Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wal Mart in New Town ? Say it ain't so !!!

Williamsburg/ James City County - Settler’s Market in New Town is expecting its first retail openings in the fall. More intriguing than the stores already signed on is one potential tenant: Wal-Mart.

Confirmed are Trader Joe’s, Michaels Arts & Crafts, Home Goods, Books-A-Million and a branch of BB&T Bank. Rumored is a P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and a specialty grocery store under the Wal-Mart umbrella.

Joe Stettinius, New Town’s marketing director, could not confirm the rumors, and a Wal-Mart spokesman did not return calls for confirmation.

Wal-Mart operates more than 120 “Neighborhood Markets,” usually in the vicinity of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The brand was launched in 1998 with stores of 42,000 square feet, roughly a quarter the size of a supercenter like the one on Rochambeau Drive.

According to Wal-Mart’s website, Neighborhood Markets feature fresh produce, deli foods, fresh meat and dairy items, health and beauty aids, photo processing, a drive-thru pharmacy, and more. The markets employ fewer than 100 people and stock 29,000 items.

New Town has resisted big box retailers as tacky, favoring instead smaller stores and independent shops. A Neighborhood Market’s size is more in line with New Town’s scale, but the proximity to Trader Joe’s market may cause the latter heartburn.

A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market would be the first in Virginia. Wal-Mart has more than 100 stores statewide and a massive East Coast distribution center in Grove.

Meanwhile, the rest of New Town is moving into its final years of construction, Stettinius said.

A two-acre hotel site, Settler’s Market residential and more retail on Ironbound are all up for sale. The developers are also hoping to rezone an infill parcel on the west side of Route 199 behind WindsorMeade Marketplace for 300 apartments. “We are coming down to what I call the last two years,” Stettinius said. He said New Town remains strong despite the housing slowdown. He said almost 80 homes sold last year and expects sales to hold steady this year.

Another concern has been the perception that the retail market is saturated, with High Street, Prime Outlets’ expansion, Quarterpath, Marquis and Settler’s Market all opening the same year. Stettinius said Settler’s and New Town are still attracting retailers. “It might take a little longer, but we’ll be okay in the long run,” he said. “Everybody’s just doing their thing.” New Town’s office space is also robust, with two office buildings opening on Discovery Park Boulevard. The county’s Office of Economic Development has agreed to move into office space in the Discovery II building.