In a much-anticipated event, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market opened its doors Wednesday in Statesboro's Market District, welcoming anxious customers, excited shoppers and a few curious spectators.
Pristine and well-stocked shelves beckoned patrons to partake, and employees greeted newcomers with smiles and offers of assistance.
Area shoppers have looked forward to a new grocery store for months, perhaps years, with many perpetuating and delighting in grocery store rumors on regular occasions, including one fueled by plans revealed in May at a Statesboro City Council meeting for a 130,000-square-foot shopping center on Veterans Memorial Parkway near Northside Drive East reportedly anchored by a grocery store.
The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, however, is a reality, and store personnel look forward to serving the community.
"Come out and give us a try," store manager Steven Reid said in an interview Wednesday morning. "We're a local, hometown grocery store, and we are happy to help."
Reid pointed to the "happy to help" slogan on his name badge for emphasis.
Reid called the Neighborhood Market a "grocery store with Wal-Mart prices" and emphasized that the prices at both his store and the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Northside Drive East will be the same. Though much smaller than the Supercenter, the Neighborhood Market is meant to be a convenience, meeting the necessities of eating, Reid said.
"We have groceries, meat, fresh produce, deli foods, basic home goods like house-cleaning items and a pharmacy," he said.
Reid said the first day had been very busy and that many expressed their happiness with the new store's opening.
Gerry Gantt, a market manager who oversees Wal-Mart stores throughout south Georgia, said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning that 11 Neighborhood Markets will open by next month in his territory. One opened in Albany last week, and the bulk of them will open in January.
Reid said college students will be a big draw for the store.
Georgia Southern University students Tiffany White and Tavarris Turner, still in town because of jobs at Cook Out and Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants, respectively, were thrilled to be shopping at the new store.
"This is fun for us," said White. "Gives us something to do. It's very convenient to campus. And it won't be as crowded - that's the biggest thing. I feel like this one will help out resources at both stores."
Statesboro resident Ula Bostic said she loves the convenience of the store. A three-time cancer survivor, Bostic said she makes regular trips to doctors in the vicinity of the new store and plans to combine trips to Wal-Mart with her doctor's appointments.
In fact, Bostic already hopes the new store will expand.
Husband and wife Dan and Donna Deal said the Supercenter is closer to their home, but they thought they would try out the new one.
With the bottom of her cart filled, Kerry Chambers said the new store is not only more convenient to her home than the Supercenter, but also that her husband, who works at Georgia Southern, can stop by for needed items on the way home from work.
She said that when her family moved here three years ago, she asked friends where they shopped for groceries and many said they ate out.
Chambers said she told them, "We don't eat out that much; we cook."
She now looks forward to the convenience of grocery stopping at the Neighborhood Market, adding with a smile, "When I shop at the other Wal-Mart, I buy stuff I don't really need."
Best friends Skie Hollingsworth and Melissa Warren had a loaded cart, but not of groceries. Four kids accompanied them for the grand opening day, filling their cart, with another of their five children between the two families still in school.
The friends said they shop together almost every Friday, starting the day with breakfast, perusing the advertisements for sales and specials, deciding what they need to buy and then heading to Wal-Mart to shop.
"We're checking it out to see which Wal-Mart we'll shop this Friday," said Hollingsworth. "We're hoping this one will be less crowded."
Glancing at the kids in the cart, she added: "The great thing about this one, if you bring kids, there's no toys. No one will say, ‘Can I have a toy?'"
Some left with carts full of groceries; some left with just kids, but both groups of patrons left with excitement over Statesboro's new store.
Herald Editor Jason Wermers contributed to this report.