GREENSBORO — Gail Hodges can’t wait for the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market to open in Quaker Village Shopping Center.
“I’m ecstatic,” she said Friday afternoon while waiting for her lunch order at the Chinese Kitchen. “It’ll be so close. I love Wal-Mart.”
But the Chinese Kitchen’s owner, Tham Choy Chiu, isn’t as welcoming to Wal-Mart. He feels the grocery store is forcing him out of his location in Quaker Village off West Friendly Avenue. He’s already made plans to move to a new spot on Dolley Madison Road.
Quaker Village, which got a new owner early last year, is now planning for a new tenant.
Wal-Mart is opening a market, and Aston Properties is making $3 million worth of renovations to prepare for the store and spruce up a shopping center that has struggled with high vacancy rates in recent years.
Walmart and Aston Properties, based in Charlotte, announced this week that the retail giant was opening a 41,000-square-foot neighborhood market.
Neighborhood markets are about one-fourth the size of Walmart Supercenters and primarily sell groceries.
It’s a concept Walmart is growing. They opened one last year in the former Borders bookstore building on High Point Road and a second in High Point. There are several more under construction across the state, a Walmart spokesman said earlier this week.
Construction at the center will start in April. The vacant Mix Martini Bar night club in back of the center, the former Fresh Market building and some other vacant buildings will be demolished to make room for Walmart, new sidewalks and other landscaping improvements. The Walmart is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
Walmart will add to the grocery options in the area. There is a Harris Teeter just down the road from Quaker Village, and a second Harris Teeter, a Fresh Market, Lowes Foods and an Aldi along New Garden Road.
Quaker Village was built in 1964. It’s home to businesses such as Starbucks, Elizabeth’s Pizza, Jimmy John’s, a UPS store, a barber shop and hair and nail salons.
The shopping center has been without a grocery store since Fresh Market left in 2007 for New Garden Road.
Several other businesses closed after Fresh Market’s departure, and the shopping center’s vacancy rate increased to 40 percent.
The property was sold in a bankruptcy auction in 2010 and Aston Properties bought it in February 2013.
Aston officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday and Friday. The company operates shopping centers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Grocery stores anchor many of them.
Speculation had brewed for months that a new business was coming to Quaker Village. There were rumors of Trader Joe’s, Publix and Wal-Mart. But no one knew anything for sure until this week.
“We came to know like you came to know,” Chiu said.
Chiu was busy ringing up customers during the lunch hour Friday. He said 85 to 90 percent of his customers are regulars and that his current location has better visibility than the new one he’ll be moving to in May.
“If I have a choice, I don’t want to leave,” he said.
But Chiu doesn’t believe he has a choice. Chiu takes part of the blame for his situation. He said his lease called for him to give a 60-day notice if he intended to renew.
Chiu neglected to do that, but said the new landlords don’t want to extend his lease. He said he’s currently on a month-to-month lease and that he can’t operate a business that way.
Chiu’s neighbor, Michelle Childress at the Reflections hair and nail salon, said she’s not moving.
Childress, the salon’s owner, is mainly concerned about the burdens that construction will create. But she’s hoping the addition of a major retailer will increase the foot traffic and bring her new customers to complement her regulars.
“We’ve endured the lull around here long enough that now it’s time for the rise again,” said Childress, whose salon has been in Quaker Village for more than 20 years.
Childress said she would have preferred a Trader Joe’s in Quaker Village.
“At this point, we are going to take what we get,” she said.
Like Reflections, some Quaker Village businesses have called the shopping center home for years and have seen it during better times.
But others, like Bill Mead, took a chance on it. Mead bought a Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt franchise two years ago. He loved that the shopping center was close to public schools and Guilford College.
“Our only concern was the vacancy rate was up over 40 percent and had been for quite some time,” Mead said.
Mead signed his lease in December 2011 under the previous owner with the understanding that the shopping center would be sold to someone who would renovate it.
He said he noticed surveyors and other activity going on at the property last year. And then the murmurs of a Wal-Mart got louder last fall.
“I knew my bet was paying off,” he said.