ATHENS TWP. - State Rep. Tina Pickett and members of her staff toured the new Walmart supercenter on Elmira Street Friday as staff prepare for the larger store's opening later this month.

Workers are stocking shelves and moving merchandise from the current store to the new location just behind it in preparation for the May 21 opening, said store manager Adam Kerstetter, who led Pickett on the hour-long tour.

Pickett and her staff were taken behind the scenes of the store's fast-paced relocation, where Kerstetter explained how the store has positioned itself to best serve the Valley community and has also added about 165 associates to its already 200-member staff.

Generally, relocating Walmarts have a 30-day window to move operations from one store to another, Kerstetter said. However, the Athens Township store must be vacated by May 21 in order for the next phase of construction to start.

The transition between stores will continue right up until opening day and has "a lot of moving parts," Kerstetter said. "It's a pretty tight timeline."

Once the new store opens, the old store will be demolished in order to create a parking area. Customers will temporarily enter the new store through a side entrance at the garden center, on the side of the store closest to Elmira Street.

Golf carts and shuttle buses will transport customers to and from their cars, and a safety fence will surround the area of the old building during demolition, Kerstetter said.

At 178,000 square feet, the new store is over one and a half times the size of the current location, allowing the new store to offer a wider variety of items. Most notably, the new store features a grocery section complete with deli, bakery, produce, frozen and meat departments.

The store also has hair and nail salons, an optical department and space for new offerings, including firearms and a larger pet section with fish. Existing departments in the current store will also have more space for a larger selection of items in the new location, Kerstetter said. The store will have 20 registers and six self-checkout lanes.

The building has been outfitted with state-of-the-art features to conserve energy, improve staff and customer safety and make food preparation more efficient. The bakery department also has one piece of equipment specifically designed to make customers hungry - a machine solely made to carry the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bakery to the front of the store.

The new Walmart location will open at 7 a.m. May 21, Kerstetter said.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.