EAST MANATEE -- A new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market brings a drive-thru pharmacy and custom pizza bar to East Manatee. It also brought a new friendship to two Wal-Mart associates.
Felicia Pittman and Sabrina Walker both live in Georgia, but travel around the southeastern United States to help new Wal-Mart stores prepare for opening. Both Pittman and Walker said meeting people is the best part about their jobs.
"I like seeing different places and seeing the growth of Wal-Mart," Pittman said. "You meet different people and you become a family."
Walker and Pittman have worked at the new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market at 4536 53rd Ave. E. for about five weeks. Over the past month the two have enjoyed each other's company and plan to stay in touch after the store opens.
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"We just met at this project and that's my sister right there," Walker said, gesturing toward Pittman. "And it's just nice to see something come from the ground up."
Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market opens to the East Manatee community at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. The 41,000 square-foot store brings 95 full- and part-time jobs as well as a drive-thru pharmacy and custom pizza bar, two features not found at Wal-Mart Supercenters.
"You can call in and order a pizza and we'll make the pizza for you," said Jessica Ward, the store manager. "We'll also have them stocked." The pizzas are take-and-bake style and are located next to the store's deli.
The Neighborhood Market line of stores brings Wal-Mart to communities through a "smaller footprint," according to the company's website. The company operates more than 650 Neighborhood Markets nationwide. After Wednesday's 7:30 a.m. opening, the store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days of the week.
With the smaller store size and drive-thru pharmacy, pharmacy manager Danny Hernandez is excited to improve relationships with customers.
"Neighborhood Markets are more down-to-earth and (have) more of an independent pharmacy style," Hernandez said. "It improves our relationships with customers."
By comparison, Wal-Mart Supercenters are approximately 182,000 square feet and employ about 300 store associates. A Wal-Mart Supercenter at U.S. 301 and State Road 70 is just up the road from the Neighborhood Market.
Tom Jackson is a consultant for the Florida Retail Federation and used to be the interim executive director of FRF's Florida Grocers Association. According to Jackson, smaller grocery store sizes are all the rage right now in the grocery industry.
"It's everywhere," Jackson said. "Kroger just opened a smaller format store in the Washington-Oregon area and I just read today where Festival Foods in Wisconsin is opening a smaller-format store."
The stores with fewer square feet cater to millennials and the eldery population, Jackson said. The former "wants to know more about products and smaller formats cater to that," and the latter likes smaller stores because "they get more attention and it's easier for them to get around."
The East Manatee Neighborhood Market will compete with a nearby Publix and discount grocer Aldi.
"In order to compete with our competition we want to make sure our prices are the best and also our associates are friendly," Ward said.
The bevy of grocery shopping options reflects the growth of that part of Manatee County.
About 2 miles south of the Neighborhood Market, Lakewood Ranch homebuilder Neal Communities is building 92-home subdivision Villa Amalfi. Neal Communities is also negotiating for approximately 200 acres of property owned by Bradenton west of Evers Reservoir on Honore Avenue.
A 6,000-square-foot Wawa gas station is also planned for the 26-acre property on the southeast corner of Lockwood Ridge Road and State Road 70. Last year, the Bradenton Herald reported property owner Gryboski Howe & Gravley of Decatur, Ga., is proposing to build 161,000 square feet of retail space on the southeast corner of Lockwood Ridge Road and State Road 70.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.