shelves, Knipe said. The last items to arrive would be dairy products and fresh VERN UYETAKE - The shelves were nearly full during an Oct. 9 tour of the new Walmart neighborhood market in Lake Oswego.

In terms of the overall structure, not much has changed since the building was occupied by Wild Oats, a natural foods chain bought by Whole Foods in 2007 and later resold. While the walls have been painted yellow and some interior remodeling took place, the high ceilings and exposed woodwork remain.

“It’s a beautiful building,” Knipe said.

Walmart debuted the neighborhood market concept in 1998 and plans to have more than 240 of the smaller stores open nationwide by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The first on the West Coast opened in May in West Linn, followed by stores in Beaverton and Gresham. Another is planned in Milwaukie, and Beaverton and Gresham are both set for second neighborhood markets in the future.

Inside, the markets look like traditional grocery stores. Maxing out at roughly 50,000 square feet, neighborhood markets are about one-quarter the size of the retail giant’s VERN UYETAKE - Gregg Leonetti of Lake Oswego is among new employees at the Walmart neighborhood market off Boones Ferry Road. He used to work in telecommunications.

The new Lake Oswego market is among the smaller ones. The building is about 34,000 square feet, but city code would typically limit any single use, such as a grocery store, to an even smaller footprint on this particular property. Some residents have taken to calling it “mini Walmart.”

The second floor, which once housed a spa with laundry facilities and yoga services, will sit largely unused — at least for now, said Jennifer Spall, who works for Walmart in governmental affairs and public relations.

Spall said the company planned the store’s offerings with Lake Oswego residents in mind.

The market will offer a large variety of gluten-free products — a “huge customer ask” in both Oregon and Washington, she said — as well as locally grown and organic fruits and vegetables.

“We are the largest purchaser of produce on the West Coast,” she added.

The store will also feature a bigger selection of wine and beer than most, said Knipe.

While there will be plenty of Pacific Northwest wine available, Knipe said she hopes to carry as much Oregon-produced wine as possible. Floral arrangements will also be sold near the produce VERN UYETAKE - Gregg Leonetti of Lake Oswego stocks shelves at the new neighborhood market in the Lake Grove area.

Like the market already open in West Linn, Lake Oswego’s will offer a “site to store” service, allowing shoppers to pick up items they purchased online. There will also be a pharmacy and hot- and cold- prepared foods. Unlike its counterpart in West Linn, Lake Oswego’s market will have a deli.

When fully staffed, the new store will employ about 90 part- and full-time workers.

About 15 to 20 percent of the associates will be from Lake Oswego, said Knipe, who has worked for Walmart for about 13 years.

One of the local employees is Gregg Leonetti. He said he lives “less than a minute” away from the new store.

Leonetti worked in the telecommunications business for decades before finding himself in need of a new job. Now, he feels Walmart has provided some of the most “in-depth training” he’s seen, and he’s happy to be back to work.

“It’s been great,” Leonetti said. “I’m glad we’re here as a resident, and I’m glad I’m here as an employee.”by: VERN UYETAKE - While the conversion from a Wild Oats natural food store to a Walmart grocery required some minor remodeling, the high ceilings and exposed wood remain at the new neighborhood market in Lake Oswego.

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