As economy shrinks, Bangor Wal-Mart expands

Posted March 05, 2009, at 9:07 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The only major retailer in the U.S. that has shown positive growth in recent weeks is only a few months away from expanding its presence in the Bangor market.

Wal-Mart Stores, the Arkansas-based retail chain, will open a new Wal-Mart Supercenter on Stillwater Avenue sometime this summer. The new store will replace the existing Wal-Mart on Springer Drive and nearly double its amount of retail space in Bangor.

“Bangor is a great community,” said Alexandra Serra, senior manager of public affairs and government relations for Wal-Mart in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. “We love our customers here and are looking forward to better serving their needs.”

The new store comes at an opportune time. Earlier this week, Wal-Mart announced an increase of more than 5 percent in same-store sales, a common barometer of retail health. The company pointed to strong sales in its grocery and health and wellness categories, which are more prevalent in Supercenter stores than in standard Wal-Marts.

The new 209,000-square-foot building has been erected on the site, which is set back from Stillwater Avenue and will have accessibility from Stillwater and Hogan Road, where an extension is being built. The extension will run from the Stillwater Avenue intersection between the Crossroads Plaza shopping center and the Country Inn, and is expected to divert traffic from Stillwater.

The project’s developer, Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust, appeared before the city’s planning board this week to request a number of changes to its site development plan. The changes are minor, many dealing with storm water management, according to Mike Young, an engineer with Old Town-based Sewall Co., which is working on the project.

City staff and planning board members agreed this week that the revisions will enhance the developer’s compliance with conditional use and site development plan standards.

While many retailers are seeing sales drop — some at an alarming rate — Wal-Mart has proved especially resilient in the weak economy, luring customers with unmatched low prices and a one-stop shopping model.

When Bangor’s existing Wal-Mart is vacated, it has been speculated that a Lowe’s home improvement store will move in. Lowe’s has a permit with the city to take over the building on Springer Drive, but so far the issue has not come before the planning board.

“We never want to leave dark space [empty buildings],” Serra said. “So we try [to] do what we can to get another tenant.”

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