Workers are building shelves, stocking goods and preparing Charlottes first WalMart Neighborhood Market for its grand opening, as the mega-retailer continues to push for a bigger share of the regions grocery market.
The WalMart Neighborhood Market is the latest entrant to Charlottes grocery scene, which has seen a slew of new stores over the past several years.
The 51,000-square-foot store is set to open in about 2 1/2 weeks on Independence Boulevard at Village Lake Drive. The new grocery store is in the Independence Square shopping center, in a former Best Buy building just a few storefronts down from the international Super G Mart.
The store is about the size of a large, traditional supermarket, and a fraction of the size of a WalMart Supercenter, which average 182,000 square feet.
The WalMart Neighborhood Market will carry a full selection of grocery items, along with a bakery, deli, pharmacy and other supermarket services.
Youll get the same Supercenter pricing, in a smaller format, said store manager David Thomas. Wal-Mart began opening the Neighborhood Markets in 1999, and now has more than 200 of the stores.
Thats a small fraction of its more than 3,000 SuperCenters, but Wal-Mart has been opening Neighborhood Markets at an accelerating rate. The retailer opened 27 in fiscal 2012, up from two the year before and five in 2010.
In October, the company opened its first Neighborhood Market in North Carolina, in Cary. Wal-Mart is also building a Neighborhood Market in Greer, S.C., that will open at the same time as the Independence Boulevard store.
This was an empty box 2 1/2 weeks ago, said Thomas, gesturing to the shelves and other fixtures. The company is spending more than $3.8 million renovating the store, according to county building permits.
WalMart has hired about 90 people at the Independence Boulevard store. Monday afternoon, they were stocking the store with goods brought in on tractor trailers, filling each spot according to a diagram taped to the rows of shelves.
Although most of the dry goods were in place, produce, meat and deli areas all sat empty. Thomas said theyll be stocked closer to the launch date to keep the goods fresh.
Wal-Marts 2012 annual report shows how important grocery items are to the business.
Grocery items made up 55 percent of Wal-Marts total $264 billion of U.S. sales for the year. Thats up from 53 percent in 2011. No other category of items comes close as a percentage of sales. The other categories include entertainment (12 percent of sales), hardline goods (10 percent), health and wellness (11 percent), apparel (7 percent) and home (5 percent).
Wal-Mart has been going after the regions former grocery market leader, Harris Teeter, with an aggressive advertising campaign that includes side-by-side price comparisons for a basket of goods. The company overtook Harris Teeter in 2011 as the No. 1 grocer in the region. Food Lion comes in at No. 3.
The new WalMart Neighborhood Market is one of many changes in the Charlotte regions grocery market over the past several years, as an increasing number of retailers fight for consumers food spending.
Publix opened its first two Charlotte-area stores, in South Carolina, and is building a store in Ballantyne as it opens a Charlotte division. Whole Foods opened its first Charlotte store last year, in the SouthPark area. Harris Teeter debuted a pair of new concept stores last year called 201central, and the Matthews-based company is conducting major renovations and replacing older stores throughout Charlotte.
And Matthews-based Family Dollar has added hundreds of food items to its stores as it seeks to lure customers looking for savings. Target has overhauled its stores to greatly expand their grocery selections. Food Lion is also overhauling its stores as part of a major rebranding effort and trying to win customers back.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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