Wal-Mart busier than expected

In one of the most talked-about retail events of late here, many local consumers saw their wish come true last Thursday as Wal-Mart opened its doors at 8 a.m.
And the flood of customers hasn’t stopped since, store manager Cindy Kellett said late Monday.
“It’s been steady, and even exceeded our expectations, especially considering how the weather had been. But that didn’t keep people away,” she remarked.
“We were surprised by how much American business we’ve got—all the American licence plates in the parking lot and the U.S. money coming through at the checkouts,” added Kellett, noting customers already are utilizing all of the store’s services, such as its photo-processing and the portrait studio.
“I think they’re well aware of what Wal-Mart can offer them,” she said.
Not only has the management been impressed since the opening, but also those who walked through the doors within the first hour of business Thursday morning.
“It’s wonderful,” enthused local resident Sheila Simmons as she pushed a cart through the grocery department of the 130,000 sq. ft. store.
“Every Christmas, my husband and I usually go to Thunder Bay or Winnipeg to shop. Now, we probably won’t have to,” she added. “And the variety of food—I’m really impressed.”
“The prices are so low,” said Pastor Sandy McEvoy of the Joy of Life Fellowship Church as she checked out the pet supplies.
“The store has lots of benefits to it,” echoed John Bradley, who was shopping with her.
“It’s employing people in the community,” noted Larry Dolk, who stayed up after working a night-shift at the mill just to check out the store’s grand opening that morning.
“It’s something new—it’s great,” he added. “There’s some competition now.”
“It looks really good and well laid-out. Definitely a great addition to the community,” agreed John Payne as he perused CDs in the electronics department.
“We’ve needed something like this for a while,” he remarked.
As first reported in last Thursday’s Daily Bulletin, about 50 people were on hand as the doors were unlocked, with a steady flow to follow. But the shopping excitement was preceded by an ceremony at 7 a.m. for the staff, dignitaries, and media.
“We’re delighted to be in Fort Frances. There’s been quite a buzz about this opening day and finally it’s here,” said Wayne Aucoin, district manager for the Northern Ontario division of Wal-Mart Canada.
He noted the corporation opened 12 other stores elsewhere in Canada on Thursday, adding the number of Wal-Marts in the country has now reached 231, employing more than 75,000 “associates” (as Wal-Mart refers its staff).
“You’re all part of the largest retail organization in Canada and in the world,” Aucoin said, adding he recognizes all the hard work the staff has put into getting the store here ready for the big day.
“The company will appreciate what you’ve done,” he remarked. “You look after each other, and you have got to look after customers.”
Kellett then welcomed the associates for their first day of working at the store with customers in it, thanked them for their hard work, and led them in the Wal-Mart cheer that starts every work day.
She also revealed the associates here, in the spirit of Wal-Mart’s commitment to give back to communities, have been raising money over the past two months through a chili luncheon, Christmas dinner, bake sale, used movie and book sale, and even pledges for the assistant managers to shave their heads.
The $6,000—$3,000 of which was matched by Wal-Mart Canada—then was split four ways and given to local charities and organizations, including Friends of Animals, “Community Chest,” the Valley Diabetes Education Centre, and David’s Deli.
This money was handed out during Thursday morning’s ceremony.
“I think Wal-Mart is a blessing to the community,” said McEvoy, whose church houses David’s Deli.
Kellett also received a cheque for $1,000 from Carlton Cards, which in turn will be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network—one of the corporation’s primary charities.
Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk and former mayor Glenn Witherspoon also were on hand Thursday morning to applaud the store’s opening.
“Wal-Mart is going to make a lot of people happy,” Mayor Onichuk remarked.
“We wish you all the best and we welcome Wal-Mart to the district,” he said to the associates and other guests on hand, adding he knows how hard the staff has been working the past month-and-a-half because his wife, Bonnie, works there.
Witherspoon recalled going over the plans for the store more than a year ago when they first came before town council, adding he appreciated all the preparatory work the company and its associates had done leading up to this big day.
“Thanks for coming to Fort Frances. We appreciate it,” he remarked. “I know ‘Wal-Mart,’ ‘Wal-Mart,’ ‘Wal-Mart,’ is all I hear at my business.”
The ceremony also included a ribbon-cutting, free cake and other giveaways, and non-advertised specials.
The store employs some 150 full- and part-time associates.
Offering photo-processing and a portrait studio, a McDonald’s Restaurant, pharmacy, groceries, and more, the store is open weekdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.