‘We’ve just been waiting for the store for a long time,’ says Chelan shoppershe said in her speech. “Let the lights of Wal-Mart shine in silent unity, 24 hours a day.”
CHELAN — Shivering and bleary-eyed, Mike Rife and his daughters, Samantha and Destiny, stood outside Chelan’s new Wal-Mart super store before dawn this morning. By 6:30 a.m. their chairs and sleeping bags were back in their truck as they awaited the grand opening. The Chelan family said they arrived Sunday night, and took turns warming up in their truck, and keeping their spot as first in line at the store’s entrance.
“We’ve just been waiting for the store for a long time,” Mike said. “We’re supporting them.”
Donnitia Hart and her mother, Nancy Hart arrived at about
5:15 a.m. “I took off work to come,” said Donnitia, who works at an espresso stand near here. By 6:45 a.m., about three dozen people had gathered, including Gabriel Castro, who was taking pictures of friends Efrain and Alexa Pineda. “I’m really excited we’re finally going to get something that’s open 24 hours (a day),” Alexa Pineda said. She said she just moved here from New York last year, and isn’t quite used to the sleepy town atmosphere.
“I am totally here because I got dragged out,” her husband said while Castro documented the moment with his digital camera.
These first customers said they weren’t here to buy anything in particular. But after all the controversy surrounding the store, including a court fight that cleared just enough late last week to allow Wal-Mart to open, they just wanted to be here.
At 7 a.m., the doors were unlocked to a stream of about 75 customers. They gathered with almost as many store employees in front of a half dozen cash registers for an opening ceremony.
The event included a color guard, singing of the national anthem, and remarks by the Rev. Sylvia Dabney of Chelan, who at one point asked those gathered to turn to their right, and then to their left, and shake the hand of the person standing next to them.
“Wal-Mart has made a commitment to improve the quality of life for people around the country,”
A lawsuit by Defenders of Small Town Chelan threw this store opening into doubt last week, after a Chelan County Superior Court ruling determined last month that its building permit was invalid.
Judge Lesley Allan last Thursday sent the decision of whether the store should open back to the city, which decided Friday it should.
Wal-Mart is the first business in Chelan’s Apple Blossom Center, a 198-acre business park at the north end of town. After Wal-Mart announced plans to build a 162,000-square-foot super store here last year, opponents found the property’s development plan limited buildings to 50,000 square feet.
The Defenders of Small Town Chelan formed, and sued the city.
Chelan Mayor Jay Witherbee said the city plans to address the issue of the building’s size soon. “Everyone will have the opportunity to state their opinions and beliefs. I look forward to that,” he said last week.
Lars Clausen, a spokesman for Defenders of Small Town Chelan, said on Friday, “I want the store closed because I feel Wal-Mart pushed through this situation.
But those at the store this morning saw it differently.
“This has been a very lengthy struggle for all of us, and we came out on top,”Witherbee told the crowd. The mayor stood on a stage under a huge banner declaring, “ROLLBACK,” next to a big, yellow smiley face and subtitled, “Smile, you’re saving even more. Sonría, está ahorrando aún mas.”
By 7:20 a.m., store manager Aaron Evans let the crowds in, after his daughters, seven-year-old Myranda and 4-year-old Isabella cut a bright red ribbon leading to row upon row of goods.
Robert Smith, of Chelan, wanted to be among the first to buy something. His 97 cent purchase: a large Hershey’s milk chocolate with almonds bar.
After checking out, he learned that Julie Zielke had told store employees that she might just camp out for a week in front of the store to make sure she was the first. She said they escorted her through just before the opening ceremony at 7 a.m., where she bought a $50 gift certificate so she can come back later.
At 7:30 a.m., the Chelan Wal-Mart looked like any store, with customers milling about the aisles, and more cars pulling into the parking lot outside. Did you get what Lars Clausen said? "I WANT the store closed." You just have to love the arrogance of these Wal-Mart opponents. Who cares what he wants? What about the community as a whole? All Lars wants is more interviews with the Seattle Times and Fox News to feed into his delusions of grandeur. Like TV Reed, he fears Wal-Mart coming most because it will make him irrelevent.
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