Baltimoreans queue up at city's first Wal-Mart

Opening: The world's largest retailer finally brings a store to Baltimore, and customers were eager to check it out.

April 18, 2002|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Tameka Fuller came to Wal-Mart's grand opening yesterday in South Baltimore with her younger brother looking for a few things. But she ended up with a packed shopping cart.

"I was supposed to come and get a comforter set and some sheets, but you know how you get caught up?" said Fuller, 27, a nurse who lives in nearby Cherry Hill. "We got caught up."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is counting on city customers such as Fuller to make its first Baltimore store - and only the second urban Wal-Mart in the Northeast - a success.

The store, in the 100 block of E. Cromwell St., is part of a "power center" at Port Covington, one of the city's biggest retail projects to come along in years.

Sam's Club, a Wal-Mart-owned warehouse club chain, is set to open May 9 at the center.

Port Covington is unlike many of Wal-Mart's suburban or rural locations. With its roots in Arkansas, the giant discounter built up its store base on wide swaths of land over several decades. Only in the past 10 years, said Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris, has the discounter been focused on expanding into cities, where rents are higher and space is hard to come by.

Wal-Mart's only other Northeast store in a city opened in Philadelphia four years ago. It has 33 stores in Maryland.

Fairfield, Conn.-based Starwood Ceruzzi Inc., the site's developer, also plans to build a strip center with 10 to 15 stores. The tenants haven't been announced. Combined retail space at Port Covington will be 400,000 square feet.

In addition to clothing, shoe, household, sporting goods, furniture, electronics, pet and outdoor merchandise departments, the Wal-Mart offers a vision care center, photo lab, a drive-up tire and lube station and a McDonald's restaurant.

Shoppers said a Wal-Mart in Baltimore means saved trips to Wal-Marts outside the city.

"I usually go to the store in Glen Burnie," said Gail Fraley, 50, of South Baltimore. "I've been waiting for this store to open."

The 142,000-square-foot store also has an expanded grocery section - a relatively new emphasis for the retailer as it takes aim at the grocery business.

"We got something from every department just about," said Melodye Culotta, 47, a homemaker from Locust Point who was shopping with her daughter, a granddaughter and a child she baby-sits.

"I think the selection and the setup is better" than the Glen Burnie store's, Culotta said.

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