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Saturday January 20, 2007

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News Villages Wal-Mart big part of corporation's record-setting month

By DAVID R. CORDER, DAILY SUN

THE VILLAGES -- That breeze you'll feel about 8 o'clock this morning will be the result of a huge sigh of relief emanating from Sean Wilson as he opens the doors to the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Buffalo Ridge Shopping Center. No, the sigh is not about the completion of the hard work that Wilson, the store manager, and his associates have performed since early December preparing for today's grand opening. It will instead mark the end of the regrettable task of telling curious potential customers the store isn't open yet.

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Sales representative Greta Holman, hangs signs in the groery section of the new Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart sales representatives and personnel prepare the new Wal-Mart on county route 466 for its grand opening, in The Villages, January 15, 2007. Mark DiOrio / Daily Sun

Wilson and his staff have been doing just that for the past several weeks. "We've had people here every day that we had to turn away," Wilson said. Such consumer interest has become an even more powerful local economic indicator now that the store's parent company has emerged on the national landscape. Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. notified shareholders and the national media that it would open a record number of retail outlets this month.

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In the release, the publicly traded company briefly profiled seven of those 70 stores. One was the WalMart Supercenter opening this morning in the Buffalo Ridge Shopping Center. The mention was brief, but the release specifically highlighted The Villages' population demographics as important to the retailer's customer base. It also described the store's golf cart accessibility and a few of its amenities, such as the drive-through pharmacy and fresh produce department. "Wal-Mart added more than 33,000 plants in its outdoor landscaping with an exterior facade designed to look like multiple storefronts," the company stated. This is a store designed to accommodate The Villages' demographics, said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jami Arms. The spacious aisles are an example. It also accounts for the expanded garden center and its drive-through facilities. "We always try to build the store to fit in with the community," Arms said. "Typically, our stores are a little bit different in every area to fit in with that community." The national media release captured considerable attention. It was published in its entirety, for instance, by many of the major national financial publishers such as The Wall Street Journal Online, CNNMoney.com, Bloomberg.com. and even Yahoo! Finance and Google Finance.

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This is valuable exposure, said John Crossman, who handles commercial retail leasing in Buffalo Ridge, Spanish Springs and Lake Sumter Landing. He even has a plan to use the release to the advantage of The Villages. "It is extremely helpful," said Crossman, managing director of the Orlando real estate services firm Crossman & Co. "We will forward that to all the retailers we're talking with." Earlier this week, Crossman explained the importance of the Wal-Mart Supercenter grand opening in his efforts to recruit other retailers to The Villages. "It's very significant because many other retailers that are considering coming to The Villages are going to watch very closely how Wal-Mart does when it opens (today) and how they do the first couple of weeks," Crossman said. "So it really is an impact on the future of which tenants come into The Villages." David R. Corder is a reporter with the Daily Sun. He can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9066, or david. [email protected]

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