Wal-Mart to renovate empty store

The location of the new Wal-Mart Super store location on north McHenry Avenue.
The location of the new Wal-Mart Super store location on north McHenry Avenue. Modesto Bee

Wal-Mart has plans to fill an empty storefront on McHenry Avenue in north Modesto, but is unsure what kind of store it will be.

Aaron Rios, a California-based spokesman for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, said Friday that the retail giant is working with the city to determine what kind of store would fill the space at 3848 McHenry Ave. It could be a Supercenter, a standard Wal-Mart or the company's bulk discount chain, Sam's Club.

Located in the North Point Landing center formerly known as McHenry Square, the store has about 100,000 square feet, Rios said. That's about half the size of a Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed for Ceres.

Sam's Club stores, which are warehouse-style operations similar to Costco, average about 132,000 square feet. The nearest Sam's Club stores are in Fresno, Sacramento and Concord.

Rios could not say how soon Wal-Mart will decide on a store type for the north McHenry site.

The empty space once housed a Sav Max and a Rite Aid store, but has been vacant for more than four years. The center's main draw now is a Hope Chest thrift store, though work has begun in the center on a Fuddrucker's hamburger restaurant.

The director of marketing and public relations for Community Hospice, the charity affiliated with Hope Chest, welcomed the news.

"We think Wal-Mart's presence will benefit Hope Chest and help support our patients and their families," said Marian Kaanon. She added that Wal-Mart has been helpful in the past with donations of money and extra products to Community Hospice.

Spa owner anticipates business

John Koury, who owns the Versailles Salon and Spa in the center, said he doubled the size of his business this summer in anticipation of Wal-Mart and other additions to North Point.

"Why wouldn't it increase business?" asked Koury, whose spa has been there for three years. "You have new houses behind us, and there's no grocery store near us. It's way overdue."

Other business owners were less sure that Wal-Mart would help. Denise Seymour, who owns My Little Balloon Co. in the center, said she worries that her customers won't be able to park as easily.

"I'm a destination shop," she said. "Maybe it'll help if a Wal-Mart customer sees my shop and comes back later."

The center also has a Round Table Pizza, Perko's Cafe and a few other businesses.

North Point was renovated over the summer, and Rios said Wal-Mart will renovate its building.

Steve Mitchell, principal planner for Modesto, said Wal-Mart needs only a building permit to move in, because it's not changing the building.

"We haven't had a lot of direct interaction with them on this," he said. "We're always happy to see redevelopment and re-use of existing centers."

Opposition is to be expected

Wal-Mart's plans in the Northern San Joaquin Valley have come under fire in recent years. That's been especially true in cities where the retailer proposed supercenters, which sell grocery items in addition to regular Wal-Mart offerings.

Unions often have been the strongest opponents of Wal-Mart, because the store does not have unionized employees.

Rios, with Wal-Mart, said he believes customers would welcome the McHenry Avenue store in whatever form it took.

"Will there be a negative reaction from consumers? Abso- lutely not," Rios said. "Do we expect special interests to come out in opposition to any store we do? Probably."

Rios said the store on McHenry would not affect Wal-Mart's Modesto store on Plaza Parkway, near Highway 99. The latter is scheduled to be remodeled next year, he said.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at bvandermeer@modbee.com or 578-2331.

Related stories from Modesto Bee