SPRING HILL — A Walmart Neighborhood Market is no Walmart Supercenter, as shoppers will discover when the doors open at 7 a.m. Wednesday at the first-of-its-kind store in Hernando County at Spring Hill Drive and Anderson Snow Road.
For area residents who bemoan three Supercenters already in the county, Walmart spokesman Brian Nick said, "Our customers tell us they prefer to shop close to where they live and work. It saves them time and money. In some cases … it means an additional store in a different neighborhood or on the other side of town."
The national retailer's new downsized grocery concept for quicker shopping, which carries the label Spring Hill Marketplace, offers some attractions its big sisters — and even other Walmart Neighborhood Markets — don't.
"We're the first walk-in Walmart gas station in Florida with a convenience store," general manager Donna Mackey said.
The separate fuel station and shop face busy Spring Hill Drive, with a 168-stall parking lot behind it and the main market beyond. Entrances, with turn lanes, are on both thoroughfares.
The market is the 36th in Florida built to "neighborhood" size.
The 750-square-foot fuel-stop shop is novel in another respect, Mackey said.
"Everything in the convenience store is the same price as in the market," she said.
Inside the main store, the manager declared, "We're the first with a pizza bar. You call in an order, and you get just what you want, and you don't have to pick off what you don't want from a frozen pizza."
Next on a brisk tour of the 41,000-square-foot market — Supercenters average 186,000 square feet — Mackey gestured to a cake case in the bakery slot.
"Higher-end cakes, and we'll personalize cake decorations," she said. "Marketplaces don't usually have that."
Besting the chain's Supercenter pharmacies in the county, the market's drug dispensary is equipped with drive-up facilities.
Because of a significant older population in the area for whom medications are the norm, Mackey expects the pharmacy will attract customers for its "economical" drug prices, particularly for the Big Three: diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. Diabetes supplies are markedly lower priced, said pharmacist Gary Stivali.
Also unique among local Walmarts, the market's pharmacy includes a private clinical services room for patron-pharmacist consultations and administering of injections.
"I'm real proud of this," Mackey said. "We can offer privacy to our customers, not just behind a screen."
Among its services, the market will act as a destination for Walmart goods ordered online.
"Orders will be shipped to this store for pickup — free shipping — so you'll not have to go to a big, busy store and get it. That's priceless," Mackey said.
Another service: sale of lottery tickets.
"Most Supercenters don't have this," she said.
As workers stocked shelves last week, Mackey pointed out wider aisles as well as aisles split at midpoint for crossing to another aisle. "So, it doesn't seem like you're walking a mile," she said.
Most departments in the store mimic the standards at Walmart food outlets: produce, meats, groceries, pet needs, paper goods, health and beauty, but with offerings smaller than at Supercenters.
About 100 associates, full time and part time, were hired through application at a temporary site on Mariner Boulevard that Walmart staffed especially for that purpose. New employees received hands-on training at other Walmart stores, as well as training on the job as they prepared the market for opening.
Mackey herself is a 12-year employee of Walmart, having served in various management, merchandising and trainer positions at the Brooksville Supercenter and throughout Florida. As a 30-year resident of Brooksville and Spring Hill, she said, "It's an honor to open the first marketplace in my area."
As Mackey pointed out one last attraction, extensive landscaping beyond county requirements, including queen palms and other trees, a car pulled into the parking lot, and two women exited.
"We're not open yet, if that's what you wanted," Mackey called out.
In an aside, she added, "We get a lot of that. It's exciting. I just hope they come back."
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]