Ocean State Job Lot to close Walnut Hill store, expand to former Walmart

Ocean State Job Lot to close Walnut Hill store, expand to former Walmart

WOONSOCKET – A property that has been largely billed as key to the comeback of the city’s Diamond Hill area has been purchased by one of Rhode Island’s largest retailers.

The former Walmart property, a sprawling 18.5-acre lot vacant since 2011, has been purchased by Ocean State Job Lot. The business reportedly paid $600,000 for the 121,000-square-foot space at a closing on Oct. 27.

The company already has two stores in the city, including a location in Park Square and another at the Walnut Hill Plaza just across the street from the new acquisition. According to Executive Director David Sarlitto, the neighboring store will now close to make way for the company’s expanded location at 1919 Diamond Hill Road, with a size more in keeping with the business’s newer locations.

“Our new stores are a bit of a different format and are obviously larger,” said Sarlitto, noting that the company recently made similar moves from tight quarters into larger lots in North Kingstown and Pawtucket. “The community seems to have embraced the larger format.”

Still, at 18.5 acres, the lot is an expanse beyond what any current Job Lot location could occupy. Walmart built the 121,000-square-foot structure that currently stands on the lot in 1994 and bought up neighboring properties in the years that followed, including the former Roller Kingdom lot.

Newer Ocean State Job Lot stores generally range between 30,000 and 40,000 square feet.

Sarlitto said the business is now looking at options for how to utilize the additional space.

“We’re in the process of formulating our plans for it,” said Sarlitto. “There are a variety of options for a spot that big, but we’re still in the beginning stages of this.”

Planning Director N. David Bouley said the company has not yet submitted any plans for the property.

Regardless of how the lot is ultimately used, the transaction appears to be a major win for a commercial area of the city that has struggled in recent years. After neighbors fought against Walmart’s plans to build a larger 24-hour “superstore” on the land, the business ultimately closed its only Woonsocket location, moving to nearby Dowling Village in North Smithfield in 2011.

The emptying of one of the area’s few anchor stores started something of a corporate exodus, with Lowe’s Home Improvement also opting to open in Dowling Village, and stores including Staples, CVS, Fashion Bug, Shaw’s, Sears and others eventually following.

But developments in the past two years have shown signs of a comeback. Surplus Solutions LLC has plans to occupy the former Lowe’s and the city’s division of the Department of Motor Vehicles has plans to move to the area soon. Businesses including Aero Trampoline Park, Popeyes and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet have added new life to the area.

Headquartered in North Kingstown, Ocean State Job Lot first opened for business in 1977 with a single store. It has since grown to 127 discount stores specializing in quality brand name overstocks and closeout sales.

The move to expand in Woonsocket makes sense, said Sarlitto, particularly with the deal the company scored on the property, valued in the city’s tax database at $4 million.

“It’s always about the cost of the property and the position in the community,” said Sarlitto. “We like it there. We already have two stores in the greater Woonsocket area, and we feel it’s a community we’d like to continue investing in.”