H-E-B is spending nearly $13 million to make its Bellmead store the largest in the Waco market and it hopes to use its location on Interstate 35 to create a regional shopping attraction.
The Bellmead H-E-B, which opened in 2002, will become one of the San Antonio-based chain’s “Plus” stores. It will sell everything from TVs and Barbie dolls to an expanded lineup of grocery products.
Renovation already has begun. The expanded store of more than 110,000 square feet will open in late October or early November, said Leslie Sweet, the chain’s director of public affairs.
The store will remain open throughout construction, which will add 32,000 square feet.
Upon completion, it will surpass in square-footage the H-E-B Plus on Hewitt Drive and the unit at Bosque Boulevard and Wooded Acres Drive.
Sweet said the Bellmead facility will hire about 75 people. A total of 300 employees already work there.
“Preparation for this expansion began well over a year ago, and we have been getting as much feedback from the community as possible on how it should take shape,” Sweet said. “We finally arrived at a design of 110,000 to 114,000 square feet that will include new features and allow for more products.”
As a Plus store, it will sell general merchandise from several new departments: entertainment, baby and toddler, do-it-yourself, school, toys and Texas frontyard.
“We’re excited about it. In many ways, we’re already popular with residents outside the city, but I think this will make us even more so,” said Duane Hoxworth, Bellmead Chamber of Commerce president.
The Bellmead store’s revenue-per-square-foot has increase during the years, said Jeff Thomas, senior vice president and general manager for the Central Texas region. The company thought the time had come to enlarge the facility to give it more regional appeal and make it more competitive with Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Home Depot, all of which line I-35 near the Bellmead H-E-B.
The store will have a drive-through pharmacy three times as large as what exists now; an “Aguas” department that will offer fresh cut fruit, squeezed juice and guacamole made on the spot; a pizza kitchen with seats for dining; and a sushi bar.
“Shoppers can look forward to more choices in meat, seafood and produce; scratch bread from the bakery; an even larger selection of fresh-cut flowers in floral; an expanded healthy living department; a greater selection of books and magazines; and a large assortment of grab-and-go hot foods,” Sweet said in a news release.
At the front of the store, an expanded business center will allow customers to buy hunting and fishing licenses, Ticketmaster tickets and pre-paid phones and calling cards. They also can pay bills there.
Sweet said restroom lines sometimes extend to store entrances on weekends, so H-E-B will “blow out the size of the restrooms” to correct the situation. It also will provide 24 new shopping aisles.
Shoppers on Wednesday reacted positively to the news of H-E-B’s expansion.
Ileana Nieto, 25, shops two or three times a week at the Bellmead store with her 1-year-old daughter, Abigail.
“I think it’s fine, as long as they don’t go up on the prices,” Nieto said.
Dakwaun Hampton, 21, said he thinks the remodeled store and its selection of general merchandise will keep people there to complete their shopping list at one location.
“It will give Wal-Mart some competition, which it needs,” he said.
Karen Griggs, 50, typically patronizes the H-E-B on North 19th Street, but she escorted an older shopper to the Bellmead store on Wednesday. Griggs said she may buy toys for her grandchildren on future visits.
Fred Ouellette, 75, who lives between Ross and Gholson, had a different take.
“I don’t like the idea of having nonfood merchandise in a grocery store. If I want TVs or stereos, Wal-Mart is just down the street,” he said. “That’s why I quit going to the store in Hewitt and the one on Wooded Acres. They are so big, you walk yourself to death. This store is just the right size for me.”
H-E-B is the dominant chain in the Greater Waco area, with six locations. The 109,000-square-foot Hewitt Drive store and the 92,000-square-foot store on Wooded Acres Drive are the largest.
“But they soon will be eclipsed,” Sweet said.