Newton County's first Wal-Mart Supercenter, located on Ga. Highway 142 in Covington, opened to great fanfare and trumpeting Wednesday morning with a long line of shoppers queuing up hours before the store's opening at 8:30 a.m.
Sheena Thomas and her daughter Caitlain were some of the first shoppers to get in line, having arrived at the 203,077 square foot store at 6:45 a.m.
Thomas said they wanted "to get in the store first and see what the grand opening was all about."
Thomas described her family as big fans of Wal-Mart. "It's got everything you need - groceries, clothes," Thomas said.
The Alcovy High School Tiger Band also turned out for the grand opening and paraded up the aisles of the store while the school's cheerleaders chanted "Shop Wal-Mart" in time to the music. A presentation and posting of the flag by Newton High School's Junior ROTC began the morning's ceremony followed by a brief invocation for the new store given by the Rev. David Payne of The Church at Covington.
Filling in for Mayor Sam Ramsey, Mayor Pro Tem Janet Goodman gave a brief speech on behalf of the Covington City Council welcoming the Supercenter to the city. Goodman noted that she was at the grand opening ceremony for Covington's first Wal-Mart some 25 years earlier when it was located by the Covington Ford auto-dealership.
"Thank you for being here," Goodman said. "We wish you all the success in the world."
Store manager of the new Wal-Mart Bert Darazs took the time to thank all of the visiting store managers who had lent some of their own stock to the store so that it could open with full shelves. Darazs especially thanked the store's many employees, both old and new, who had worked diligently to give the store a smooth opening.
"Without you guys, this would not be possible," Darazs said to the store's associates.
According to Darazs the store employs 384 people with more associates going through training every day. Approximately 200 employees from the old Wal-Mart at Martin's Crossing were transferred to the Supercenter. The remaining associates are new hires said Darazs. Over seventy percent of the store's associates are full-time employees said Darazs.
In honor of the grand opening a check for $250 was donated to the East Newton Volunteer Fire Department where one of the store's associates Robin Richter volunteers his time. Wal-Mart had previously donated $18,700 to various local non-profits and churches at a Friends and Family Night Sunday evening.
"It's only possible because of the associates and their work and their sales," said Darazs of Wal-Mart's ability to contribute to local causes.
As for the old Wal-Mart building at Martin's Crossing, Darazs said an auction for the store's fixtures will be held in one and a half months time with Wal-Mart expected to be completely vacated from the building by October. Darazs said Wal-Mart is terminating its lease with Sunbelco Realty which owns the property.
The Supercenter contains several independently operated businesses including a Subway restaurant, a Regal Nails salon and spa, a Smart Style family hair salon, and a United Bank.