Officials welcome Home Depot

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003

It's official. This fall work will begin to transform the Kenai building formerly known as Big Kmart into a Home Depot.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans took a break from the Kenai Classic, turning out in Tuesday's mist and rain to toast the new business with a groundbreaking ceremony. And Murkowski took advantage of the moment to extend her gratitude to the company on behalf of the state.

"I learned that every 43 hours another Home Depot is opening," Murkowski said. "This is important to providing a stimulus to the economy. We need them desperately in this state. Thank you very much for believing in Alaska and believing in Kenai."

The store will be the company's third in Alaska, with one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. Home Depot Northwest Division President Eric Peterson said when the store opens early next year, it will start with about 150 employees and will provide an annual payroll of about $5 million.

He said Kenai was selected as a location based on continued growth in the community, a strong economy and a growing demand for home improvement products. He said the success of the other two stores convinced the company that Alaska was a growth market.

"This is a tremendous vote of confidence in the economy and the future of Kenai," Peterson said. "Home Depot has 1,588 stores and we have never closed one. So we pick our markets carefully."

Kmart Corp. closed the doors of its Kenai store in March after a January announcement that it would close 326 locations. Though the news initially was a blow to the city of Kenai's economy, it presented an opportunity for the world's largest home improvement retailer.

Evans said that opportunity will spread throughout the area.

"When you think about it, small businesses will pop up around this Home Depot," he said. "Employees and their families will move here and will give back to the community."

Peterson pointed out that Home Depot employees volunteer more than 7 million hours per calendar year and said such initiatives will begin as soon as the store opens.

He said work will begin on the store sometime between September and October and will cost upward of $2 million. Peterson said he planned to have the store open sometime before spring 2004.

"I really want to get open before spring so we can have a run for the employees," he said.

When it opens, the Kenai store will feature 110,000-square feet of about 40,000 different home improvement products. The store also will feature a 28,000-square-foot garden center, and home design centers offering a paint center, appliances, kitchen and bath and flooring centers and qualified designers on-hand to assist customers.

When Kmart closed its stores, Home Depot took over leases of 15 buildings, including the Kenai store and the one in Juneau. Peterson said he explored the old Juneau Kmart building and determined the site needed too much structural work. However, he said he intends to continue to grow in the Alaska marketplace.

"The Kenai store most certainly will not be our last, as we continue to scout opportunities for new stores in Alaska in markets that exhibit the features that we find in Kenai strong economy, high level of home ownership, strong demand for home improvement and great awareness and acceptance of our brand," Peterson said.

"I'd like to end up with six to eight stores over the next three years."

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