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Walmart Neighborhood Market in Visalia’s pipeline

Walmart Neighborhood Markets are coming soon to the Valley.Walmart Neighborhood Markets are coming soon to the Valley.ICE Builders of Ventura and others are accepting bids for a new 40,000 square-foot  “Neighborhood Walmart Grocery Store” at Demaree Street and Houston Avenue in Visalia.

The bids were due recently on the $4 million project. The bidding instructions available at the Tulare/Kings Builders Exchange indicate work will start right away, with completion on Dec. 10.

The proposed store even carries its own official Walmart store number, #5635-00. But Walmart likes to do its new store development under the radar — the likely reason why the company has filed for its building permit and submitted store plans with the city without disclosing who they are.

The project has been rumored for many months, but last week city building official Greg Adams said the permit is very close to being issued, and that the plans carry the name WD Partners. WD Partners works with Walmart on projects.

“It’s pretty unusual the plans don’t show who they are,” Adams said.

This would be the first smaller-format Walmart grocery store built in the South Valley, and the third Walmart-owned store in Visalia that sells groceries.

That’s because before this year, the only Walmart location in town on Noble Avenue did not sell groceries, although there are plans filed to expand the space to sell groceries. In May, Walmart opened a second store in Visalia on south Mooney Boulevard in the former Costco location that  is a superstore format — selling general merchandise as well as a full line of groceries.

The east Visalia Noble Avenue Walmart expansion is being litigated in Tulare County Superior Court right now, but eventually the court is expected to allow Walmart to expand this store — becoming the second Walmart in Visalia to sell groceries.

To date, Visalia’s supermarket scene has been dominated by Modesto- based Save Mart, a union store, with five locations in town including its warehouse store. Unlike most cities, Visalia does not have a the complement of national chains like Von’s, Albertson’s or Ralph’s. The rest of the competition here have only single locations in town. 

Arguably, the surge by Walmart into groceries in Visalia hurts Save Mart the most, already struggling this summer with its union contract and the threat of a strike.

Both Save Mart and the grocery union have made it no secret they consider the entrance of nonunion Walmart into their turf as a big problem. It was Save Mart employees that spoke against the expansion of the Noble Avenue store at the Visalia public hearing before the city council. 

Save Mart just closed a store in Elk Grove, citing the economy and tough competition. Perhaps not by coincident, Walmart is expected to open a neighborhood store in the same town later this year.