BrandsMart USA opens its new green building

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnettians came out in major force Friday for the official grand opening of the county's newest big-box retailer, BrandsMart USA.

Located just off Interstate 85 on Ga. Highway 20, the electronics and appliances retailer seemed thrilled with the mad rush of people that began pouring in just after their doors opened following a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m.

"This is like Christmastime," said BrandsMart Vice President of Corporate Operations Larry Levine.

Just as Christmas is the season of giving, the new BrandsMart USA is also giving roughly 300 Gwinnettians jobs at a time when one in 10 Georgians is out of work.

"This is a big win for us. I'd say 90 percent of the people here working are local Gwinnettian residents," said the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's Vince DeSilva. "It's a huge impact for us especially in a tough economy. We welcome the addition to the Gwinnett family."

What most shoppers probably didn't realize either was that BrandsMart's building was also the very first commercial property in the county to be LEED certified.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction as developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

What does that mean exactly? For starters, LEED means BrandsMart's building is much more energy efficient. The store will use 30 percent less energy just by the type of lighting fixtures it installed.

Shoppers will notice lots of skylights and windows that allow in the natural light.

"That's free light, light you don't pay for," Levine said, pointing at the windows and skylights. He's the mastermind behind the store's green design.

Other green features include low-flow flush toilets in the bathrooms and waterless urinals for the men's room. On the building's roof and on its parking lot's surface, the color white has been used instead of black. This allows the store to better control its climate. And in constructing the store, recycled materials were used wherever possible, from the floor tiles that were put in to the concrete and sheet rock that was used.

And let's not forget perhaps what might be considered Georgia's most precious natural resource - water.

"The water comes off the roof. It doesn't come from Gwinnett County," Levine said.

The building accomplishes this by slanting the roof slightly so that all water eventually channels into two, 27,000 gallon underground cisterns. This water is then used in the bathrooms, in the air conditioners and for irrigation. BrandsMart will only need irrigation for its plants for the first six months while they take root. After that, they should do fine on their own since they were planted only because they're drought resistant.

DeSilva said he thinks BrandsMart's Gwinnett store could become a model for future retailers to follow if they're thinking of building in Gwinnett.

"They (BrandsMart) knew they wanted to make this store different from classic big boxes," DeSilva said. "I think a lot of people will come and look at the footprint and say 'Wow, look how efficient this place is."

DeSilva also praised BrandsMart's management for how it handled coming into the county.

"They got involved with the county from day one making sure they kept them in the loop, especially with their ideas for their green initiative," he said. "They really got engaged in the community and showed us they wanted to be here."

BrandsMart President Michael Perlman said the company is thrilled to be in Gwinnett County and thrilled with its ninth location.

"This is a real technological advancement for us," Perlman said. "It's important to America and important to Gwinnett County to have stores like this that are environmentally sensitive. If everybody did this, America would be a better place."

He also said he thinks other retailers will have no choice but to follow BrandsMart's Gwinnett green lead.

Or is it their LEED?

"You have no choice," he said. "The days of just chewing up resources are over."