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Merrick Blvd. Home Depot announces civic partnership

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That habit sparked a partnership between the store and McCain's civic group, the Queens Community Council and Development Association, to boost Home Depot's image as a good neighbor, McCain said at the store's Community Day last Thursday.

"This is a new initiative for a large corporation," he said. "This is a beautiful relationship. This kind of thing in the retail industry hasn't been done anywhere in the country yet."

Home Depot, at 132-20 Merrick Blvd. in Springfield Gardens, hosted the Community Day to announce the partnership. The daylong event featured free food, demonstrations of building projects and manufacturers' products and store tours.

"We're holding this community awareness day for the customers to see the associates are here for the community," said Okey Okoro, the store manager. "We have dedicated ourselves to excellence. We're here to give back."

The effort will rely on an informal process of McCain, civic members and other community residents offering suggestions on how the store can make the shopping experience better, McCain said. The project is being run through the Queens Community Council's Retail Committee, he said.

"They have really made themselves available to us as mentors," said Ed Eaton, Home Depot's district manager. "We recognize the store has issues. We really have made an effort to be more neighborly."

The store had received complaints - including ones from McCain - on its lagging customer service and messy shelves, but over the past year Home Depot has made vast improvements, McCain said.

"When you have a store that's not making its numbers, where the store's not clean, the associates are not happy," Eaton said. "When you put the right team in, make it shopable and train the associates, they feel better about the job they do."

And McCain is hoping the improved customer service and sales will translate into at least 65 more jobs for community residents. The store employs 185 people and Eaton could see adding staff as demand warrants, he said.

When the store was proposed for the Springfield Gardens site in 2000, McCain was one of the community leaders who supported the project over proposals to build a movie theater, he said. That decision created a connection to the store, he said.

"I was basically one of the people who recommended Home Depot being here over the theater being here," McCain said. "I feel an obligation to make sure it works."

But Home Depot is hoping more of its shoppers take up that sense of responsibility, Okoro said.

"That's the same type of participation we're looking for from all our customers."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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