Walmart celebrates 10th anniversary in Salem

SALEM – It doesn’t seem that long ago … 10 years.

It was March 19, 2003 when the doors for Salem’s Walmart were finally thrown open after years of haggling and protests. But in the end, millions of dollars poured into the 25 acres on East State Street where today the Supercenter serves thousands in the surrounding area. Now a decade in Salem is being celebrated.

Along with thanking the public for support, Walmart is recognizing its associates for what Training Coordinator Joy Waggle called their contribution to the “continued growth and success” of the Salem store.

Store manager, Toni Cronin, a 22-year Walmart veteran, said there will be a “spark sales” featuring specials throughout the day along with cake and punch at the front of the store.

Cronin is the fourth manager at the Salem store and her steady climb up the management ranks includes tours at Walmarts in Boardman, Calcutta, Alliance and a total of seven altogether so she’s in a position to make a comparison.

“I’ve never worked in a store that’s so community driven,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone.”

“It’s like everyone’s like family,” concurred Waggle.

Cronin, an Oak Glen High School graduate, said, “Anything in town, we try to be a part of. We just all try to do something in the community. Associates have done the Banquet in Salem a couple of times.” Walmart contributes to the Second Chance Food bank along with the local food pantry.

Audrey Null, executive director of the chamber, said, “The Salem Area Chamber of Commerce organization extends its very best wishes to Walmart upon its tenth anniversary of doing business in Salem. We thank them for their ongoing support of our community and we wish them continued success.”

Green Township Trustee Dave Slagle and his wife shop at the Salem Walmart.

“It’s great, it’s close … better than Boardman or Calcutta. It’s really convenient and it’s great that it’s open 24 hours. If you want to get something early in the morning,” he said.

Shane Patrone is the mayor of New Waterford and is in the Salem Walmart every two weeks with his wife.

He jokes that she gets all his money but as an elected official and county employee he recognizes the sales tax the store brings in. “You can’t beat the prices,” he said. “There’s a good selection, especially for groceries.”

Today the store continues employing between 300 to 350 full- and part-time associates depending on the season, and working three shifts, according to Waggle. She pointed to the 70 original associates from the March 2003 grand opening still employed at the Salem store.

Some transferred from other Walmarts. Others were new and today they are each important in keeping the shelves stocked, aisles spotless and the gears turning.

“Advancement has been obtained with many associates going on to become part of management,” Waggle added. “There many opportunities and hard work equals success.”

But before the first surveyor’s stake was driven into the ground, the 186,000-square foot Supercenter came with controversy as Salem grappled with the big change and struggled to come to grips with the world’s largest retailer moving in.

Developers were first interested in the north side but the landowner with the best property did not want to sell.

Then developers nosed around on the south side where, among others, condominium owners joined by supporters and the “Save Our Salem” group chased it away.

Attention eventually swung over to Salem Township on the east end where property was available and the outcry, while energized, was less heated.

Twenty-five acres of jagged, sloping agri-land, flattened by tons of fill dirt scraped off the top of Millville Hill were formed into platform the store resides on today.

Ten years after those traffic-congested, earth-moving days, Cronin says “We’ve exceeded our sales plan.”

And with that “rooted in Walmart” pride she notes the Salem Walmart was named “Store of the Year” out of the eight in its competing area in 2012.

“That was a great accomplishment for our market,” she said adding the Salem store is the “top store in our market in the last three years.”

It’s amazing a 10-year-old store still produces results like the Salem store, she said, explaining that as stores age it gets ” more difficult to attain goals – the novelty wears off.”

Waggle said the store of the year requirements include service, sales, profit, friendliness and cleanliness and a general “striving for excellence” along with “respect for individuals.”

That respect reaches outside brightly lit aisleways and into the community.

Part of Walmart’s reputation is corporate kindness sustained by a commitment to lift those with less and support organizations whose meaningful benevolence works toward the good of the community.

Cronin said her annual local grant budget is $15,000 and includes donations to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, veteran groups and others. But there is much more.

Overall official donations average $27,000 annually to organizations like Noah’s Lost Ark, Angels for Animals, Feed America.

All the smaller donations add up too. For example, over the last three years, the Children’s Miracle Network was the recipient of $25,000.

Walmart also puts unsold groceries and pet foods where they do the most good in food pantries and human societies.

There was a big, “full-blown” renovation four or five years ago, Cronin said, noting that updated equipment is delivered on an ongoing basis.

Walmart started into the auto parts business last summer with a “Parts-On-Demand” program.

Cronin said, “I think it’s a part of the business were can grow.”

Another New Waterford resident, Village Administrator Fred Fink, said he shops at the Salem Walmart, rather drive to Chippewa or Calcutta that are about the same distance.

“We’re glad they’re there,” he said. “We needed a Walmart there. We could go to a Walmart in three or four directions but we like Salem.”