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Sam's Food City closes; Walmart market to open at Mervyn's site
walmart grocery pic
Construction fencing has gone up around the old Mervyn's building. According to Reeve-Knight Construction, the company is building a Walmart Neighborhood Market at the Geer Road site. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

While one long-time Turlock grocer announced plans to shutter its doors, the town was buzzing with news that a Walmart grocery store would be taking over the vacant Mervyn’s building on Geer Road.

Sam’s Food City on Lander Avenue announced earlier this week that after 59 years in business the family-owned chained would be closing down.

At the same time construction fencing went up around the old Mervyn’s building at 2480 Geer Rd. The construction firm, Reeve-Knight Construction stated on their website earlier this week that it was working on a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Turlock. The statement has since been removed from the firm’s website and calls to the company were unreturned. Walmart did not return calls for comment.

There has been rampant speculation that Walmart would be putting in a grocery store at the 62,000 square foot site ever since April of last year when the Turlock Planning Commission approved a permit for a 24-hour grocery store at the site.

Walmart Neighborhood Markets have been popping up around the country since 1998. The stores offer groceries, fresh produce, a meat and deli department, a bakery and a pharmacy. Currently there are more than 200 Walmart Neighborhood Markets operating in the U.S. with each store employing approximately 80 to 100 people, according to Walmart’s website.

Reeve-Knight Construction has completed several Walmart Neighborhood Markets in other cities, including in Sacramento and San Jose.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market plan successfully gets around Turlock’s ordinance banning supercenters. The ordinance prohibits retailers with 100,000 square feet or more using more than 5 percent for groceries. After the ordinance was passed in 2003 Walmart sued the city, but the city proved victorious coming out with a verdict in its favor in 2006. The verdict sparked a wave of similar ordinances in other cities. Turlock spent an estimated $400,000 in court fees during the prolonged fight.

The news that a new tenant was coming into the Geer Road shopping center was warmly welcomed by the other tenants, which have struggled after Mervyn’s closed up shop in 2009.

“We’ve been waiting for something to come in for a long time,” said Juan Cisneros, the owner of Maria’s Beauty Salon. “I hope it brings in more business for us.”

Cisneros said the beauty salon has had a rough road since the anchor store was left vacant. The salon, which is reliant on walk-in business, had six stations busy styling hair and giving manicures before Mervyn’s left but in the resulting years saw business dwindle down to just two stations and had Cisneros pondering closing the shop.

“I’m hopeful this will increase our business,” Cisneros said. “The same customers that go to Walmart are the same customers that will come here.”

While some businesses were happy to hear of Walmart Neighborhood Market’s imminent arrival, Sam’s Food City General Manager Gary Lowe said it just confirmed this was the right time for the family-based chain to close.

“The environment for family-owned grocery stores is just getting tougher and tougher every year,” Lowe said. “There are so many players now. Years ago there weren’t so many, but now everybody wants to get into the grocery business. Every dollar that one of those big chains takes in is a dollar taken from someone else.”

Lowe’s grandfather started Sam’s Food City in Newman 59 years ago. At one time it operated six stores in the Stanislaus and Merced areas. It currently has stores in Turlock, Modesto and Livingston.

The store has a closing date for the end of the month, but Lowe expects it will likely be in the next 10 days as the inventory shrinks down.

“It’s pretty sad," Lowe said. “Our employees are great people and our customers are loyal and have been very special to us.”