Is Walmart changing the way they plan their new stores?

There was a surprising announcement in the Bee today: A new Walmart store in Fresno.

Walmart will open a supercenter in the former Mervyn’s that has sat empty for five years at Blackstone and Ashlan avenues in central Fresno.

The retail giant plans to open the store — which will include clothing, electronics, a full grocery department, but no auto center — this summer. At 107,000 square feet, the store is slightly smaller than a typical Walmart Supercenter, but larger than the average Walmart store.

Read more here:

Read more here:

It wasn’t so much a surprise that we’re getting yet another Wamart (Fresno sure does love them), but the location was very unexpected; it’s the last place I would have thought a Walmart would open, because it goes counter to what the company is so well known for.

Does this represent a shift in the way the company does business? 

I’m no fan of Walmart, and one of the major reasons is their real-estate policy. The company is known for doing the following things when expanding:

  • Build a brand new store from scratch
  • Build on the cheapest land – in a rural area a few miles out of town or a developing suburb
  • Always have the biggest possible parking lot in front
  • If applicable, abandon a nearby, smaller store. 

These policies lead to more sprawl, more driving, and giant empty abandoned stores that no one will ever use when Walmart changes location.

Most Valley stores follow the format.

The new Kerman store, for example, hits every point in the list but the last one. It’s so new it’s not on the Google imagery yet

 photo walmart1_zps67f370ee.png

The newest Visalia supercenter is a similar deal, at the very edge of town, a couple blocks from farmland.

 photo walmart4_zpsd20019b2.png

No need to go on; everyone knows the Walmart model.

However in the case of their new store announcement, they’re doing something different. In fact, they’re not hitting a single bullet point.

  • Build a brand new store from scratch

Nope. They’re moving into an abandoned Mervyn’s, a store I assumed would sit empty for the next decade.

I took this picture last month, noting work being done in the abandoned store
 photo walmart91_zps87f787aa.jpg

Moving into an existing store, especially one that was not designed as a supercenter, is very out of character for the chain. Yes, last year they announced that their West Shaw store would be moving across the street to an abandoned Super Kmart, but that move was to a larger box originally built to mimic the Walmart experience.

Mervyn’s? Not so much your standard Walmart Supercenter.

  • Build on the cheapest land – in a rural area a few miles out of town or a developing suburb

Quite the opposite. The new store is going onto Blackstone, what has been the retail backbone of Fresno for decades. Sure, it’s not exactly the River Park neighborhood (with River Park rents), but every lot was built on many years ago. Manchester Mall is seen at the bottom.

 photo walmart3_zpsb44e3237.png

  • Always have the biggest possible parking lot in front

Part of the deal with reusing an existing box in a part of town developed a few decades ago is that the parking lot doesn’t quite meet modern Walmart standards. Yes, there’s parking out front: but not much. Most is on the side.

There are about 80 spots in front, the bulk are on the side, and oddly enough, some in a far off corner no one would ever go to.

In this image, Blackstone is at the bottom, so you’re looking at the front. The majority of parking is on the top left, with the most random parking on the top right. Aside from RV’s, who would ever go back there?

 photo walmart5_zps3cf4e8cf.png

That means most of the parking will be on the side of the store. It will be interesting to see how Walmart lays out their entrances. They almost always have just two entrances up front, while Mervyn’s was built with 5. Which ones will they keep?

I’d even assume these ten spots are being removed, or else traffic would back up onto Blackstone.

 photo walmart6_zpsd335bebf.png

The design isn’t unprecedented in Fresno: The Target on Shields and First is also a clear retrofit of an older store. The parking lot feels like the 1950’s, and it’s certainly unlike any other Target in the region.

 photo walmart7_zpseb889c2b.png

But again, Walmart isn’t one to deal with odd layouts: they just build new.

One advantage to the shopper? The front is actually close to the sidewalk!

Here are the distances from the front door to the closest street sidewalk at the existing stores, in feet:

North Fresno (Herndon): 540 (Herndon), 510 (Ingram)
New Clovis Herndon: 575
Kings Canyon: 650
West Shaw current: 650 feet (Shaw) 740 (Brawley)
West Shaw Future (old Kmart) : 740 (Shaw) 350 (Brawley)
Clovis Shaw: 800

The new location:

Only 155 feet from Blackstone!

And finally:

  • If applicable, abandon a nearby, smaller store.

The closest store, the Clovis Shaw location will presumably stay open, as it was promised to the city as part of the approval process for the new Herndon location.

