Walmart welcomed the first customers to its Tacoma store Wednesday morning amid every bit of hoopla that typically attends a major grand opening.
Members of the VFW presented the colors. Shannan Ortiz, a senior at Todd Beamer High School, sang the national anthem. Company officials detailed their pride and presented giant checks totaling $68,000 to local charities; personnel manager and evangelical minister Frank Shier shared a Christian prayer for business openings; and Tom Pierson, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, helped cut a blue ribbon.
Employees joined in for a rousing cheer, and the doors opened just after 8 a.m.
Two Tacoma Police cruisers stood parked near the entrance, but no protesters gathered as several dozen customers — some who had been waiting since 6:30 a.m. — walked inside the store.
The Tacoma store was one of 24 that Walmart opened Wednesday nationwide and one of two, along with Vancouver, to open in the state.
“Building this store has been a journey,” Tom McReynolds, manager of nine Puget Sound area stores, told the crowd of some 200 gathered vendors, officials and store employes.
“This one is very near and dear to my heart,” said Madeleine Havener, who oversees Walmart operations in Washington and Oregon. “We have worked so hard, and we are so excited.”
Construction of the store began last summer, while the controversy over Walmart’s presence in Tacoma began months earlier as community groups urged the City Council to stop the big-box retailer from building on the site of the former Tacoma Elks lodge.
The council did agree to pass a temporary moratorium on large stores, but the Walmart deal — $11 million for the store site — had already made significant and unalterable progress through the planning and permitting process.
Haggen Inc., owner of Top Food & Drug, has been an early casualty of Walmart. The company said recently that Walmart’s presence was a factor in the decision to shutter its store in a shopping center next to Walmart.
“The opening of Walmart played a role in this decision, as did competitive landscape in the region,“ the company said in a written reply to an email inquiry.
On Wednesday morning, the parking lot at Top Food & Drug was nearly empty.
By noon at Walmart, the parking lot was nearly three-quarters full, and there were still no signs of protest.
Councilmember Victoria Woodards attended Wednesday’s ceremony.
“There were some challenges, but at the end of the day, they’re here. They’re part of the community,” she said.
“I came as a City Council member and as president and CEO of the Urban League,” Woodards said. “The building is built, the shelves are stocked, the employees are hired, the doors are open. Now it’s our opportunity to make the Tacoma Walmart the best community partner.”
According to store manager Adam Fann, the company hired more than 300 new employees to work at the Tacoma store.
At least 1,500 people applied, according to a Walmart representative.
One of those employees, De’Shaun Hollis, 27, was ringing his first sales in the electronics department.
“I love it,” he said.
Don Akins of Tacoma pushed his cart through an aisle.
“I just wanted to see what they’ve got. We’ve been waiting for it to open. It’s nice. They did a good job on it,” he said.
Tommie CeBrun of Tacoma agreed, saying, “It is a grand opening. I have waited for years for this. I like the prices, and I like the quality, and it’s easy to buy things.”
CeBrun said she has a certain sixth sense when it comes to finding a Walmart.
“My husband and I travel across the country a lot,” she said. “I can sense out a Walmart, where one is. It’s a feeling.”
CeBrun proudly showed a series of photographs of the opening an hour before.
“I was really excited,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed this.”
Store manager Fann stood near the ranks of cash registers as employees walked up asking him to address various first-day glitches and concerns.
“Ironically, this is my 16th hiring anniversary,” he said.
He’s been working on opening Walmart Store No. 4137 for more than a year. “I feel great now that it’s over,” he said.
Now that it’s over, and now that it’s just begun.