ST. ALBANS — The doors of the new Walmart store are set to open this Wednesday, following a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony at 7:30 a.m.
In advance of that, store associates and officials held a gathering Sunday evening to celebrate the months of work completed to establish the store within the town’s U.S. 7-North growth center. During the special event, large groups of workers and their families were escorted around the perimeter of the store on a department-by-department tour.
The timeline for the new stores development is much longer, however, than the combined efforts of its newest employees. [See accompanying article.]
The store, costing some $20 million, including road and intersection upgrades, is located on the newly created Tuckers Way. Its official opening will mark the culmination of a nearly 20-year effort to establish a Walmart in St. Albans. Construction on the 146,000-square-foot store began in late October 2012.
Walmart is touting its new location as a job supplier with about 200 new jobs, both full and part time. In the months leading up to this week’s opening, Walmart set up a career center and went through lengthy corporate processes to hire and train new employees.
At an informational meeting for potential Walmart employees held in St. Albans this summer, Walmart officials spoke about the opportunities for advancement within the corporation. The St. Albans Walmart store manager, Ryan Hanson, started working for the company in 1998 as a store associate in the hardware department.
Hanson has since moved to Swanton with his family. His wife, Jennifer, and their 17-month-old daughter, Caiden, attended Sunday’s celebration. He said he was looking forward to the doors opening.
“I’m excited to have a brand new store in a great community where we can offer the public a place to save money, so they can live better,” Hanson said in a written statement.
Open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to midnight, the new Walmart will sell nearly everything, from household appliances to clothing to toys. The store also will house a pharmacy, auto tire and lube center, and a digital photo-processing center.
While it has been billed as the largest Walmart in the state, the St. Albans location is barred from selling gasoline and can only sell a limited number of groceries as a result of appeals by Maplefield’s and the Highgate Commons Shopping Plaza.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Walmart will present a $6,000 check to the Franklin County Home Health Agency. The new store also will participate in Walmart’s and the Walmart Foundation’s efforts to fight hunger by donating food and money to assist the hungry.
About 500 people attended the hour-long gathering Sunday during which the developer, Jeff Davis, and other local officials were introduced along with the store’s management team. Store manager Ryan Hanson led the introductions that included staff appreciation awards for the work it took to open the new store on time.
Walmart’s St. Albans opening coincides with the last stages of the St. Albans City Downtown Streetscape Project. The final paving of South Main Street was scheduled to be complete today.
The lengthy process in bringing Walmart to St. Albans was filled with development review board permits, environmental court hearings and plenty of opposition from several organized groups.
In early 2010, a judge upheld the Walmart development’s Act 250 permit that had been challenged by opposing groups. An appeal of that lower court decision was filed, but was eventually rejected in August 2011 by the Vermont Supreme Court, allowing Walmart to leap its final hurdle.
The store’s Act 250 permit required the company to make substantial upgrades to Route 7 from Lower Newton Road intersection north and to Exit 20 of I-89.
As part of an agreement with St. Albans City, Davis, the developer, agreed to purchase four historic downtown buildings and invest in their renovation. Under that agreement, Davis paid the city $450,000 for downtown development. The initial payment of $100,000 was used in the city’s $3 million streetscape project and the remainder remains is being held in reserve funds, according to St. Albans City Manager Dominic Cloud.
While a new Walmart has been met with uncertainty and unease from smaller businesses and merchants, Gov. Peter Shumlin, in a written statement distributed by Walmart, said the new store will help attract visitors to those other businesses and to downtown St. Albans. He said combining the new Walmart with the downtown revitalization is an opportunity for the area to take great strides moving forward.
“This Walmart will provide sought-after discount shopping for Franklin County residents without having to drive south to Chittenden County, and it will attract Canadians and visitors from other parts of the state to Franklin County, who will also visit the restaurants, movie theaters, and specialty shops located downtown,” Shumlin said. “Those downtown projects, in tandem with today’s Walmart opening, bring added economic vitality to Northwestern Vermont.”
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Messenger Staff writers Ian Lord, Michelle Monroe, and correspondent George Ouellette contributed to this report.