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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

New Wal-Mart Store on Deck?

As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. finds itself embroiled in battles over some proposed Los Angeles-area locations, including a store in Burbank now stalled in the wake of a court injunction, some say the company is quietly finding ways to open other Valley locations. In Simi Valley, a new Wal-Mart Discount Store is set to open at Sycamore Drive and Cochran Street early next year. Next up may be another Simi Valley location – a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market – in the Santa Susana Plaza. “We were told that they have signed a lease on Tapo Street, but we have yet to have a conversation with Wal-Mart about it,” said Brian Gabler, director of economic development for the city. The lease is for the former Vons location, he said. Scott Burns, of Wilson Commercial Real Estate, which manages Santa Susana Plaza, said he could neither “confirm nor deny” that the company is in negotiations with Wal-Mart. He deferred further comment to the owners of the property, Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds. Lubert-Adler did not return e-mail requests for comment and phones went unanswered at their Santa Monica office and Philadelphia headquarters. In an email statement, Wal-Mart spokesman Steve Restivo denied that there were any plans beyond the Sycamore Drive location. “While we are always looking for new opportunities to better serve our customers, we don’t have any new projects to announce in Simi Valley,” Restivo said. “We look forward to opening the Wal-Mart Discount Store at East Cochran Street and Sycamore Drive in early 2013.” Yet, the city is buzzing with chatter that Wal-Mart has larger plans. And Wal-Mart has historically delayed announcing new store plans — even has denied that the company is eyeing a new store location — until it timed the announcement to suit its purposes. Keeping it Quiet Councilman Glen Becerra announced at an April city council meeting that Wal-Mart was, indeed, taking over the lease on Sycamore Drive, which had previously been occupied by the now-defunct Mervyns. At the time, a Wal-Mart spokesman declined to comment on the councilman’s statement. This time, Becerra thinks its Wal-Mart who has signed the lease at Santa Susana Plaza location for a potential Neighborhood Market concept store. “The deal is done; the deal is signed,” said Becerra. While leasing agents declined to give him the name of the new tenant, he said can’t believe it could be anyone other than Wal-Mart. Taking over leases, rather than building from the ground up as it does with most of its Supercenters, is becoming more common for the retailer as it continues to expand in the Los Angeles area. In the last year, Wal-Mart has taken over existing commercial properties in Altadena, Chinatown, Panorama City, and the acknowledged location in Simi Valley to expand its portfolio of smaller Discount Centers and Neighborhood Markets. According to Gabler, this means, in Simi Valley at least, there are very few permits — or interaction with the city — required in advance of an opening. Because the properties do not need to be rezoned, no discussion with the city council is necessary. “It’s zoned for retail,” he said. “You can sell groceries, or you can sell shirts and clothing. Retail is retail. There are very few permits they would need. It’s just ministerial approval.” Becerra said he doesn’t understand the need for secrecy in the case of Simi Valley, though. “I know they’ve had problems in L.A., but this isn’t the same thing. I actually think it would be a good thing,” he said. At the nearly 75,000-square-foot Simi Valley Sycamore Drive location, the company is doing a total interior renovation and exterior upgrades to the building façade, parking lot and landscaping. All of those only required department-level permits to comply with existing building code. According to Restivo, that location will open early next year, and a hiring center will open nearby this fall. “The Simi Valley Discount Store will employ about 215 associates and offer electronics, apparel, toys, home furnishings, health and beauty aids, hardware and more,” Restivo added. Braving the Storm Wal-Mart may have reason for trying to move quietly into existing locations. A protracted battle over their Chinatown location, set to open early next year, and a court injunction halting work on a Burbank store pending hearings into the matter, hang over any other current expansion plans. But some communities have welcomed the stores as economic boosters. In April, Suzanne Ponder, manager of Panorma City’s Vannord Center, told the San Fernando Valley Business Journal that “This is amazing good fortune for the center,” when Wal-Mart announced plans to install one of its Neighborhood Markets in the location. Even in Simi Valley, Gabler said there have been some rumblings of discontent from local citizens, but that for the most part, no one has objected to a planned or possible Wal-Mart opening. Gabler noted that, ultimately, it would be the consumer who decided whether or not the retailer would be successful in the area. And it could improve the local economy. “This could be a spark plug for the center,” he said. Becerra agrees. “That center has been struggling for years and years. I think that will actually revitalize that shopping center.”

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