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Hy-Vee going head-to-head with Wal-Mart

Hy-Vee going head-to-head with Wal-Mart


Hy-Vee spokesman Chris Friesleben says it’s not personal.

Last year, Wal-Mart opened a Supercenter with a grocery right across the street from Hy-Vee grocery on West Broadway.

Last week, Hy-Vee confirmed that it will build two new grocery stores in Columbia, one in a shopping center occupied a Wal-Mart Supercenter and Sam’s Club and the other down the street from the city’s newest Supercenter.

Friesleben said there was no conscious decision on the part of the Des Moines-based grocery chain to locate near any particular retailer. Then she added, “We’re of the philosophy that competition makes us all better because you have to be at the top of your game. If you don’t have the competition, it’s real easy to take things for granted.”

Hy-Vee has applied for building permits and plans to begin construction this fall at the former Wal-Mart site in the Rock Bridge Shopping Center, across the street from Gerbes, and next spring at the old MegaMarket site in the Broadway Marketplace.

Both Rock Bridge Shopping Center, at Providence Road and Nifong Boulevard, and the Broadway Marketplace, adjacent to U.S. 63, have some of the city’s highest traffic counts.

Mayor Darwin Hindman and other city officials recently have complained about the unsightliness of long-vacant commercial properties. During a Columbia City Council hearing on the development of the new Wal-Mart where Nifong turns into Grindstone Parkway, Hindman expressed concern that the abandoned Wal-Mart down the road could become a long-lasting eyesore.

But Hy-Vee said construction of each new Hy-Vee building will take roughly a year to finish, barring any unforeseen problems.

Hy-Vee plans to tear down both the closed Wal-Mart and the MegaMarket buildings to make way for the new construction, Friesleben said. To maintain a consistent corporate image, Hy-Vee has taken a similar route when purchasing defunct stores affiliated with other chains, such as the Eagle Food Centers, a northern Midwest grocery store chain that went bankrupt in 2003.

Executives at Hy-Vee, the largest employer in Iowa, say they believe the company can compete head-to-head with the world’s largest retail chain because it can offer better service.

“I think our customer service is unequaled,” Friesleben said. “If they are familiar with the store, they know where they want to go, and if they are not familiar with the store, they know they can ask somebody, and they will be walked to that product. The employee is going to do everything he or she can to get it or to solve any issue that [the customer] might have. We like to think that is a very big drawing card for us.”

Jim Alabach, director of leasing for The Kroenke Group, which owns the shopping centers anchored by Wal-Mart, said he preferred not to comment. Otto Maly, owner of Maly Commercial Realty, did not respond to inquiries.

Reporting annual sales of more than $5 billion, the rapidly expanding Hy-Vee chain operates 224 grocery and drug stores in seven Midwestern states and employs more than 50,000 people.

Each of Hy-Vee’s new stores in Columbia will be about 78,000 square feet and cost $5 million to build, according to a building permit application filed with the city by Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee’s west-side store is about 70,000 square feet by comparison. The Nifong location will include a gas station, but the Broadway Marketplace location will not.

To make way for Hy-Vee, some businesses at Broadway Marketplace may have to relocate, although Friesleben did not know which stores in the development would be affected.

Some tenants in the shopping center, such as Hockman’s ATA Black Belt Academy, already are planning to move. Other stores in that section of the development include Subway, China Chef, Cingular, Card Outlet, Cost-Cutters, Sally’s Beauty Supply, Robinson’s Cleaners, Smokes 4 Less and Fashion Bug. Subway and Cingular employees said they had received word of possible future moves, and some of the tenants said they had complained to their landlord about the deteriorating condition of the facility.

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