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Wal-Mart has opened seven new Neighborhood Markets this month, in markets that include Texas (El Paso, Dallas, Allen) Florida (Oviedeo, which is near Orlando), Utah (West Valley City), and Alabama (Mobile, Center Point).

Three more of the units are scheduled to open next week -- in Houston, Dallas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Wal-Mart is going up against established supermarket powerhouses with the new openings; the Florida store is across the street from a Publix, while the Utah unit is across the street from a Smith’s Food and Dug store.

According to information provided by Wal-Mart, the company currently has about 46 Neighborhood Markets operating in the US.

At least one of the new units -- in Oviedo -- is expected to sell gasoline within a couple of months. This is how the first Florida Neighborhood Market is described by the company in its press materials:

    “The new…Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market has been designed as a convenient one-stop shopping center. It will be open to customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The store features a half-hour photo lab to allow customers to drop off and pick up photos in one shopping visit; a chicken rotisserie; a rib smoker; a drive-through pharmacy; and a liquor store. The store will employ approximately 85 associates.

    “A new section, called the Grab-n-Go bar, will be located just inside the Neighborhood Market front doors. This section will allow customers to grab a doughnut, pastry, coffee or fountain drink and drop their money in an honor system box. ‘Wal-Mart wants to make things easy and convenient for customers so there's no standing in line and no checking out,’” according to the manager.

The new Grab-n-Go bar seems to be a new staple for the format; it also is putting in other sections that seem appropriate, depending on demographics. In El Paso, for example, there is a tortilla maker and a small electronics section. In Utah, there is a bulk food section and six self-checkout lanes.
KC's View:
Any questions?

Actually, we have one.

Wal-Mart continues to maintain that it will “expand its Neighborhood Market concept by adding approximately 20 to 25 new units in the upcoming fiscal year.” And everybody seems to buy that that number; it gets reported everywhere, with little challenge.

So, are we to believe that the Bentonville Behemoth has opened about half its entire quota of new Neighborhood Markets in just the first four weeks of the year?

With all due respect to the folks at Wal-Mart, we have a little trouble accepting that.

We, of course, have posted numerous stories about how Wal-Mart actually has a list of more than 200 specific addresses where it would like to have Neighborhood Markets by the end of 2003…and a total of more than 500 addresses where it would like to have them by the end of 2006.

Which, when you do the math and look at the calendar, seems a lot more likely.

We’ve asked Wal-Mart about this, and its spokespersons have no comment.

Of course not.