Walmart wait is over: Retailer opens shop in Kenai

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2010


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Photos By  Andrew Waite
Photos By Andrew Waite
Kenai Mayor Pat Porter gets ready to cut the ribbon.

That's what signs say inside the new Walmart at 10096 Kenai Spur Highway.

Sterling resident Kathryn Duval planned to put that notion to the test following Wednesday's grand opening ceremony. She planned to buy Easter dinner and all the fixings and compare the money spent to past years.

Unbeatable or not, one thing's for sure: A major retail force joined the Kenai Peninsula landscape Wednesday morning.

The hordes of people who attended the 7:30 a.m. ribbon cutting ceremony seemed to embody that force. The crowd's murmuring drowned out the speeches, and the momentum swelled almost like a tidal wave when Kenai Mayor Pat Porter finally snipped the string that temporarily contained the eager shoppers.

To be sure, most people who would attend an early morning, mid-week ceremony are likely to be Walmart enthusiasts. But that doesn't necessarily discredit the fact that many shoppers say they intend to frequent the new facility at the expense of other businesses.

John and Sandra Thompson were spotted in the frozen foods aisle in the 236,000 square-foot store's grocery section. The super center includes more than 30 merchandise departments, a pharmacy and a digital photo-processing center. A hair salon, Subway restaurant and Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union also leased space in the store.

"We've been patronizing Fred Meyer for 15 years," John Thompson said. The couple live in Homer and make the trip up north about once a month to stock up on groceries and other goods. Now that Walmart's in the market, the Thompsons said they'll shop wherever they can find the best deals.

"Whether you live in Kenai, Homer or Soldotna, it's another place to shop on the peninsula," John Thompson said.

The store employs approximately 300 people and about 80 percent of those are full-time, according to store manager Ferdinand Dominic. Full-time means the employee works 34 or more hours per week.

The average wage at Walmart for full-time hourly associates in Alaska is approximately $12.93 per hour. All but a handful of the store's employees are locals, the store manager said.

Though negative opinions sometimes circulate around Walmart, some positives of the Kenai store seem hard to deny.

According to a corporate press release, the store's 235 skylights harvest daylight and reduce the amount of energy required to light the store by up to 75 percent per day. The cement used in the concrete flooring is made with recycled materials, and the floor's finish reduces the need for chemical cleaners.

In addition, the Walmart Foundation donated $15,000 to area organizations, including the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, Kenai Community Library, Friendship Mission Inc., the Kenai Watershed Forum and LeeShore Center.

Marcus Ashkenasy and Rebecca Anderson came on Wednesday morning to be part of the "hoopla," but they also recognized they could be on the brink of a new local shopping scene.

"A lot of places might go to waste. It's one-stop shopping," Ashkenasy said while meandering next to the vacuum cleaners. "Why are we going to go to all these different places if it's all here at better prices. It's unfortunate but it's a reality."

Later, while waiting to pay, Ashkenasy said the prices he observed during his morning shop reaffirmed the likelihood that he would consistently buy from the store.

Many shared Ashkenasy's view.

"It's good to have low prices and competition back in the Kenai Peninsula," said North Kenai resident Grace Nelson. "We haven't had this since K-Mart closed."

Mayor Porter called the store's opening "fabulous."

"I have a very short speech because my own shopping list is longer than my comments," Porter said during the ribbon cutting ceremony. Her list included throw pillows, makeup and a headband for her husband.

Later, Porter said Walmart will be great for the local economy.

"It's going to generate more traffic to Kenai and provide more sales tax revenue," Porter said. "Our citizens have waited 10 years for this."

Walmart signed a lease application with the city of Kenai in 2005 following nearly two years of speculation and negotiation.

Shopper Michelle Sparhawk, who works at Lowe's, said she has been eagerly awaiting Walmart's arrival.

"It puts us (Kenai) on the map," Sparhawk said. "It comes back down to having more choices."

Store manager Dominic has been eagerly awaiting the grand opening, too, though the day carried both relief and burden for him.

"It's mixed emotions," Ferdinand said. "It's a great feeling to be able to show what our associates have accomplished for the community, but at the same time now we have the expectation of maintaining."

Dominic said he could not release early sales totals, but he said the first item purchased was a piece of candy. Dominic also said the food section saw a bulk of the traffic Wednesday.

"As I would presume, it's about getting the groceries in the house," he said.

That's exactly where Duval was headed after she finished perusing other sections. She was eager to see if Easter dinner would in fact be less expensive when purchased at Walmart.

"Even if it's just $20 cheaper then, yes, it will be worth coming," Duval, of Sterling, said. "We'll see after today."

Andrew Waite can be reached at

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