Walmart Supercenter Santurce opens its doors to the public at 6 a.m. today and the company expects between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors on its first day of business.
“Puerto Rico has been in a recession for six years but we keep investing and opening new stores,” said Jaime Fernández, Walmart regional manager for Puerto Rico, standing against one of countless aisles lined up with thousands of gleaming new products while staff worked against the clock to put the finishing touches on the store.
“In this type of environment, customers have supported us because of our prices,” he said, prior to a reception the company threw Tuesday evening to celebrate the store’s opening. Guests included company executives, government officials, suppliers, and the press.
The new $56 million, 150,000 square-foot Walmart Supercenter is the first in the local chain featuring two levels of retail space and a four-story parking facility with capacity for 690 vehicles. The megastore that took nearly two years to build also features a so-called “travelator” ramp to help clients move from one level to the other easily with their carts. The new store is generating 557 new jobs, company officials said.
The opening of the merchandise and supermarket store in the heart of San Juan marks the end of an eight-year quest to set a foothold in San Juan and the beginning of what is likely to be seen as a battle royal among food purveyors: the Supermax and Selectos supermarket chains both operate stores less than a mile away.
The stakes are high. Fernández said the stop 18 Walmart will have to generate “a lot more than $10 million dollars” a year to be profitable in a market where competition has always been fierce. Still, he recognized that the Puerto Rico market is not growing and so consequently “the pie will have to be redistributed.”
Walmart’s Stop 18 Supercenter redefines the concept of convenience by incorporating in a single place some, if not all, of the more important services customers need. Not only can one buy groceries and all kinds of merchandise but you can pay your utilities, go to the bank (there’s a Banco Popular branch on the premises), pick up medicines (there’s a pharmacy), get new glasses (yes, there’s an optical center), and eat on the premises (Panda fast-food outlet and La Frutera for fruit-shakes). If you are a female customer, you can get a manicure or get your hair done there as well.
Fernández said the key to Walmart’s success has been to give customers what they need at affordable prices. Its mix of goods includes brand names, generic products and the most economical price point items.