Wal-Mart To Open Food Market In West Hartford's Bishops Corner

  • A view of the former Adams Supermarket at Bishops Corner in West Hartford where plans for a Walmart Grocery store have been announced.
A view of the former Adams Supermarket at Bishops Corner in West Hartford… (na, hc )
February 17, 2012|By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, kgosselin@courant.com, The Hartford Courant

A year ago, few would have thought of Wal-Martas a likely tenant when the owner of a long-vacant grocery store in West Hartford's Bishops Corner sought town approval for upgrades.

But that is just who is moving in.

Will upscale West Hartford welcome aWal-Mart? This store, in contrast to the vast superstores, is a Neighborhood Market byWal-Mart— its first in the Northeast. The grocer will occupy the Adams supermarket space, empty for nearly a decade.

The arrival of a Wal-Mart food market is part of a $20 million makeover of the aging shopping center on the southwest quadrant of Bishops Corner, where Marshalls and other stores are located. The center's owner, South Carolina-based EDENS, also said it will demolish a large parking garage next to the supermarket space.

It's a much diminished project from the $100 million renovation that town officials had hoped to see as late as 2008. It will add a TD Bank branch and several new stores, along with a "community plaza."

Wal-Mart has operated the smaller neighborhood markets since the late 1990s, mostly in the South and Midwest. In Bishops Corner, Wal-Mart will join Whole Foods, Crown supermarket and Big Y.

The store's exact size is unclear: the EDENS website shows a map of the space marked as 59,673 square feet, and a press release said 50,000 square feet. An EDENS official was not available for further comment about the plans.

As word of the project spread Friday, comments focused on whether the area would support four supermarkets this time around, and about Wal-Mart and its strategy. Retail analysts said Wal-Mart picks locations for the neighborhood grocers that are near competitors with high sales volumes.

"They only have one strategy, and that is price," said David J. Livingston, a retail analyst at DJL Research in Milwaukee. "Mainly, they are targeting people who are looking for the lowest price."

Whole Foods and Crown, a kosher market, both cater to more specialized customers. "It will mostly be competing against the conventional stores," he said, including the nearby Big Y and Stop & Shop acoss town.

Amy Berquist, a Hartford resident and real estate agent familiar with West Hartford, said she doesn't think shoppers in West Hartford will be turned off by the Wal-Mart name, in part because it's not a traditional Wal-Mart. "My bet is that the way they have branded it, people will go in and they will see the prices and they will shop there," she said.

But Berquist, echoing others, said four grocery stores in such a small area could be a challenge.

Livingston said prices can be as much as 20 percent lower than competitors because the grocer has the buying power of Wal-Mart behind it. The larger locations — and West Hartford will be one of those — typically include a bakery, deli and pharmacy, which means it will also be competing with drugstores, Livingston said.

A Walgreens is located across North Main Street in the plaza that includes Whole Foods.

Wal-Mart said it will offer local and organic fresh produce, groceries and household goods. Wal-Mart plans to hire 100 full- and part-time employees.

Livingston said he also expects that Wal-Mart will look to open additional neighborhood grocers in Connecticut once the West Hartford location is established. "They've got expansion plans all over the country," he said.

Eleven months ago, residents at a public hearing prior to the town council vote approving EDENS' plan were not told the name of a supermarket operator, but the plan included revival of the old Adams location. Some neighbors said they were worried that the project would bring more noise and traffic to their neighborhood, while town officials touted the area's revitalization.

The center made history in 1953 when it was built for a Lord & Taylor, one of the first traditional department stores in a suburb.

Local officials said EDENS has scaled back its plans for the shopping center since 2006, when it planned a $100 million redevelopment that would have more resembled Blue Back Square in the center of town, with a parking garage and more pedestrian-friendly spaces. The massive surface parking lot would not have dominated the landscape as it does now.

EDENS had kept some space empty in anticipation of such a redevelopment but the plans collapsed with the prolonged recession that held retailers back from expanding. Nevertheless, EDENS said this week it plans improvements throughout the year, including new walkways, lighting and changes to the facade.

"It's not going to be a Blue Back with a walkable street; it will be a plaza with a parking lot in front and the buildings in back," Town Manager Ronald F. Van Winkle said. "We are pleased that they are investing in the property."

Reporting by Dan Haar included

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