ATWATER -- This city's newest resident is a 125,000-square-foot planned Wal-Mart Supercenter, set to employ 300 full- and part-time workers.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. officially obtained 11 acres at 800 Commerce Ave. in Atwater through a deed filed Tuesday in the Merced County Recorder's office. The store will be exactly right next to the existing Super Target.
Wal-Mart had been looking at the property for some time and even filed a building permit with the city of Atwater in December. At that time, however, the land was still owned by Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., which had originally planned to put one of its stores at the site, but pulled out when the economy fell into recession.
The deed didn't list the purchase price of the land, but the parcels have an assessed value of $7.6 million.
Amelia Neufeld, Wal-Mart's senior manager for public affairs for central California, said the store will have a full grocery, deli, bakery, pharmacy, an expanded and interactive electronics department and an outdoor garden center.
"We are very excited to be able to bring a new Wal-Mart store to the Atwater community because we know customers are looking to stretch their dollar even further in these tough times," Neufeld said.
The company doesn't have an exact date to begin construction. Wal-Mart stores typically open about 12 months after breaking ground, Neufeld said.
Atwater City Manager Greg Wellman said Wal-Mart and city experts estimate a few hundred jobs may be created by the construction of the store alone. Neufeld said Wal-Mart's average California pay rate is $12.07 an hour.
"This project is truly exceptional given the current state of the economy," Wellman said. "The council has given us the tools to bring jobs to Atwater, keep police officers on the streets, and expand our trade area."
The trade area Wellman talks about is important because in recent years, an analysis has shown Atwater suffers a substantial volume of "retail leakage." That means residents are driving outside Atwater to spend their money.
The analysis shows total yearly retail sales of just more than $270 million, but an average retail leak of $207 million. The more the city does to keep those dollars from driving out of town, the better, Wellman said.
It may raise some eyebrows for Wal-Mart to build right next to the same type of super-box store. Neufeld, however, didn't have any information on how common that is. Target officials didn't respond to requests for comment before the Sun-Star's deadline.
Wellman said the city's economic development experts firmly believe "business creates more business."
As for Super Target customers, several said Wednesday they'd shop at both stores, depending on what they needed.
"I don't think it's going to hurt anybody," said Jose Zamudio, 36, of Atwater, his red cart loaded with Target items. "Maybe it'll be better for prices."
Naima Hardiman, 37, said she'd like a more convenient Wal-Mart than having to drive to Merced. She noted, however, that she would probably still buy most things at Target.
"There are a few things that are cheaper (at Wal-Mart), but for the most part I am willing to pay a little more for quality," Hardiman said.
That might make Wal-Mart executives wince. Neufeld stressed often that Wal-Mart offers quality items for low prices.
Officially on the Target issue, she said: "Wal-Mart welcomes a competitive environment. It benefits the customer, as they have choices about where they want to shop, and ultimately, makes us better merchants."
But Merced resident Fernando Sanchez, 29, asked bluntly, "Why not build it in Merced?"
Merced's store doesn't have the grocery element commonly found in Wal-Mart's supercenters. Neufeld said there are no plans at this time to expand the Merced store or add a new one.
Reporter Amy Starnes can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.