Gardnerville officially has a Walmart to call its own. The doors are open, the shelves are stocked, and people are coming, lots of people.
On Wednesday, more than 1,000 shoppers, employees and community members packed the entrance to the new 152,373-square-foot store on Grant Drive for what became an emotional grand opening ceremony, including an invocation, the national anthem, the presentation of the colors, a ribbon cutting and several check donations.
Store Manager Erik Schumann, now a Gardnerville resident, fought back tears when describing his ascendancy from a shift manager to his new role:
"I've spent the last six years in the Fallon store," the 41-year-old said. "The store manager David (Ford) taught me a lot, and I want him to know how much I appreciate him."
"It's all right, boss," shouted one of 250 employees gathered for the event. "We're with you!"
Schumann said his mission is to run a "clean, well-stocked, low-priced" store in which employees and the community take pride.
"We want our associates and customers to know it's their Walmart," he said.
In an interview after the ceremony, Schumann said there's still much work to be done.
"We definitely want to be part of the community, and we are part of it," he said. "Our associates come from the community, and we encourage them to be active in it."
He said the store will exert a "long-term, positive influence."
"We still got a lot coming, a lot of work, but we're off to a great start," he said. "The associates are engaged and excited to help customers. They are proud of what they do."
Shoppers were impressed by the new structure, its expansive parking lot, its curvilinear facade, its polished concrete floor, yawning steel truss-work, and, of course, the brightly colored signs denoting each aisle.
"I think it's great," said Walker, Calif., resident George Parkhurst. "Just having a store here is great."
Beside its appearance, Parkhurst was thrilled about the store's location.
"It's half the distance driving," he said.
According to Map Quest, Walker is approximately 33 miles from south Gardnerville, which in turn is approximately 14 miles from Topsy Lane in north Douglas County. Travel time estimates, however, are relatively close due to speed limits, stop lights and other factors.
"I came to see it open up," Parkhurst said of the new store. "I watched the one in Carson open up, too."
East Valley residents Revae and Phil Colatorti were just as eager to review the goods.
"We want to check out the new store and see what deals they got," Phil said.
At the same time, he expressed ambivalence about Walmart's arrival.
"I have mixed emotions," he said. "The good part is that I don't have to drive to south Carson. The bad part is that I feel it will hurt local businesses. But that's the way it goes."
"I feel the same way," said Revae. "But progress on the store was faster than most things around here."
Phil said the design of the building fits in with the town. His wife partially agreed.
"I think I like the buildings in downtown a little better," Revae said.
"It's close to home," Phil added. "Not that I will stop patronizing local businesses. I still have loyalty there."
The couple touched upon a pervasive concern in the community: the store's effect on existing businesses.
Gardnerville town board member Lloyd Higuera said the company can contribute to a vibrant marketplace rather than destroy it.
"I don't think it needs to be feared," he said. "We really appreciate the investment Walmart has made in Gardnerville. We also appreciate the 250 much needed new jobs, and we look forward to working with them on community projects."
When asked about opposition to the store, Schumann argued that the new location will benefit local merchants.
"Being in this new location will bring more traffic into town," he said. "People will stay in town to shop. They won't have to travel to Carson. I think it will increase business. I think we'll have a positive impact all around."