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Auburn responds to Wal-Mart web presence in advance of Highway 49 store

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Wal-Mart has announced its presence in Auburn with a new website that touts its soon-to-be role as a job creator and low-price leader. And it’s already creating a stir. A spokesman for the Arkansas-based corporation said Wednesday that since the site’s debut Monday, it had recorded more than 800 visitors and 100 people have signed up as supporters of the new store. Amelia Neufeld, Wal-Mart senior manager for public affairs, described the response as phenomenal. “We’ve found that creating a website is an effective way for us to communicate directly with our customers, Auburn-area residents, our new neighbors and those seeking employment,” Neufeld said. The Web address is auburnwalmart.com. For Auburn’s Richard Walther, a new Auburn Wal-Mart means a sea change in the community, from increased traffic congestion to a loss in the rural lifestyle. Walther said he can remember playing football on Highway 49 in the 1950s and feeling safe on what was then a narrow, country road. “Now I’d like to see a $5 toll bridge over the Bear River for all the people driving here from Nevada County,” Walther said. “We had a quality of life that has slowly been destroyed. Wal-Mart is the final straw.” Walther said the website is there to hype the new store “and rub our faces in it.” But Newcastle’s Jon Jessee is anxious to log on and see if there might be a job in store at the world’s largest retailer. Jessee has been unemployed for the past 2½ years after being laid off from his job repairing forklifts and other equipment. He tried his own business and the poor economy helped put that under. Then he lost his house and his wife, he said. He’s in a new relationship but still without a job and said Wednesday that he’s considering anything now to put food on the table. “I’m hearing you have to apply online but that’s hard for me right now because both my laptop and PC are not working and I can’t afford the repairs,” he said. Jessee said that he had once worked for Wal-Mart and would consider going back to work at an Auburn store. “I’m not lazy,” he said, before continuing his quest door-to-door in Downtown Auburn for work. “But it seems everyone is applying for jobs at the same places – Home Depot, Target and Thunder Valley Casino.” Bruce Cosgrove, Auburn Chamber of Commerce executive director, said that while the new website will give Auburn more information from Wal-Mart, he expects Wal-Mart has already studied the Auburn market and knows what to expect. “They know where people are coming from the zip codes they track in other stores,” he said. “And they’ve talked about coming to Auburn for a long time.” Neufeld said that supporter information provided by site visitors will not be made public and will be used only to communicate with them on matters they have stated interest them.