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San Gabriel Valley Tribune: Walmart Supercenter to open Wednesday at Eastland Center in West Covina


By Juliette Funes

WEST COVINA - Eastland Shopping Center customers gearing up for the holiday season will have another giant retailer to look to for their shopping needs.
A 121,000-square-foot, two-story Walmart Supercenter will open its doors Wednesday morning at 2753 E. Eastland Center Drive.

The new Walmart will fill a hole left vacant by Mervyns, a department store that anchored the retail plaza before going bankrupt four years ago.

City officials say the Walmart - expected to generate $500,000 in sales tax revenue a year - will breathe new life and jobs into Eastland Shopping Center and West Covina.

"Many West Covina residents are finding it harder and harder to find local jobs, especially our young people working their way through school and residents who lost their job in the economic downturn," Mayor Mike Touhey said. "This store will provide quite a few residents fiscal security at a critical time."

The store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and employ 200 full- and part-time workers.

Among them is Covina resident Kathy Saint-Gaudens. The 62-year-old, formerly a resident of Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County, has been out of work for nearlythree years.

"Being in a small town, it was tough to find a job," said Saint-Gaudens, who moved to Covina just three months ago.

She was one of 1,600 locals to apply for positions at Walmart. Saint-Gaudens is now a pharmacy sales associate at the chain.

"It felt really good to say I had a job," she said.

The West Covina Walmart is a smaller version of a supercenter, which are typically between 180,000-square-feet and 200,000-square-feet, Walmart officials said.

The shop will include 80,000-square-feet of family apparel, electronics and other general merchandise on the second floor and a 40,000-square-foot full-service grocery store on the first floor.

"This location provided a convenient option to better serve our San Gabriel Valley customers and bring economic vitality back to the Eastland Shopping Center," Walmart Spokeswoman Rachel Wall said. "This store offers the best of both worlds."

Still, some West Covina residents have been dreading the opening. Residents over the past several months, acting on rumors that a Walmart would open at the site, have said at council meetings that they planned on boycotting or protesting its opening.

They've also expressed worry that Walmart could swallow up the nearby competition, including Albertsons, Target and Burlington Coat Factory.

City officials said the location was already zoned for commercial retail use and needed little city permission.

Walmart representatives said that the community has been "resoundingly positive" toward the store and that it means less blight in the shopping center.

"What's nice is you can utilize an already existing space," Wall said. "They're legitimately excited to see a new store, a new Walmart. They're happy to see that what was a vacant building is now being occupied again."

At its grand opening, Walmart will present $8,000 in grants to local organizations, including: Greater La Puente Valley Meals on Wheels; Shepherd's Pantry; Homes of Hope Foster Family Agency; YWCA of West Covina; West Covina High School Band Parent Association; Workman Elementary School; West Covina Police Explorers; West Covina Fire Explorers; Workman Elementary School; and Faith Community Church.

Walmart is still accepting applications for seasonal workers.

"We've been waiting for these doors to open," Walmart store manager Chris Turner said. "We're looking forward to bringing more workers on."

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