Super duper Wal-Mart opens to rave reviews

Photo by Brad HornJudy Malo, left, of Dayton, rings up a picture frame for Donna Rockey, of Gardnerville, at the grand opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo by Brad HornJudy Malo, left, of Dayton, rings up a picture frame for Donna Rockey, of Gardnerville, at the grand opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wednesday afternoon.

Never -- I repeat, never -- wear a blue suit to a Wal-Mart on opening day.

Especially one that substitutes a blue vest for the traditional suit jacket.

"You know what's wrong here?" one man told me. "You guys don't carry this olive oil in a gallon size, and that's the way we buy it."

I had talked to Mike and Betty Itano, of Gardnerville. for a couple minutes about how they liked the new Super Wal-Mart at 3770 Highway 395 just south of Carson City, so it took me a minute to realize Mike Itano thought I was a Wal-Mart associate.

About 170 grinning Wal-Mart workers were prowling the newly opened Wal-Mart aisles in their royal blue vests and chipper yellow, white and blue name tags, offering cheerful phrases such as, "Hello, sir," and "Can I find something for you?" to basically everyone in sight.

I didn't have a name tag. Just a notebook and a pen, which are usually a dead giveaway as to my profession.

But not in Super Wal-Mart on its opening day Wednesday. Shoppers jostled past me, starry-eyed over completely stocked store shelves, reveling in excellent opening-day service and asking me questions at nearly every turn.

"This is wonderful. I only wish the amount of help walking around the store is indicative of the help in coming weeks," said Diane Gumienny, of Carson City.

Gumienny shops at several Carson locations but said they'll be hard pressed remain competitive with the prices she found Wednesday.

The Itanos, former Gardnerville Raley's shoppers, were thrilled with the store.

"We're going to be driving over here as long as they keep the prices fair," Betty said.

Florence Bradley, of Carson City, walked briskly toward the Wal-Mart door festooned with the Wal-Mart motto, "Always, low prices. Always." She believes the sign.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," she said before she even got through the door. "I drive to (the Reno Super Wal-Mart) a lot, so this is more convenient."

Bradely was greeted inside by a waving, life-sized Hershey Kiss handing out, well, Kisses.

"It's wonderful. I can tell already," she hollered back as she maneuvered her cart through the shopper-filled entrance.

Wal-Mart isn't so much a store as it is a town. Far to the left of the entrance is the auto care center and sporting goods store. Far to the right, produce, bread, milk, chicken. Bridging the gap is clothing for the whole family, electronics and housewares.

All of it sits in a bright, new 223,498-square-foot store -- that's big enough for 22 high-school football teams to be playing on 11 fields -- with a McDonald's, Tire & Lube Express, vision center, portrait studio, hair and nail salon, pharmacy and a gas station out front.

Rumor has it there is a family fun center somewhere in there, but children in the store Wednesday seemed more amused with the 6-foot, 5-inch Keebler Elf and Kellogg's Tony the Tiger handing out Twinkies and other free goodies.

It's exactly that literal 24-7, one-stop shopping experience that draws shoppers into a Super Wal-Mart, the retail giant's melding of discount retail and grocery stores.

Ethel De Marre, of Yerington, hadn't seen half the store early Thursday as she pursued the potatoes, but was already excited about cutting stops from her twice-monthly shopping trips.

"I always stop at Wal-Mart when I come, so having a grocery store is awesome. It's one stop," De Marre said.

Now if she could only find her mother and sister, reportedly somewhere in the store, it would be a perfect day.

Sue Perry, of Dayton, said her husband, George, was awake at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, anxious for the new Wal-Mart opening.

Kris Wingate, of South Lake Tahoe, leaned against a cart filled with food while waiting for his mother, Nacia, of Carson City, to finish picking through some clothes. Kris echoed the sentiments of several Lake Tahoe-area residents that the proximity and selection of the new Wal-Mart will pull people from the lake.

"I can get everything I need and get back up the hill," he said.

Whether they used to shop at the Safeway's in South Lake Tahoe, the Raley's in Gardnerville or any of the Carson City Albertson's, many shoppers proclaimed new allegiance to Super Wal-Mart and its grocery prices, which Manager Dedrea Struck said are 30 to 50 percent lower than other grocery stores.

More than 500 people work at the new store, which relocated two miles south from its South Carson Street address.

One assistant manager said he expected more people than the several hundred milling about the store. Where would more customers park, I mused? I was lucky to find a spot within 20 spaces of the store.

I had bigger things to worry about than more customers and parking spaces, though. After 1-1/2 hours, I was struggling with my impromptu career as an apparent Wal-Mart associate. About 20 happy shopper interviews into my day, I had been asked to price a DVD, give directions to the toy aisle, find scales and locate soup, among other items.

One elderly chap, looking a bit lost, reached out and touched my arm.

"Excuse me, ma'am. Where is the cake mix?"

"You know, I don't work here," I said as politely as I could for the 10th time.

He looked at me blankly. I looked up. Chance was on our side.

"It's in this very aisle, sir."

"Oh, thank you."

Any time.


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