Wal-Mart's rapid rise from an Arkansas chain into the top national discount retailer is stuff for the annals of merchandising. Not even the death of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart's energetic founder, slowed its expansion to new, more competitive markets.
Wal-Mart's magic will be tested again in Glen Burnie, when it takes over the 306,155-square-foot store that the bankrupt hypermarket Leedmark abandoned last year. Leclerc, a French firm that hoped to take America by storm by launching a nationwide chain from Glen Burnie, gave up its costly investment after only three years. There was nothing wrong with Leedmark's Ordnance Road location nor with its selection of clothing, appliances, hardware and food. Prices were competitive. But somehow, the concept never clicked.
For several years now, Wal-Mart has operated a store in the Glen Burnie area, on Crain Highway near Interstate 97. In fact, that store was the chain's first in the Baltimore market and has been quite successful in spite of the recession.
Wal-Mart's new store will be favored by improving economic conditions. This is an important consideration because the Ordnance Road shopping area isn't far from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport employment hub where many companies, particularly Westinghouse, were forced to curtail operations in recent years.
The question now is what will Wal-Mart do to succeed where Leedmark failed?
There are suggestions that it might try a 24-hour store to take advantage of the area's many shift workers. A food market is likely to be part of the concept, perhaps to be operated by another vendor. (Wal-Mart representatives in Bentonville, Ark., say that detailed plans won't be announced for weeks.)
During its most explosive growth period, Wal-Mart expanded rapidly mostly in rural areas that had inferior shopping facilities.
In the Northeast, though, it has to compete in a more cut-throat environment. It's not the lone bully on the block. Glen Burnie's Ordnance Road area, for example, already boasts such thriving mega-stores as Price Club, The Sports Authority and Home Depot. The new Wal-Mart will have to carve its niche in a crowded marketplace, although people who have underestimated the chain's ability in the past have usually been wrong.