DENHAM SPRINGS – A big return for local shoppers – and for city and parish sales tax revenue – came one step closer to fruition on Sunday, March 26.
A ceremony at the Denham Springs Walmart location celebrated completion of the post-flood renovations to the Range Avenue Super Center, which officially reopened Wednesday, March 29.
The return plays a key role in the comeback of Denham Springs, Mayor Gerard Landry said at the ceremony.
"It will enable the vast majority of the population to shop locally and help bolster sales tax revenue for the city in its ongoing flood recovery.“
The boost in the sales tax is always appreciated, but this also represents the return of another icon back in town where we can shop,” said Landry, who spent much of his career in the retail sector.
“It’s another place where people can buy their cleaning supplies, their clothes,
their houseware and their groceries, so we’re very excited about this.“
"It's another step to getting back to being normal again ... just another step,”
The renovation makes the store at 904 S. Range Ave. one of the first in the United States to sport the new design pattern, manager Derrick Fontenot said.
“Customers will notice a new design throughout the store, including a new prototype for our vision center, deli, bakery ... everything,” he said.
“This enhances what we already had in place.”
The new location will also feature its growing move toward e-commerce with its pickup area, which falls in place with its push for greater competition against online retail giant Amazon.
It will also begin its new curbside grocery service by early May, Fontenot said.
The store had been closed since Aug. 14, when 3 feet of water deluged the building. It marked its longest closing since it first opened in 1985.
The store lost millions of dollars and inventory. The extensive damage also led to a complete overhaul for the location
“Everything in the store had to be completely gutted,” said Fontenot, a Krotz Springs resident who started his career as a Walmart associate.
“All we had left after the flood was four walls.“
"With all the damage, however, there was never a doubt we would reopen,” he said.
The comeback will also boost employment figures. The Denham Springs location hired 170 additional associates for the new store.
The location had approximately 400 full-time and part-time employees on the payroll prior to the flood. It lost roughly 120 associates, including some who transferred to other locations and others who moved out of state when they lost their homes, Fontenot said.
The resurgence of a large retail business which sat empty more than seven months sends a message to the community, said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who attended the ceremony.
“This store is a real anchor to the community. It sends a message psychologically to communities when they see a place like this renovated and refreshed,” said Graves, R-Baton Rouge.
“It’s a major boost to the community, particularly because people need access to so many items sold here ... you had people in this area who lost everything.
"It sends a clear message that we’re not abandoning Livingston Parish,” he said.
“People are rebuilding and rebuilding even better.”
Walmart also celebrated its return with donations which totaled $16,000 in grants for area schools, as well as the local VFW chapter.