Nov. 25, 2002 – Look for Home Depot to break ground before the end of the year on St. Thomas and for the store to open late in the fourth quarter of 2003, corporate spokesman Don Harrison said from his Atlanta office on Monday.
He said the store will occupy 95,000 square feet on the inside, with another 10,000 square feet located outside as a garden center.
He said the deal hasn't been signed but is expected to happen shortly. "We're dotting the I's and crossing the T's," he said.
While Harrison wouldn't say where on St. Thomas the store would be located, the company filed for a permit in August to build a store next to the Market Square East shopping center in Estate Donoe. The property, like Market Square East, is owned by Lockhart Companies.
Brent Blyden, director of permits at the Planning and Natural Resources Department, said his staff is giving Home Depot's request for a building permit careful scrutiny because the project proposed is so large. Therefore, he couldn't say when a decision might be made. However, he said that his staff has not found many deficiencies in the permit application.
Blyden said Home Depot already has its Earth Change permit, which gives it approval to break ground.
Harrison said he anticipates that the store will hire about 100 full- and part-time workers. He said the company typically hires about 80 to 85 percent of its work force from people who live in the local area, which in this case would mean on St. Thomas and St. John. "We think it's important that you see your friends and neighbors when you go in the door," he said.
As soon as construction is completed, he said, he expects Home Depot will start hiring so the company can start its team-building process. He said "associates" will be cross trained so that the person who works in the garden department will know where to send you for lumber, for example.
While the square footage is about 10,000 less than Home Depot usually builds nowadays, he said, the store will have an extensive inventory that meets island needs. He said the company held focus groups in San Juan to find out what shoppers there wanted. When it discovered that most homes were made of block, it scaled back its usual lumber stock.
Harrison said that the inventory will be "tweaked" after the store opens and the management gets a better idea of what sells well. He wouldn't comment on how pricing would be determined but said prices are not the same at every store on the U.S. mainland.
Some residents say they are glad that the store will open on St. Thomas, as has long been rumored. "It can't come soon enough," said one St. John resident who didn't want to be named.
However, St. Thomas retailers who sell similar products, albeit on a lesser scale, are not pleased. Enrique Rodriquez, who owns Rodriquez Auto Parts and True Value Hardware in Tutu, predicted the demise of several St. Thomas stores once Home Depot opens.
"They kill people," he said, and there is no strategy that smaller local businesses can employ, other than good customer service, to help the situation.
One longtime St. Thomas building supplier, Island Block, closed its doors at the end of October.
While Rodriquez said that Home Depot would not make donations to local groups and support local media, Harrison said the company traditionally makes grants to local groups and gets involved in community projects.
"We want to have as positive an impact as possible," Harrison said.
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