The store will replace the Big Lots store whose lease is expiring in January. Big Lots is housed in a former Ingle’s grocery store, so a grocery store returns the site to its former use.
When it opens, it will be one of seven Neighborhood Markets in metro Atlanta. Walmart opened its first Neighborhood Market in 1998 in Bentonville, Ark. Today, there are about 200 of these stores throughout the nation.
Three Georgia stores opened this year in Alpharetta, Snellville and Lawrenceville.
Greg Sullivan, Walmart’s senior vice president for company operations in the Southeast, said four additional markets are expected to open in 2013 in Tucker, Dunwoody and Marietta.
“Neighborhood Markets offer a quick and convenient shopping experience for customers who need groceries, pharmacy items and general merchandise,” he said.
District 5 County Commissioner Lee May said current zoning allows the market. Walmart only needs to meet design, signage and other requirements of the I-20 zoning overlay district, which was approved in January 2008.
The county approved Walmart’s application to demolish the 34,022-square-foot concrete and stucco building on Oct. 10.
The company’s application to rebuild in the space has been reviewed by the county but has not yet been permitted.
Bill Wertz, Walmart’s divisional director of Public Affairs & Government Relations, said they have been working with RAW Associates LLC, which owns the shopping center.
“At the conclusion of the rental period, we are going to, hopefully, build a Neighborhood Market on that site,” he said Tuesday.
The new store will be 42,362 square feet, a figure that puts it in the range of an average size Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Plans submitted to the DeKalb County Planning Department show that the store will have 205 parking spaces and 31 trees, more than the 26 trees required by county ordinances.
Wertz said it was too early to predict a ground-breaking date, but he said physical construction of the store would take just under a year.
Michigan-based Richmar Properties manages the 138,000-square-foot shopping center that includes the 28,425-square-foot, eight-screen Legacy Theaters.
Mark Walton, Richmar’s president, said demolition will “most likely” begin in February.
“We’re excited for [Walmart] and for all of the tenants in the shopping center,” Walton said. “I think it will bring more shoppers into the center, and that will help all of the tenants.”
David Holt, owner of Davido’s $3.75 Pizza, which has been located in the Covington Square for more than 18 years, said the coming of a major retailer like Walmart will be a win-win for the smaller tenants.
“It’s going to have a positive impact,” he said Thursday. “Everyone will benefit from having a major anchor in the shopping center. It is going to rejuvenate the shopping center. The landlord will have to upkeep it.”
As for his restaurant, which sells low-cost pizzas and wings, Holt said he is hoping that more people will discover his business.
“It’s going to bring a lot more people into the center and there will be a lot of opportunity for them to see our business and come and try us,” he said.
May said he supports Walmart’s plan, which is getting mixed reviews from area residents.
“Big Lots is a glorified dollar store,” May said. “I don’t like Big Lots. I don’t like Family Dollar. I don’t like Dollar General. We have something here that can really serve the needs of the community in terms of a viable grocery store option within the community.”
The seven Atlanta area Neighborhood Markets will employ more than 650 people.
Sullivan said they have been working hard to make access to the Walmart brand more convenient to customers.
“In communities like Atlanta, we are incorporating a more flexible approach that includes both large and small store formats,” he said.
Angela Clay, who was shopping at the Snellville Neighborhood Market on Wednesday, said the store, which opened on Main Street in August, is convenient to her daughter Jada’s day care center down the street.
“When I pick her up, I can run in and pick up what I need,” she said. “It’s a little quieter than the Walmart on Highway 124. It’s easier to get in and out of. Maybe because it is new a lot of people don’t know about it yet.”
Clay said the selection of vegetables, meats and other groceries is very good.
“You walk in and the vegetables are right there,” she said. “I have always found everything I need.”
Wertz said additional Walmart Neighborhood Markets are likely and will be announced at a later date.
The Covington Square Neighborhood Market will be more than three miles from the nearest grocery stores – a Kroger and an Aldi at Covington Highway and DeKalb Medical Parkway to the east, and Publix at the intersection of Covington Highway and South Hairston Road to the west.
Wendall Ervin, president of the Hidden Hills Civic Association located about a mile from Covington Square, said half of the neighbors he’s talked to are opposed to the market, mainly because of the name that will be on its sign.
Community groups across the country struggle with whether to welcome or shun the corporate giant.
“I think people overall feel that Walmart runs small business out of business,” Ervin said. “I personally don’t know that I support that argument just from what I’ve seen. I know that Walmart draws traffic and drives customers in volume, and that’s what small businesses need. … I personally believe it would be a benefit and an economic boon for the area.”
Erica Weaver, an Emory University administrative assistant who lives near Covington Square, said she feels the area is becoming “saturated” with grocery stores.
“I’m not against grocery stores,” Weaver said, “but Walmart, I feel, is starting to become like Waffle House and car places and beauty shops and barbershops. There’s a Super Walmart three miles away. There’s a Kroger on Covington Highway. There’s a Publix across the street from the Super Walmart.”
May said he believes there aren’t enough grocery stores in the area.
“We get people who are always asking when they will have a grocery store in closer proximity to their homes,” he said. “You have a Kroger east on Covington, but I would dare to say that’s one of the worst Krogers in the region.”
A few miles further east, Stonecrest residents have been pushing for a grocery store since that area developed 11 years ago.
At an April 16 meeting hosted by the Parks at Stonecrest Homeowners Association, more than 50 residents packed the Fairfield Garden Inn to urge county officials to help them get a grocery store for the area anchored by the 1.3 million square-foot Mall at Stonecrest.
They told Commissioners May and Stan Watson and the county’s Economic Development Director Charles Whatley that they have thousands of rooftops and available land for a grocery store.
While income is high in the area, Whatley said the area still lacks the type of density that grocery store developers believe can sustain that type of business.
Jennifer Ffrench Parker contributed to this story.