The move, which comes after several years of remodeling and expanding the 20 stores it already has in the metro area, is a bold strike at a major rival, Target Corp. Minnesota, where Target has 74 stores, has always been one of the most profitable regions for the Minneapolis-based retailer.
"Wal-Mart wants to beat Target on its own turf," said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail consultant in New York City that closely follows the Bentonville, Ark., retailing giant. His $1 billion Minnesota expansion estimate includes two new distribution centers.
"It almost seems personal to me," said retail veteran Dick Grones, principal at Cambridge Commercial Realty in Minneapolis.
The throng of new stores includes scaled down mini-supercenters of up to 99,000 square feet and at least two dozen additional small, urban format stores of up to 55,000 square feet, according to Flickinger.
Wal-Mart has been stepping up construction around the country as it tries to gain traction off the Great Recession. Though it initially fared well as the economy sank and shoppers turned to its low prices, the retail giant has suffered six straight quarters of declining U.S. same-store sales.
The recession had the opposite impact on Target. It was initially hurt, but has had positive same-store sales for the past four quarters.
Analysts say Wal-Mart hurt itself when it decided a few years back to radically reduce the number of products on its shelves, and to shift focus away from the rock-bottom prices that its core customers - households with incomes below $70,000 - want.
Wal-Mart refuses to discuss numbers, as did Wal-Mart's local broker, Mike Sims, head of the local office of Mid-America Real Estate Group.
Lisa Nelson, Wal-Mart's local spokeswoman, emphatically denied that Wal-Mart's expansion has anything to do with Target. It's simply about serving its customers, she said. She described Flickinger's $1 billion assessment as "speculative" and "not based on anything that is going on in our operation here in Minnesota."
"If you look at a map of our footprint, you would see there are customers that are not served out there," Nelson said. "We have customers in Minneapolis that want access."