If the new Sam’s Club feels a bit like the old one, that’s because it’s in the same place; it’s exactly the same size – 116,000 square feet – and the check out lanes are pretty much where they used to be.
But that’s where most comparisons end. Beyond the automatic entrance doors exists an airy and bright space. Skylights, even on Friday, when they were still covered with snow, bring a natural feel to the building, almost as if the columns of shelving filled with merchandise up to the ceiling were outside.
Rhode Island’s only Sam’s Club closed its doors in February 2011 to the surprise of its members. The original building, which, according to the Warwick Building Department, was sinking into contaminated land, was razed. The site was cleaned up before construction of the new building.
“The structure was dangerous; we felt it was unsafe for members,” said manager Gabriel Urueta.
Now the new building is almost ready to open. On Friday, there was a chorus of beeping forklifts moving pallets of everything, from soup to nuts, into place. Boxes of apparel were open while associates set up racks. Shelves for electronics, now just inside the entrance, were already partially stocked. The new club has a pharmacy, a café and a four-bay garage, where members can have their new tires mounted while they shop. In the meat and produce department, an expanse of white enamel stood gleaming, waiting to be stocked.
“We’ll be very competitive,” said Urueta. “We want to be known as the produce leader.”
The store has its own bakery and will feature “road shows.”
Urueta describes them as “event shows” to highlight local produce and merchandise. During the first two weeks, live lobsters will be steamed on site for shoppers. Also, Cape Cod Jellies, which is actually made in Rhode Island, will provide staff for a display.
Sam’s couldn’t get more local than Warwick Ice Cream. Urueta has been down to the plant, just down the road on Route 2, and the ice cream will be found in Sam’s freezers.
A “soft opening” will take place Jan. 22 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. The following morning, community leaders have been invited to a ceremony at 8 followed by opening to the public at 8:30.
Urueta, who has been with Sam’s Club for 14 years, came to Rhode Island from Augusta, Maine about a year ago. By happenstance, his community involvement found him and his family a home on Warwick Neck. As a member of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, Urueta assisted with the chamber’s “Rocky Point 5K” that started on Rocky Point Avenue. While there, he spotted a house for rent and now that’s where the family is living.
“It was meant to be,” he said.
Sam’s Club will employ 140 to 160 associates, about eight of which who worked at the old store.
“We enjoy bringing jobs back to the community,” said Urueta.
On entering the club, members will be welcomed by “people greeters.” Just like the old store, a system of checkers, who will match merchandise with sales receipts, will be in place. But Urueta expects the process will be faster as the store has self-checkouts that can easily be converted to manned checkouts at any point.
“There’s going to be more of an express feel,” he said. “Quick, fast and friendly service.”
If that’s not fast enough, Urueta said the store would also offer “fax and pull” and “click and pull” service to business, business plus and instant savings members. Whether by fax or Internet, the service allows members to place an order, which will be pulled from the shelves and waiting for them to pick up at the store.
Don’t be surprised if there’s also a bit of a summer feel.
Pastel-colored beach bikes are displayed on the end wall of an aisle of shelves, as if they had suddenly taken flight. Nearby, hanging from the ceiling, is a giant yellow and blue inflatable water trampoline.
If that’s not enough to chase away the winter blues, there’s a display of patio furniture.
“We’re getting ready for summer,” said Urueta.
Urueta is also ready for members to return. Those who had memberships when the store closed, even though their memberships may have expired, will be able to shop the store until April. Memberships range from $45 for instant saving members to $100 for business plus members.
As a pre-grand opening offer, Sam’s is offering a $20 gift card for a new Sam’s Savings membership and a $40 gift card for a new Sam’s Plus membership.