published Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Walmart Neighborhood Market bound for Fort Oglethorpe

Fort Oglethorpe is on track to get a Walmart Neighborhood Market, a freestanding grocery store about a quarter the size of the typical Walmart Supercenter.

It will be the first of its kind in the Chattanooga area.

Walmart plans to open the 41,839-square-foot supermarket and gas station on 9 acres behind the Chick-fil-A and McDonald's restaurants on Battlefield Parkway near Fant Drive, according to plans on file at City Hall.

City Council still needs to approve the project at its April 28 meeting. The city Appeals Board approved a variance at a special meeting Thursday evening to let the proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market have 168 parking spaces -- fewer than the roughly 400 parking spaces city ordinance ordinarily would require. That variance needs council's final approval.

"It's going to happen, I can tell you that," Mayor Lynn Long said Monday. "It should be open before the end of the year."

The grocery store, which will include a six-pump gas station, will have customer entrances off Battlefield Parkway and Fant Drive and a delivery entrance off Patterson Avenue. Walmart will keep 30 percent of the property as "green space" -- twice as much as the city requires, city Codes Enforcement Officer Jill Wynn said.

"I'm excited for the city," said Wynn, who predicted the City Council would let Walmart build fewer parking spaces than normally required.

"Green [space] is good," Wynn said. "If [Walmart] thinks it's enough parking, I don't think they're going to hinder their customers' ability to get in and out."

Walmart officials didn't immediately respond Monday afternoon to a request for specific information about the Fort Oglethorpe store.

Neighborhood Markets are typically 38,000 square feet, and they offer fresh produce, meat and dairy products, bakery and deli items, household supplies, health and beauty aids and a pharmacy, Walmart spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said via email. The stores employ up to about 95 associates, she said.

In a Feb. 20 news release, the retail giant announced that it plans to open 270 to 300 small stores by the end of this year, doubling its initial forecast of 120 to 150 new stores. Meanwhile, the retail giant plans to open 115 new supercenters this year. The smaller stores saw a 4 percent increase in sales in 2014 while Walmart's overall sales were down.

"Neighborhood Market is performing comparable or favorable to leading grocers," Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and CEO stated. "Our small store expansion, in addition to providing customers access to a wide variety of products, including fresh, pharmacy and fuel, will help us usher in the next generation of retail."

Walmart currently operates 346 Neighborhood Markets and 20 Walmart Express stores, which are 15,000-square foot convenience stores launched recently to compete with dollar stores. Georgia had five Neighborhood Markets and small-format stores, according to Walmart's 2013 annual report, and Tennessee had five.

The Fort Oglethorpe Walmart Neighborhood Market store would be 2.2 miles away from an existing Walmart Supercenter on Battlefield Parkway inside city limits.

According to the financial press, Walmart is the nation's largest grocer, getting a quarter of the $585 billion spent when U.S. shoppers make their weekly trip to buy groceries.

"The quick trip to a convenience store for a quart of milk or a six-pack of your favorite beverage is a $415 billion business in the U.S., and Walmart gets just 10 percent of those sales. That's a number the retailer would like to grow," wrote Paul Ausick in a March 22 article on the website 24/7 Wall St.

Fort Oglethorpe dentist Dr. Craig Walker owns the 9-acre site for the proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market, Long said. Walker didn't return a call Monday seeking comment. The site's sale to Walmart is contingent on the project's approval, Wynn said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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