A new grocery store opening in the suburbs today includes a familiar big box name, but the store's concept is to be much smaller.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market makes its first foray into the suburbs today with the grand opening of a 39,000-square-foot store at 727 W. Golf Road in Des Plaines. A ribbon-cutting and grand opening ceremony is scheduled for 7:30 a.m.
The stores, about a fifth of the size of a typical Walmart Supercenter, are seen as direct competition to similarly-sized retailers such as Jewel, Aldi, and independent suburban grocers.
"For us, it's all about the customers being able to come in and get their immediate needs met," said Jeremy Arndt, the Des Plaines store manager, during a tour of the new store Tuesday. "A lot of folks don't want to walk the 150,000- to 200,000-square-foot building and weed their way through the apparel and all the other stuff. They want to get their groceries, get their pharmacy needs met, and then they can get home to their families."
The nationwide retailer has some 300 Neighborhood Market stores across the country, opening its first one in 1998 in the company's home city of Bentonville, Ark. Four stores have opened in Chicago since 2011.
There's plans to open an additional 270 to 300 stores nationwide this year, and another 400 next year, officials say.
Paul Weitzel, managing partner of Willard Bishop Consulting, a Barrington-based supermarket consulting firm, said Walmart developed a "hub and spoke" concept when it began opening Neighborhood Market stores: first put in a Supercenter, then situate several Neighborhood Markets around it. That didn't turn out to be a winning formula, he said.
But now Walmart is betting on its smaller stores to produce enough returns no matter where they're located. Weitzel said the stores will do well in any market where consumers are looking for strong value. Prices are 17 percent lower on average than typical grocery stores, he said.
"It's kind of a typical traditional grocery store, but with great prices on food, general merchandise, health and beauty care," Weitzel said. "The combination is pretty good."
The 20-aisle Des Plaines store will include a bakery, deli, liquor department and pharmacy. Among the 20,000 items in the store are Hispanic and Asian foods that Walmart isn't selling at its other locations, Arndt said. Those products are being added based on a demographic study of the area.
The store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, though the pharmacy will have shorter hours.
As many as 95 people have been hired to work at the store, officials said.
Walmart officials revealed last fall they had interest in the Des Plaines location, situated within the Des Plaines Market Place strip mall at Golf and Elmhurst roads. The store space sat vacant for about two years after the International Fresca Market closed after six months. Other previous tenants have included Butera and Zayre.
Walmart has been making renovations to the Des Plaines site since March.
The company abandoned plans to open a second suburban location in Rolling Meadows earlier this year when aldermen raised traffic concerns about the site Walmart was pursuing. Instead, city officials encouraged the company to take over a long-vacant Dominick's site, but Walmart officials said that site wasn't economically feasible.
An event at the new Des Plaines store featuring family activities including face painting, cupcake decorating and free food samples is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.