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Gateway Road Wal-Mart Supercenter opens Wednesday morning

The second of two Wal-Mart Supercenters recently constructed in the Columbus market will open Wednesday morning at 6475 Gateway Rd.

A grand opening ceremony is scheduled 7:30 a.m. at the 203,819-square-foot store, which is the fourth supercenter in the Columbus-Phenix City area. A smaller non-supercenter discount Wal-Mart operates on Buena Vista Rd.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the market can sustain them, especially with the growth that's coming," said Gateway Road store manager Ben Thames. "We have the people in the market now to run these stores and it's just going to get better as Columbus and Fort Benning get bigger."

The Gateway store employs 400 people, as does the 148,848-square-foot supercenter that opened a week ago at 2801 Airport Thruway. Altogether, Wal-Mart employs nearly 2,000 in the local market.

Both of those 24-hour stores are expected to take pressure off the 208,000-square-foot supercenter at 5448 Whittlesey Blvd., relieving congestion in the aisles and parking lots, the managers said.

The Whittlesey store does about $125 million per year in total sales — among the top performers in Georgia — while the Airport Thruway store looks to do about $61 million in sales during the balance of this year.

The Airport Thruway store is less than a 10-minute drive from the Whittlesey supercenter, which is managed by Bill Abercrombie, a Wal-Mart veteran who oversaw the Airport store before its destruction and reconstruction last year.

"People don't quite understand why we build them so close together sometimes," said Harrison Banks, manager of the Airport Thruway location. The Clayton County, Ga., native has been with Wal-Mart seven years.

"When you get into that type of volume it's really hard to give good customer service because you're just outnumbered," Banks said. "It's like ants. There's just too many people in the building and you can't put that much product on the counter fast enough.

"So we'll impact that store positively by opening a store as close as we can to gain 10, 20, 30 percent out of that business so that when Bill drops more comfortably to $100 million or whatever, it gives him a lot better opportunity to give the goods and services that he needs to do."

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also has said it plans to replace the aging 86,100-square-foot non-supercenter at 4701 Buena Vista Road with a full-fledge supercenter somewhere in south Columbus. No suitable property has been found, however.

Still, Thames, a Columbus native who has been with the retailer since 1991, said he expects the store to become a reality eventually.

"I believe that it's coming," he said. "It's just a matter of them finding the right piece of land, finding the right location, finding out what's going to be best for the people of Columbus."

GIVING BACK

Wal-Mart said it is donating $18,000 to various community charities and organizations in the Gateway Road store's name, bringing to $36,000 the total given for it and the Airport Thruway supercenter.

Those receiving donations include: Boys and Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley, Columbus State University, Second Harvest Food Bank, Blackmon Road Middle School, Soldier and Family Support Association, Columbus Hospice, Muscogee County Autism Support Group and Muscogee County Humane Society.

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