A Walmart Supercenter is scheduled to open Oct. 17 on Liberty Road in Randallstown, and Baltimore County officials hope it will give a boost to a corridor targeted for revitalization.
County officials and community leaders expect that the store at Liberty Plaza will attract attention from other major chains to the area. Consumers in Randallstown have high levels of education and income, they say, but the area has struggled to draw national retailers and restaurants. Residents complain that there are too many fast-food restaurants and low-quality stores.
"The appearance of some portions of Randallstown does not match up with the quality of housing," said David Green, a division chief in the county's planning department. "Oftentimes, people perceive the neighborhood by what they see from their car."
Construction is almost done at the 150,000-square-foot store at Liberty Road and Brenbrook Drive, where store manager Jim Hiteshue and employees have been working since last week to prepare the interior for the opening, Hiteshue said.
The store will offer about 350 jobs, including managers, cashiers, garden center employees and overnight workers, Hiteshue said. The store has already hired many people but is still accepting applications, he said.
Features at the supercenter will include groceries, a drive-through pharmacy with two lanes, a vision center and a hair salon, a Walmart spokeswoman said.
The company initially planned to open the location in 2006, but the project faced delays before construction began last year, including lengthy negotiations between the corporation and the plaza owner, as well as issues related to chemicals left by an old dry-cleaning business.
"The community is looking forward to it," said Liberty Road Business Association executive director Harold Reid.
Residents are eager for high-quality eateries and retail options along the corridor, he said, adding that local businesses hope the traffic from Walmart will benefit them.
"Why we can't attract more national chains and restaurants is a major question," Reid said, "and it's a major question for politicians."
While Reid says Randallstown residents welcome the Walmart, members of other communities haven't reacted as positively to the company expanding to their neighborhoods. Walmart was met with opposition from local residents and businesses in 2010 when the retailer, which has been criticized for its treatment of employees and crowding out of smaller stores, announced plans to add a location in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood.
County planning director Andrea Van Arsdale suggested that concerns about Walmart's hurting local businesses might no longer be as relevant as they once were, and said that the crowds big-box stores attract can help smaller retailers nearby.
"I think a lot of the shakeout between big boxes and smaller independents has already been played out," Van Arsdale said, adding that many Americans want to shop at nationally recognizable retailers. "Having a Walmart there offers choice to people."
A Ruby Tuesday has long been planned for the site across the street from the new Walmart, but Councilman Kenneth Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, said Monday that plans for the restaurant have fallen through.
"We do not have plans to renew this lease at this time," a Ruby Tuesday spokeswoman said in an email, though she said further information about the company's intentions for the site was unavailable.
Oliver said he hopes other sit-down restaurants will follow Walmart.
"That's one thing that the community says they want, is nice restaurants," he said.
The Liberty Road corridor is part of the county's commercial revitalization program, which offers low-interest loans, tax credits and business assistance.
Other projects in the area have included the Randallstown Community Center, which opened in 2009; renovations to 1960s-era shopping centers; and a Home Depot at Brenbrook Plaza.
Van Arsdale said an anchor such as Walmart often attracts other retailers that could include a pet store, shoe and apparel shops. Officials hope the Walmart also could generate enough traffic to draw a national restaurant chain.
Many are also looking forward to a new choice for groceries, Green said.
"For the volume of traffic on Liberty Road, the community feels they're deserving of another shopping choice," he said.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said last week that the county has set up a job hot line (410-887-4666) for the new Walmart location.