HOMER -- Burning slash piles and heavy equipment on land just off the Homer Spit Bypass signaled the beginning of work recently on what is planned to be the site of a new and larger Save-U-More store.
If all goes as planned, and city zoning permits are approved, the 15,000-square-foot Pioneer Avenue store will move this summer into a new 21,000-square-foot building to be constructed off the Sterling Highway across from the Homer Chamber of Commerce headquarters, said Valintin Caspaar, the chief executive of Inorex Inc., which owns Save-U-More stores in Alaska.
The new store will be owned by Inorex and is expected to cost about $1 million. It will be located on about 1 acre of a 10-acre tract between Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway.
The move comes just as Homer city planning advisers are drafting a proposed ordinance aimed a regulating how large retail buildings are constructed and located.
Although the proposed rules are still only preliminary and have no legal bearing on the Save-U-More plan, both city planner Zak Tucker and Caspaar said Inorex plans to cooperate with the city on design issues. Part of the goal of the city's proposed plan to regulate what are often called "big box" stores is to encourage more aesthetic appeal of buildings instead of the long, blank walls typically associated with Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer-type stores.
Although designs are not yet prepared, Caspaar said the new Homer store will not be as plain nor as high as the 40,000-square-foot Save-U-More on Kalifornsky Beach Road near Soldotna. The K-Beach store is about 24 feet high, while the 21,000 square-foot Homer store is proposed to be about 16 feet high, Caspaar said.
"We're working with the city and the planners," he said. "There will be some breaks (in wall exteriors) and some siding on the building," he said in a telephone interview from Seattle.
The frame and steel structure planned will include some brick pillars and "slightly sloped roof," Caspaar said.
Soldotna general contractor Shane Franke will oversee the work.
The new Save-U-More comes at a time when Safeway is in the process of expanding its Eagle Quality Store in Homer. Rumors also continue to fly that Fred Meyer is interested in locating in the area. Although area business people say Fred Meyer representatives have inquired off and on about Homer sites, corporate officials have repeatedly said that no specific plans are in the works.
"Fred Meyer isn't even on the radar now," Tucker said last week.
Even if a Freddy's or Wal-Mart were planned for Homer, Caspaar said he believes Save-U-More would remain competitive.
"We are not a large retail establishment when you compare us with Wal-Mart or Kmart," Caspaar said.
Noting that the other two Save-U-More stores are in K-Beach and Wasilla, not far from Fred Meyer, Kmart and Wal-Mart stores, Caspaar expects the Homer store to remain viable even if such retailers show up on the horizon.
Plans are for the new Save-U-More to add outdoor clothing and sporting goods to its existing lines of food products, natural foods and animal feeds. Much of Save-U-More's stock is offered in large-volume, warehouse-style containers, a style Caspaar said is likely to continue in the new store.
Once site preparation, building permits and design work are complete, "the building will go pretty quickly," Caspaar said.
Depending on sales, he said he expects that the store may add a few employees once in full swing. The workforce in Homer now varies from eight to 14 employees, he said.
R.J. Kelly is the managing editor of the Homer News.
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