Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wal-Mart Style in Blairsville

The image in the mind of most people of Wal-Mart is the tacky blue monolith full of stuff they can only find cheaper in a dollar store. Indeed, the Wal-Mart of the 90's was a store of more substance than style, and this resonated true with the anti-Wal-Mart crowd. Realizing negative public perception, the chain recently updated their logo and attempted to "upscale" their image to compete more fiercely with Target. While I will never see Wal-Mart ever one-upping Target in the cheap chic niche, I am indeed impressed with the results of their attempts to do so. Their experiments in image retailing have resulted in some much improved decor and less cheesy ads. This new store featured here in Blairsville is the complete culmination of that.

Opening on August 20, 2009 the Blairsville Wal-Mart is quite different from any one I have seen before. Its location is odd enough, situated two miles outside of the city at a major intersection that at current is graced with nothing more than a tractor supply store. The terrain in the area is very rugged, too, which is why this store made its way to the town late. The previous attempt to locate in the city was postponed due to the previous property being too rocky. That land today belongs to the county as part of their park.

The store itself is truly attractive on the outside. It is tan colored like cut wood, and the entrance has a mountain theme with stone at the foot, alpine trimmings and fake windows interspersed with real ones over the entrances to make the store seem less blocky and imposing. The store sports the new logo inside and out. Inside, the store is laid out considerably different than most modern stores. The footprint is more narrow and a bit smaller. The food area has a contemporary theme featuring a motif of orange, yellow and green reminiscent of the late 70's and early 80's when Wal-Mart was first hitting its stride. While a throwback to the 70's in color schemes, the design is clean, modern and attractive. The rest of the store did not embrace the tan renovations of older stores, however. The theme is the usual white, gray and blue. The Pharmacy is actually located next to the food area instead of the other side of the store. In all, the selection seems less but it is still the best discount store this town ever had.

I love the food part of the store. This area is reminiscent of grocery stores past as well as completely contemporary.

The last time Blairsville had its own discount store was in 1990. That was when troubled discounter Sky City closed its doors in the Ingles Shopping Center. Since then, residents of Union County have had to choose betweeen the Wal-Mart in Murphy, NC close to 25 miles away or the Rose's in Blue Ridge, also 25 miles away. In that time span, the city saw much new development from retirees and the wealthy from Atlanta and Florida building homes in the area, which is one of the most mountainous in Georgia and quite different from the rest of the state. Those newcomers were generally not in favor of a Wal-Mart coming in, and the opposition combined with the difficulty finding a suitable site delayed the project for quite some time. However, in a town with a technical college, a large tourist population and a central location at the crossroads of two major US highways, the need was becoming pretty apparent.

The first photo is a look at the aisle between the food area and the rest of the store in the first photo. The second photo focuses on the checkout area. The rest of the store was not photographed.

In all, it took a lot to inspire me to do any post on Wal-Mart. I did so because I felt this place stood out from other Wal-Mart stores. Indeed, the local population is probably mixed about having it in that it brings much needed convenience and a discount store back to the city, but it also is likely to contribute to further sprawl in a very pristine setting. The store itself is very close to Lake Nottely, the county park and breaks an otherwise largely unspoiled vista between Blue Ridge and Blairsville along SR 515. Nevertheless, it is nice to see that Wal-Mart today recognizes the need to design their stores to better reflect their community and the scenery instead of the mutely brutalist stores of the past.

The late summer sunset casts a mystical light on the new brown sign and the misty mountain scenery behind it.


  1. I went in the Walmart in Shelbyvile, Tn yesterday and it has been changed on the inside to be different than any Wal-Mart I've been in before. It looked as if they were trying to copy Target in the way the shelving was laid out. I noticed that the men's department abruptly ended into other sections by just walking one aisle over. Shelving in the store did not seem to go as high as normal and larger areas of the store could be seen by looking over more shelving. The merchanise was the same, but the layout was different. I guess within the next year or two, this will become the standard layout. Some sections reminded me of Target. If they were to go to 3500K lighting instead of that sterile 5000K lighting, it would have looked a lot more like Target. I noticed lower color temperature lights over the produce section (probably 4100K) and I've noticed that in other Walmarts as well.

  2. An odd store. Attractive on the outside, while the inside resembles a first generation warehouse super market (which is not meant as a complement). Wal-Mart seems to be taking advantage of the recession to reposition itself a bit, at least on the surface.

  3. Walmart is starting to look like that...except its being renovated from a regular store (itself renovated once). The remodel isn't complete yet, but that same camel-yellow wall is's the wall where the ceiling drops to the regular Wal-Mart height (from the Supercenter height).

    And yes, the store layout mirrored Target very closely.