Raised voices and surprised looks from Vine City residents and business owners followed the announcement Monday that Walmart, the world's largest retailer, plans to open a store in the historic Atlanta neighborhood.
The new 80,000 square-foot discount store, part of Walmart's initiative to experiment with smaller format stores, will include a money center and pharmacy.
"We need it," said Tom Leung, of Eggroll Corner, who recalls previous talks of revamping the area with a nationally- named store. "We have been waiting for it for 10 years."
Walmart expects to break ground at the center, 825 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., in the first half of 2011, expanding on the 28,000-square-foot site once occupied by Publix. It will bring about 150 jobs and hopefully help fill the vacancies in the nearby condominiums and newly built townhomes.
The Walmart will more than fill the void created by the departure of the Publix in 2009 from the Historic Westside Village, supporters said.
"At a time when this community needed help, at a time when we needed strong partnership, Walmart stepped up," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said.
More than 50 council members, school and public officials stood in sub-freezing weather to cheer the announcement. Among them were members of the Atlanta Development Authority, which owns about 30 acres of the land, and H. Jerome Russell, who pursued Walmart for nearly a year. Russell New Urban Development, a division of H. J. Russell and Co., bought the retail center when Publix and several smaller retailers were still open.
Still, some are concerned the discount retailer will leave as did Publix, which pulled out after little more than seven years- citing lower-than expected sales.
Atlanta native Tim Washington is one of them.
"I think people will definitely go there to shop, and it will be good for the neighborhood and for students," said Washington, 24, a Morehouse College senior. But I don't think this is a good neighborhood to put a Walmart in."
Washington said he was concerned about the big chain's ability to make a profit and avoid becoming a target for crime.
" It will take a lot of security to make sure it's safe," Washington said. It will take a lot, he added, for Walmart to know "....that they are going to make money and not lose money and a good manager that could enforce the quality of service that Walmart is known for."