West Brownsville welcomes Walmart's 210 jobs; developer seeks other retailers

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West Brownsville is about to get something it hasn't seen in years: 210 new jobs and a major new retailer.

A new Walmart Supercenter will open at 7 a.m. tomorrow with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will include awarding of $9,000 in grants from the Walmart Foundation to local organizations.

The new store, at 134 Daniel Kendall Drive, will feature a full-size grocery store, along with traditional Walmart department store merchandise, such as apparel, hardware, electronics and toys. It will also have a pharmacy and a Subway restaurant, along with garden and photo processing centers.

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the new store represents something that the Mon Valley town hasn't had in many years: hope.

"This is a very exciting time for not only our community, but the surrounding communities as well," said West Brownsville Mayor Martin C. Brockman Jr. "Walmart is a great addition to our community; not only has it brought much-needed jobs to our area, but it will also help to boost the local economy and nearby businesses. This store will provide our residents with an affordable and convenient place to shop, and will be very popular. Many of the area's older residents can't make it to Uniontown or Belle Vernon and have to rely on others to get the basic necessities. The addition of Walmart will give many of them back their independence. It will also be a nice addition for the families in the area who won't have to drive as far to do their shopping."

The town has struggled for years with a slumping economy and rising crime rate. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the town also has been losing residents, including a 7.7 percent drop from 1,075 residents in 2000 to 992 by 2010.

Fifty-one of 367 households -- or 14 percent -- received food stamps between 2007 and 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than the average in Washington County at 9 percent.

Eleven percent of the residents in West Brownsville have an income below the poverty level, and the per-capita income of residents is also below the local and state average at $23,034 per year. In Washington County, the per-capita income is $27,641 and in Pennsylvania, it's $29,829.

The majority of the population -- 62 percent -- has a high school diploma with no further education.

Perhaps that's why store manager Chad Mathers, who has been with the company for more than 17 years, said he's never seen a more positive response to a store opening than he has in West Brownsville.

"I've never worked in a store where we had this much community support," said Mr. Mathers, who has also managed Walmarts at Fox Chapel, Robinson Town Centre, West Mifflin and Uniontown. "I have been overwhelmed by the community and even those seeking jobs. I couldn't be prouder of the team we put together."

Mr. Mathers worked his way up as an overnight unloader to a store manager, as did his brother, who started with the company at about the same time.

He said there's plenty of room for advancement in the company, which pays its full-time associates an average of $12.53 per hour.

"There's always an opportunity to move up in the company," he said.

And a new Walmart could be just the beginning of the good news for West Brownsville, which had been a "modern-day ghost town," according to state Rep. Peter J. Daley, D-California.

"We have been working for four years with the developer to secure this location," said Mr. Daley, who obtained state funding for water and sewage lines to the site. "It has really opened that whole area up."

Mr. Daley said he has been continuing negotiations with other retailers and companies that hope to build in the area. Those plans were contingent on the new Walmart.

"This could really jumpstart the West Brownsville area," he said.

At 112,000 square feet, the new store is about half the size of a typical supercenter, and the setting is more personal and intimate, Mr. Mathers noted.

"It's laid out much differently from our other stores," he said. "When you come into our store, it's really different. It has a hometown feel."

Walmart has listened to what its customers want, Mr. Mathers said.

"We did a lot of research so we really tried to gear our departments to the community's needs," he said.

That includes an expanded hardware department, and a much larger craft area that will include a full line of fabrics.

Among the local groups receiving grants from the foundation are the West Brownsville Police Department, which will receive $2,000, and the West Brownsville Volunteer Fire Department, which will receive $1,500. The California Area School District, Center in the Woods, Boy Scouts Westmoreland, Project Bundle Up and the Pennsylvania State Police Shop with a Cop Program will each receive $1,000. The California Area School District Band will receive $500.

Mr. Mathers said he's hoping the new store will be a boost to the local economy, as well as a new convenience for local shoppers.

"We look forward to serving the people of our community, and help save them money so they can live better," he said.

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867.


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