Here’s the location map.
1-5 are existing, star is this one, a and b are “Walmart neighborhood markets,” which only sell grocery items.

 photo walmart8_zps90bae0f1.png

I wonder if this is the last Walmart we’ll be seeing any time soon? Only the abandoned Kmart by Roeding Park seems appropriate for a final location, in terms of distance from other stores.

Now, if you’re thinking “this isn’t completely unprecedented,” you’re right. Walmart has been moving into urban areas and trying different concepts. They’re opening five stores in DC, with hidden parking, and even an entrance by the sidewalk, or a store on the second floor. However, as far as I know, all those are custom built locations, not retrofits.

And Fresno isn’t exactly DC. There’s obviously no shortage of land, more people drive, and there’s less political problems to deal with. Indeed, the local politicians love Walmart.

“I think this is exactly what this part of the city needs,” said Fresno Council Member Clint Olivier, whose district includes the location.

Read more here:

Mayor Ashley Swearengin said the city welcomes an investment on its major north/south street.

“Projects like these, coupled with the city’s vision for improving Blackstone Avenue with public infrastructure, will help give new life to this critical commercial corridor,” she said in a news release.

Read more here:

An article from 2011 suggests that Walmart has moved into existing locations before: but not by choice.

Confirmation came this week that Walmart would take over the former Gottschalks site at Bayshore Mall. The retailer has a contentious history in Humboldt County, dating back to a 1999 ballot measure, and news of its upcoming opening has renewed the debate — as evidenced by the strident feedback on news articles and other online forums.

In 1999, Eureka voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure J, which would have rezoned the Balloon Track property to allow Walmart to build on the waterfront site. Rumors about a new move by Walmart began surfacing in July when building plans were submitted for a “mystery store” at the Bayshore Mall. 

The town stopped Walmart from building new, but the town had no say in Walmart occupying an existing location.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened on Shaw and Fowler also went into an existing location (abandoned Albertson’s), but that’s 100% groceries, and is a very different retail concept than a supercenter.

Can anyone think of any other Walmart that breaks all their “rules”, like this one is doing?

As an aside, anyone who shops at the Petco next door should be thrilled. As this image shows, the place is always a ghost town, and I’m surprised is still in business, especially with two new locations in the north part of town. The Walmart will surely help them attract customers, and stick around.

 photo walmart9_zps9858b3e3.png

13 Replies to “Is Walmart changing the way they plan their new stores?”

  1. There is a Walmart in Sacramento that is also unusual according to your bullets, it is a two story store and appears to be a reuse of an older existing structure. The location is at the corner of Watt Ave and El Camino Ave. I'm not sure how long the store has been there, but its been there at least 6 years.

    1. Have you been inside? Looking at it via google maps it looks like a typical walmart, with large parking areas in a standard setup. I ask if youve been inside because the 2nd floor looks like a fake architectural addition.

    2. The earlier poster is correct. That location in Sacramento is a reused Wards store. It is two story, which also means there is a shopping cart escalator since Walmart can't be without its carts. See this video:

      The new Visalia Walmart on Mooney is also a reuse. It was originally Costco before Costco built a new larger store to the south.

  2. Another unusual Walmart is located in Elk Grove (near Sacramento) at the intersection of Elk Grove Blvd and Hwy 99. Rather than build a Super Walmart, the store built a "Walmart Neighborhood Grocery" exactly adjacent to a traditional Walmart. It is unique for a few reasons, one, the new grocery store is a reuse of an existing building that was vacant, and two, the two different walmart stores are exactly adjacent to eachother, yet completely separate, in other words, the buildings are not connected and entry/exit to each is completely stand alone. Both stores share an existing parking lot that is much smaller than a traditional walmart parking lot…very few empty spots at peak usage…unlike the usual hundreds of empty parking spots at walmart stores. The new grocery store opened about 1-2 years ago. It seems like Walmart is changing their typical business model.

    1. Thats an interesting case. I would reckon Walmart applied for an expansion (ie, knocking down the wall between the two stores) and was denied. However, going into an existing store and making no major changes means the city has no say in the approval process.

      Thats an interesting way to get around opposition to a super-walmart, which essentially is a regular wal-mart + large grocery.

  3. BTW – great blog James Sinclair, I like your content, and I check in weekly to see what is new in Fresno. I posted the earlier comments about unique Walmarts. BL

    1. I appreciate your comments, even though I never know if "Anonymous" is one person or one hundred.

      I have a lot of updates in the pipeline, but even the easy picture posts take so long :/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *