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New Hillside Walmart opens with crush of shoppers

“It’s probably busier than we expected,” said store manager Garrett Lawrence.
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Customers pay for their goods at the new Hillside Walmart on Thursday, the store’s opening day. Most of the checkouts are self-serve. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

When Walmart finally opened its doors Thursday at Hillside shopping centre, a crush of shoppers was there to welcome the retail giant with open arms.

The aisles of the two-floor store were flooded most of the day and the parking lot was busy as thousands of carts headed for the exits brimming with groceries and other goods.

“It’s probably busier than we expected,” said store manager Garrett Lawrence. “Our customers have been waiting for this and there has been so much excitement in the local community.”

The 30 self-serve checkout counters — only two are operated by cashiers — were busy from the 7 a.m. opening and well into the afternoon. At one point, the down escalator broke down.

The 145,000-square-foot Walmart Supercentre — the first new store in B.C. for Walmart since 2018 — was a long time in the making. It took Walmart Canada just over two years to remodel the former Sears store as the pandemic resulted in supply-chain problems and a shortage of construction workers.

The pharmacy still wasn’t open Thursday, but is expected to welcome customers within a few weeks.

A 4,000-square-foot walk-in medical clinic is scheduled to open this summer. It will offer general medical services as well chiropractors, physiotherapy and medical spa. The clinic will be operated by Jack Nathan Health, which has clinics in ­several Walmart locations across ­Canada, but so far there are no details on how many doctors will staff the clinic.

Derreck Cuschieri, Walmart’s vice-president of operations for western Canada, said customers will benefit from having a store close to downtown where they can choose to shop in-store or online with in-store pickup or home delivery.

Sheenaugh Morrison said it is convenient for her to have Walmart close to where she lives. She’s devoted to shopping at Thrifty, but finds it handy to buy yarn for knitting and other items at Walmart.

Amanda Arnet, who lives near Hillside Centre and works in Langford, said the new Walmart means she’ll no longer have to shop at the one on the West Shore — she can take the bus home and get off at Hillside, buy her groceries and walk home.

The store, which is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, has hired about 350 people, which took some effort in today’s tight hiring climate, said Lawrence. The company reached out to university and college job fairs and through various job agencies to attract workers.

A Walmart spokesman said the company doesn’t disclose wages but they start above the minimum of $15.65 an hour and go higher depending on the position and responsibilities.

Walmart Canada leased the Hillside Centre space in 2019, following the collapse of Sears Canada in early 2018. Sears had been part of the shopping centre on the Victoria-Saanich border since it opened in 1969.

The Hillside Walmart is larger than the Langford store, but the Uptown Walmart will remain the company’s largest in the region at 216,000 square feet. That location is also considered one of Walmart’s top-performing stores in Canada.

dkloster@timescolonist.com