By Francis Baker
After a couple of years of planning and construction, and six weeks of intensive inside work, the Fergus Walmart opened Friday morning on St. David Street North.
“It’s an exciting time to be with Walmart, and it’s an exciting time to be in retail,” Walmart senior vice-president of central operations Randy Gerrie told the group of store associates, company officials, local council, business and community representatives who took part in the official store opening.
Gerrie, who grew up in Fergus and who still has family living near the new store, alluded to “issues and problems” in getting the store opened, and obliquely mentioned the site’s soil contamination that delayed construction. “I know we’ve had some trials and tribulations,” he said.
But Friday morning’s event was all about celebrating not just the opening of the store and its contributions to the community, but also all the hard work put into setting it up and stocking it in the past weeks by store associates - the “people in the blue vests” who are the heart of the store, Gerrie said.
Those people arrived to an empty building on Oct. 6 - and turned it into a functioning, ready to open store in six weeks.
“It’s very very important to us ... that you be the best you can be in the community,” Gerrie told the store associates who gathered around the podium stage set up in the electronics department.
“We’re asking some customers ... to change their shopping behaviour,” he said, “and now that Target is coming there are choices.
“You will be successful and those customers will want to shop at your store ... if you continue to give them what they want, if the things they want are on the shelves, and you provide service with a smile,” he said.
Official opening ceremonies got underway at 7 a.m. at the store, which opened to the public at 8 a.m.
Members of the Fergus Pipe Band piped an introduction to the event as company representatives, local business representatives, township councillors and other guests filled the aisles around the electronics area - and some store staff did some final dusting and tidying of shelves.
Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce president Janet Harrop officially welcomed the store as a chamber member, highlighting the store’s involvement in the community and job opportunities it provides.
“We’re glad to have you,” Centre Wellington Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj said, pointing out that the store’s creation has been a journey.
“We’re just delighted that there are so many employment opportunities you’ve brought to the community,” she said.
About 300 people applied for positions at the store, which includes 168 store associates - 138 of them brand new positions (30 transfered from other stores). Store manager Steve Vial introduced the dozen assistant managers and mid-level managers - who were cheered by the gathered staff.
“We are extremely excited to be opening a new store in Fergus,” Vial said. “We are so proud of our new supercentre. We have worked hard to ensure that all of our customers will enjoy the store, including our vast assortment of merchandise and our low prices.”
The 96,000-square-foot “supercentre” will offer a full line of groceries including a bakery, a deli, meat and dairy products, fresh produce, electronics, home décor and apparel, creating a one-stop shopping destination dedicated to everyday low prices, the company states in a release. Several of the departments were built by local companies, the group heard.
Convenience services include a pharmacy, photo centre, medical clinic, connection centre for wireless services, Regal Nails nail salon, Western Union and McDonald’s McCafe - the first McCafe outlet in a Walmart in the world.
As part of the company’s initiatives toward energy efficiency, renewable energy and environmental sustainability, the new store features LED exterior signs, waste diversion streams including paper and plastic and sells environmentally preferable products.
Central to the actual ribbon-cutting was Fergus resident Karen Whitford, who won Walmart Canada’s “Mom of the Year” contest.
Whitford said she was nominated by her son Zak who told the company about her volunteer efforts in the community and about her donating a kidney to her sister.
She was picked from 17,000 nominated moms, thrilled to be notified she was a finalist, and then entertained by the company for a weekend in Toronto. “They spoiled us rotten,” she said.
Besides getting to open the Fergus store, Walmart made a $10,000 donation in her name to her chosen charity, the Kidney Foundation.
“That donation was very important to me,” she said, explaining that Kidney disease has had a big impact on her family.
The Fergus store staff have already been fundraising, and some $8,500 in donations were presented to community groups during the opening: including $1,000 each to the Fergus Scottish Festival, Centre Wellington DHS breakfast club, and Centre Wellington Minor Hockey, $500 each to Victoria Terrace public school and the Centre Wellington Food Bank, and $3,000 to the Groves Hospital Foundation.
By 8 a.m. after the ribbon-cutting, a long line of shoppers had gathered outside the doors and quickly flooded into the store.
Brenda McCallen and Patricia Lauder of Fergus were the first through the doors - after waiting about an hour, they said. They’d arrived early thinking the store would open to the public at 7 a.m.
Lauder, who used to work in Walmart in the U.S. and had been involved in store openings as a staff member, said she’d wanted to see the event “from the other side.”
They - and the first rush of customers - were greeted by store assistant managers and Walmart company officials still in the entrance after the opening. Four commemorative cakes were cut up and handed out to opening guests and customers as well.
The grand opening continued Saturday with a “Block Party” from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. featuring live music, refreshments and samples.