ELLSWORTH, Maine — After 10 months of construction, the new Wal-Mart Supercenter opens its doors today.
Wal-Mart is marking the opening with a ceremony at 7 a.m. this morning. The doors will open at 7:30 a.m.
The 198,000-square-foot store is more than twice the size of the existing store on Route 3 and will employ between 400 and 425 full- and part-time workers, according to store manager Steve Grass. That’s a substantial increase over the current work force of 175 employees.
“We’ve been able to bring on a lot of extra employees,” Grass said Tuesday.
The transition to the new facility has been “interesting,” Grass said. Visiting Wal-Mart crews have worked in the new store trucking in new merchandise to stock the shelves while existing crews kept the old store operating.
“That allowed customers to continue to shop at the old store and let us continue to serve them while we were getting the new store ready,” Grass said.
Workers began to shift merchandise from the old store about 10 days ago, he said. The old Wal-Mart was set to close on Tuesday.
The newest feature of the store is the grocery section, Grass said, which will include fresh produce. Friends and family of associates gathered on Sunday to view the new store, and the grocery section was the main attraction, he said.
“That was a big hit with everyone,” he said.
The store also includes a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, a pharmacy and a hair salon.
The opening of the new Wal-Mart provides an economic boost to the city at a time when it is needed, according to City Manager Michelle Beal.
“The biggest thing is that this will create an additional 200 jobs at a time when people can really use a job. And they’ll be providing benefits for the majority of those employees,” Beal said Tuesday. “That’s the biggest thing for Ellsworth and the region as well.”
The construction project, which began last November, and other retail developments such as the Good Will building, Hampton Inn and the NAPA Auto Parts expansion project, have provided bright spots for the city during the economic downturn of the past year, Beal said.
“We’ve been in a recession for a year, and yet we’ve still had those four buildings under construction,” she said. “I think that shows a confidence in the area and its ability to support those businesses.”
Although the city has little development actively in the works, a number of projects are in development that are not ready to be presented to the city’s planning board, she said.
One key development that has not developed is the rest of the Acadia Crossing project.
The Wal-Mart Supercenter is Phase II of a planned 500,000-square foot development that called for 25 more stores on the property, which also includes The Home Depot.
The economic downturn has slowed the development of that project, according to David Fleming, corporate marketing director for W/S Development. But the company is actively seeking tenants for the planned retail space.
“The next phase [of Acadia Crossing], Phase III, is really dependent on tenant interest,” Fleming said Tuesday. “Right now, we’re very excited about the next phase, and we are marketing the space to national and local tenants. We’ve had some good interest. … That’s an exceptional location.”
In the current economic atmosphere, however, fewer retailers are seeking retail space and lenders are requiring a higher percentage of commitment before releasing construction funds, Fleming noted. He said fewer developers are out there developing retail space. That, he said, gives an edge to W/S Development, which has opened three shopping centers, one in each of the past three years.
“We’re the one providing a place for those places to expand,” he said.