DENVER
01/21/2013 08:00 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Walmart Boulder: Retail Giant Confirms Plans To Open Long-Rumored Boulder Store This Fall

Walmart intends to open a Neighborhood Market grocery store in Boulder, officials for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer confirmed this afternoon.

The smaller-format store, located at 3303 30th St. at Diagonal Plaza, is expected to have full supermarket offerings, household products, pet supplies and pharmacy services, officials said in a statement e-mailed to the Daily Camera.

"We are excited to announce plans for a new Walmart Neighborhood Market in Boulder," Joshua Phair, Walmart's public affairs director, said in the statement. "In addition to offering customers convenience and savings, the store will create new jobs and also help revitalize Diagonal Plaza."

Walmart plans to hire 65 to 95 workers for the store, officials said, making note that the average pay for a full-time Colorado Walmart associate is $13.39 an hour.

The statement comes a few days after a posting was made on Monster.com seeking assistant manager trainees for a location in Boulder.

During the past year, speculation swelled and various clues emerged that indicated Walmart was behind the planned 52,000-square-foot grocery store at Diagonal Plaza.

City officials said they did not know what retailer was behind the store planned for the space, which is a combination of the long-vacant Ross and PetSmart stores.

The applicant of the grocery store at 3303 30th St. recently filed additional documents with the city of Boulder in response to comments and questions from planning staff members about items such as landscaping and electrical.

The minor modification and building permit documents filed with the city during the past year contain little identifiable information about the tenant. For this type of modification and tenant finish, the property owner is not required to disclose the site's occupant.

However, certain details such as a store number, floor plan, paint colors, shelving materials and the design of the cart corrals align with Walmart Neighborhood Market stores that are under development or in operation, including in the Denver metro area.

Additionally, several grocery store operators -- including King Soopers, Natural Grocers By Vitamin Cottage and Sprouts -- have said they are not the tenant of the 3303 30th St. store.

Safeway has a 77,000-square-foot store across 28th Street.

Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said while there could be some argument that changes could be made to the policy of naming tenants in cases like this, he said this situation was likely unique to Walmart.

"Nobody has ever really ever cared before what tenant is going into what space," he said. "What does knowing the tenant tell us? If it was a King Soopers I see no reason the impact would be any different than a Walmart and people probably wouldn't be all up in arms about it."

A Walmart Neighborhood Market most likely would not pull away sales from locally owned grocery stores such as Lucky's Market and Alfalfa's, said Sean Maher, executive director of Downtown Boulder Inc. and a longtime Boulder businessman.

"If it's going to impact anybody, it's going to impact Safeway and King Soopers," he said.

Boulder's economic vitality coordinator Liz Hanson agreed.

"I think that as in any community, the market will determine which retail stores succeed and I think Boulder shoppers will decide where they want to spend their grocery dollars," she said.

When Walmart made a play to open a store in Boulder in the past, residents and some City Council members pushed back against the idea of a large-scale big-box retailer opening. Others locally and nationally have vocalized opposition to the retailer, citing the company's business practices, labor policies and lawsuits surrounding working conditions.

"I don't think it's the same conversation we had seven to eight years ago when Walmart tried to open a (Supercenter) here," Maher said. " ... That's a whole different animal."

Appelbaum added he knows the retailer's arrival will not be welcomed by everyone in Boulder, but said changes to land use code over the outrage was not necessarily the right thing to do.

"We are well aware not everybody is happy about a Walmart coming to town, and I get that," Appelbaum said. "It's not an easy problem to deal with. But for people who are not happy with a Walmart, you don't need to shop there."

Boulder Councilman George Karakehian added the Walmart might keep some shoppers in Boulder who previously went out of town for cheaper grocery options.

"I think that's even more competition, and another grocery store will lower grocery prices and that's good," he said.

What Walmart's arrival could mean to Diagonal Plaza -- an aging shopping center that city officials have highlighted for its redevelopment potential -- is yet to be seen, said John Tayer, chief executive officer of the Boulder Chamber.

"We're as curious as anybody to see what development is planned for there ... and the opportunity for development to further energize that site," Tayer said.

Until today, Walmart officials had not responded to repeated inquiries from the Daily Camera during the past six months.

Walmart launched its grocery-focused Neighborhood Market concept nearly 15 years ago as a means to enter different geographic areas, including more urban settings. Neighborhood Market locations average about 38,000 square feet in size and Walmart has tailored aspects of the grocery-focused stores to meet the needs of specific markets.

Walmart's roughly 60,000-square-foot store in Plano, Texas, for example, included departments such as electronics and automotive, Kantar Retail analyst Robin Sherk said in an interview with the Camera last summer.

Until last year, Walmart took a gradual approach toward expanding its Neighborhood Market store base. In October, Walmart Stores' U.S. president told analysts that the retailer was accelerating the expansion of its Neighborhood Market concept and was targeting 500 stores by fiscal 2016.

At the time of that announcement, Walmart operated 217 Neighborhood Market locations, including five in Colorado.

Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars contributed to this report. ___

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