ST. ALBANS TOWN — With a candy bar and a fist pump, Jerry Streeter, of Jericho, this morning made the first purchase at the new Walmart store in St. Albans Town.
Streeter spent the night in the store parking lot, arriving at 8:30 p.m. last night. Once the doors opened, he grabbed a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and was first in line at the register – first in line ever.
“I had to make sure I had the first sale,” said a jubilant Streeter.
Laura LEsperance, of St. Albans, at age 64, was the first shopper to enter the store. She arrived at 8 p.m. Tuesday to take the spot nearest the door. Michelle Hartigan, of St. Albans, thought she would have that honor but arrived at around the same time as Streeter, a half-hour after LEsperance.
At 4 a.m. today, store employees already were milling around in advance of the opening.
A wide range of state and local politicians and officials, members of the public and those who worked on the yearlong construction project were on hand to the 7:30 a.m. ribbon cutting.
Store employees chanted “Walmart, Walmart” as they turned to open the doors and lead everyone inside.
Former Gov. Jim Douglas, who was an early supporter of the store, joked that he was a step closer to his new career goal of being a Walmart greeter.
Douglas thanked the members of the public who supported the project. “Thanks for your dedication. Thanks for your persistence. Thanks for making a reality here in Franklin County,” he said.
The 147,000-square-foot store, the largest in Vermont, is filled with a wide range of merchandise from clothing to pots and pans to bicycles and computers. Store manager Ryan Hanson, now a resident of Swanton, said three to four trucks filled with merchandise arrived each night for 25 nights.
But it was the sporting goods section that had the longest line as customers waited to purchase ammunition. Jeremiah Richard, a gun dealer from Swanton, was waiting to purchase .22 caliber ammunition, which he said was “hard to come by.”
Local engineer Sam Ruggiano, who spent years working on the Walmart project, was more interested in browsing the fishing section.
Asked this morning for a comment, Ruggiano said, “Finally, what else can you say?”
Country recording artist Keegan Nolan, a native of Fairfield, selected a camouflage jacket. “We’re very excited to have a Walmart in town,” she said. “We don’t want to touch anything in case we mess it up.”
Michelle Bourbeau, of St. Albans, arrived just after 7 a.m. for the scheduled 7:30 a.m. opening. “It’s been a long time coming and I have no objections,” said Bourbeau who was browsing merchandise in the bedding department. “It’s definitely going to save a lot of drive time.”
Walmart clearly has its eye on drawing Canadian shoppers to St. Albans. A display of soda can boxes was made to resemble both the American and Canadian flags and the ribbon cutting ceremony began with the national anthems of both countries.
“It’ll bring more Canadians over, not only to shop Walmart but to visit other businesses,” said Walmart Regional General Manager Paul Busby.
In 2005, Economic and Policy Resources, Inc. projected the store would do $59.6 million in sales annually. In fiscal year 2012, the state estimated taxable retail sales total in St. Albans Town at $26.9 million. St. Albans Town voters have thus far resisted efforts to institute a one percent local sales tax, which from Walmart alone would raise a projected $596 million, and about $800,000 total.
Walmart’s annual town property tax bill is anticipated to be about $30,000.
Traffic studies anticipate an additional 600 trips along Route 7 during peak afternoon hours on weekdays due to the new store. The store parking lot, which can accommodate about 600 vehicles, had outlying spaces to spare this morning. Motorists moved in and out of Walmart and along the U.S. 7-North growth center without delays. Walmart invested about $20 million in store infrastructure, construction and highway and intersection upgrades to accommodate increased traffic.
A previous effort in the 1990s to bring a Walmart to St. Albans Town ended with defeat in a ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court. The latest effort took 10 years. Both were spearheaded by Burlington developer Jeff Davis.
“This has been a long haul,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin. “Jeff Davis didn’t have a gray hair when this began and Ryan, the store manager, was in diapers.”
The store has hired 220 full and part time employees and Hansen anticipates hiring another 15 to 20, Shumlin said.
Connecting the Walmart opening to the current and future expansions of Mylan Technologies in St. Albans City, Shumlin said, “This is part of an overall rebuilding and renaissance of our downtown and quality of life.”
“Anyone who says Walmart and downtown can’t thrive together is dead wrong and we’re here to prove it.”
Among those attending the opening this morning were St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache and police chief Gary Taylor.
Walmart presented a total of $6,000 in donations to several local organizations including: Operation Happiness, Franklin County Home Health, Franklin County Senior Center, St. Albans Police Dept. and the city and town fire departments.
Davis thanked the Vermont companies that took part in the construction and local people who supported the construction, including Ray Gadue and Bill and Mary Groff. The latter organized petition drives and rallies during years of public relations and legal battles with opponents who predicted dire consequences for small businesses locally with the arrival of the big box store.
“We said if you didn’t give up, we would not. Thank you and congratulations,” said Davis.
Representing St. Albans Town Manager Carrie Johnson said simply, “Welcome to St. Albans Town, Walmart.”