Wal-Mart Tests First Mall Concept

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Wal-Mart Tests First Mall Concept

MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened its first enclosed mall Sunday targeting on-the-go consumers in Long Island's N.Y. affluent Massapequa community. The two-level, 131,000 square-foot location is housed in a former Stern's department store. It is part of Sunrise Mall, a regional shopping center about 30 miles east of Manhattan. The store marks Wal-Mart's eighth foray into New York's Long Island region.

The new Wal-Mart can be accessed directly from the parking lot as well as from the upper and lower levels of the mall, which is also anchored by Sears and JC Penney. Kevin Cassidy, the store's co-manager, told Retail Merchandiser that unlike Wal-Mart's typical "greenfield" locations that prevail elsewhere in the U.S., the Sunrise Mall store combines a department store-style layout with typical Wal-Mart merchandise and services. "The two-story store is an experiment for Wal-Mart," he adds. "Every eye is going to be on us to see how well we do."

The lower level emphasizes consumable products -- including groceries and convenience items -- a pharmacy, HBC items and a vision center. The upper level, accessed by a central escalator and elevator, features electronics, a one-hour photo and digital processing center, apparel, hardware, sporting goods, home, toys and lawn and garden. The store also does not have a firearms section. Only about half of the Long Island stores sell firearms, says Cassidy.

The new location employs about 350 people. Unlike a typical Wal-Mart, each floor has a co-manager, who is overseen by a store manager. Other Wal-Mart's only have one co-manager. All stores have assistant managers. "This way, we don't have to run up and down," says Cassidy.

While the store does not feature the high ceilings and wide-open spaces that are typical for Wal-Mart, it has some special features. The escalator, for example, incorporates a device that carries shopping carts from one level to the next. Opening day customers quickly caught on to this concept, though they created somewhat of a log jam at the base of the escalator as they waited to ascend or to visit one of several tables taking credit card applications or distributing free copies of a local newspaper.

The store also utilizes wall racks to merchandise goods. While these fixtures are also used in typical Wal-Marts, Cassidy says they are more prevalent in this store. Racks can be brought down to floor level for inventory adjustments. Unlike most Wal-Marts, the store does not have a Radio Grill restaurant. Rather, it has a small snack bar. Cassidy said that since the mall recently revamped its food court, Wal-Mart deemed a larger, in-store eatery unnecessary. In addition to men's and women's restrooms, the store has a family bathroom.

While some observers say the cost of operating a regional mall store are very high, Cassidy says rent at Sunrise Mall is "comparable" with rents at Wal-Mart's other Long Island locations. Finding space with ample parking, though, is very challenging in this densely stored market. "That is what made this location most attractive."

Despite having to lease pre-used space in every instance, Cassidy said Wal-Mart is very bullish about expanding on Long Island. The company already operates five stores in Suffolk County. The Sunrise Mall location is its third for Nassau County. In October, Wal-Mart will open a store in Valley Stream, a town on the border of New York City's Queens borough.