AIKEN - Shopping and eating options are growing in Aiken.
A third county Wal-Mart is set to open Oct. 24 on Richland Avenue on the outskirts of the city. A slew of other stores and restaurants also could open around then.
Arthur Kepes, the vice president of WRS Real Estate Investments, said his company has 17 shops or restaurants leased to occupy space at its shopping center on 15 acres next to a new Wal-Mart Supercenter.
The complex will be called Shoppes at Richland, he said, and there are two out-parcels and one 3,000-square-foot shop still available in the center.
Mr. Kepes' company is in talks to fill that space, he said, and the other shops and restaurants might be open by Christmas.
Those that have signed leases include Firehouse Subs, The Shoe Dept., One-Stop Dollar Store, Wing Place and Ferrando's, a pizza diner that has moved out of its downtown Aiken location.
Moving in across the street is a new McDonald's.
The 24-hour Wal-Mart Supercenter will cover 203,716 square feet on 32 acres and will feature a full grocery store, Tire & Lube Express, a one-hour photo lab, a pharmacy and Connect Center for cell phones.
It has leased space inside the store to Subway, Woodforest National Bank, Regal Nails Salon, SmartStyle Family Hair Salon and Hometown Threads.
About 400 workers were hired for the new store, said Amy Wyatt-Moore, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart.
She said Wal-Mart chose the Richland Avenue location after market research revealed the area was "under served" by grocery stores.
Mr. Kepes agrees, saying the south side of Aiken has several grocery stores, while the northern and western parts of the city have considerably fewer.
He said he'd like to see another grocery store open in the northern or western part of Aiken.
"It would be good to see more choices for people so they don't have to go down Whiskey Road," Mr. Kepes said.
Fred Humes, the director of the economic development partnership for Aiken and Edgefield counties, believes that might happen, saying the Shoppes at Richland could be the catalyst for a significant commercial boom leading from Aiken to North Augusta.
"I think you're going to see a booming side of Aiken that one day will be compared to Whiskey Road," he said. "And I think that it's good that Whiskey is able to balance out its commercial and residential areas."
Mr. Kepes calls U.S. Highway 1 a "natural corridor" for the type of businesses coming into Aiken.
He said he hopes the commercial development begins further into Aiken to include Kalmia Plaza, which has a former mall and empty storefronts on key real estate on Richland Avenue leading into downtown Aiken.
Mr. Kepes said he understands concerns about an increase in traffic as commercial development happens, but he said U.S. 1 is designed to handle heavy traffic.
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.