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The facade at the brand new Wal-Mart grocery at its grand opening on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 in San Ramon, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

SAN RAMON -- Despite controversy and anger roused when the project was first proposed, the aisles were busy Wednesday on the opening day of the Bay Area's first Walmart Neighborhood Market.

The 50,000-square-foot grocery store opened Wednesday morning in the Country Club Village Center on Alcosta Boulevard. The building had been vacant since 2010 and had previously housed a Ralph's supermarket and then a Le Asia supermarket.

The new store sells groceries and produce in competition with supermarkets, and is not a big box department store.

"We're offering the community a new grocery option," Walmart spokeswoman Deborah Herron said. "Our mission is to help families save money so they can live better lives."

Herron said the store also brings in about 85 new jobs to the community.

Store employee and San Leandro resident Dwayne Taylor said he was recruited to work at the store from another company. He said the 85 employees at the San Ramon store are a mix of experienced and inexperienced hires.

"The opening went a lot smoother than I thought it would be," he said. "So far so good."

Walmart first opened stand-alone grocery stores in 1998 and now operates about 200 across the country. But its grocery stores are new to California. The San Ramon opening Wednesday coincided with five Neighborhood Market openings in Sacramento and another in Anaheim.


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Three more Walmart Neighborhood Markets are scheduled to open in the Bay Area next year -- one in mid-October at San Jose's Westgate Shopping Center, another in early 2013 in San Jose at Evergreen Plaza, and one in Pleasanton in mid-2013.

In February, a group called San Ramon for Smart Growth held a small protest in front of the San Ramon store site shortly before Walmart began renovating the building, but there was no sign of opposition during the opening ceremony Wednesday morning.

Mayor Bill Clarkson, Police Chief Scott Holder, Chamber of Commerce President Stewart Bambino, California High School Principal Mark Corti and the Cal High cheerleaders were present for the ribbon cutting, as were about 100 shoppers who were lined up at 7:30 a.m. waiting for the doors to open.

Clarkson said later that the store will bring in property and sales taxes to the city. "I've heard from businesses in the shopping center that are happy that there is now a large anchor tenant to bring in customers," he said.

During the opening ceremony, Walmart officials presented grants of $5,000 to the San Ramon Valley Education Fund, the Sentinels of Freedom and the San Ramon Senior Foundation. California High School and the San Ramon police and fire departments received grants of $2,000.

The facade at the brand new Wal-Mart grocery at its grand opening on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 in San Ramon, Calif.  (Jim Stevens/Staff)
The facade at the brand new Wal-Mart grocery at its grand opening on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012 in San Ramon, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

Rosalie Howarth drove in from Walnut Creek to check out the new store. "I didn't know it was only a grocery store," she said. "I thought it was very spacious and clean. The prices weren't jaw-dropping amazing, but competitive."

"It's cheap," said another shopper who drove in from Alamo. "I just saved a whole bunch." The shopper didn't give her name because "people are anti-Walmart," she said, and she didn't want her friends to know she shopped there.

Susie Viola lives right across the street and said she would be a frequent shopper at the store. "It's very convenient for people who don't have transportation, like me," she said.

Contact Jason Sweeney at 925-847-2123. Follow him at Twitter.com/Jason_Sweeney.