The people of DuPont, quipped Mayor Michael Grayum Tuesday morning, have been wanting a grocery store since "the Beatles were performing on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.'"
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, they were wanting no more. The mayor's remarks came at the grand opening of the DuPont General Store, the first grocery to open in that southern Pierce County town of 9,800 residents in 45 years.
The ceremony and the store's opening drew a crowd of more than 100 DuPont residents many of whom said they had been waiting for years for a grocery to open in the former company town.
Among them was Karen Ferguson, who modified her daily four-mile morning walk to include a visit to DuPont's newest retailer.
"We've been hoping for years that a grocer would open in DuPont," said Ferguson, a local resident since 2008. "This is going to be great."
The store was the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Sandy Ikemeier, a businesswoman with ownership of an espresso stand and a fitness gym in her resume. Ikemeier also worked for three years at Anderson Island's general store, giving her insight into what residents of an isolated community need in the way of provisions.
Although DuPont sits adjacent to Interstate 5, it is cut off from other commercial areas by the Nisqually Delta, Puget Sound and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Residents have had to travel 7 miles either to Lacey or Lakewood to buy groceries. The 40 percent of the community with military ties could shop at the base commissary, but that involved entering the base, navigating to the military stores and often waiting in line for checkout.
DuPont formerly was a company town founded by chemical maker DuPont Co. in 1906 as an isolated site for explosives manufacturing. That plant closed in 1976, said Lee McDonald of the DuPont Historical Society.
Weyerhaeuser Co. acquired the former plant site that year with the idea of siting industrial plants on the acreage. When local opposition surfaced, Weyerhaeuser changed its focus to creating a planned residential and business community there.
Gary Springer and his wife, Angie, were among the first to tour the DuPont General Store. Gary Springer is retired from the Air Force, so the family can shop at the commissary on base.
But Springer said the convenience of the new store means they'll likely be customers frequently.
Mayor Grayum said that over the last several years he has met with numerous grocery chain executives about adding a store in DuPont. One common theme among those executives was competition from the commissary.
He told them even though the town has a large military population, the need for a grocery was a strong.
"I was eating lunch with some grocery people one day," he recalled. "They raised the commissary issue. I turned to the table of people eating next to us.
"I asked all who had military connections to raise their hands. All did," he said. "I then asked them what they wanted most in DuPont. They unanimously said 'a grocery store'."
The depth of that desire was illustrated at Tuesday's opening by Notty Bergene, a retired military command sergeant major who had volunteered to help setting up the store for three days without pay.
"I just came here to bless the store and their effort," said the 13-year DuPont resident. "It's something DuPont has needed for a long time. I want them to succeed."
The DuPont General Store's opening came a day after one of the town's larger employers, Intel Corp. announced it will sell its facility there and reduce its staff from 690 to 310 personnel in DuPont.
Ikemeier said she's not discouraged by the Intel News.
The town is large enough, she said, that there will still be plenty of business for her store.
"I'm not the least bit worried about it," she said.
The store owner has hired 22-people to staff the 3,000-square-foot store and its commercial kitchen where they bake bread and make deli items.
The store in located in the town's DuPont Station development on the bottom floor of the America's Credit Union building. The initial store hours will be 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ikemeier said those hours will be lengthened if there is demand.