TEGA CAY -- The much-debated Tega Cay Wal-Mart Supercenter opened its doors to its first customers Friday morning, following a traditional Wal-Mart associates cheer and ribbon-cutting that some thought would never happen.
Several hundred people and a host of local dignitaries attended, including Tega Cay Mayor Bob Runde, the property's developer, Herman Stone, and York County Regional Chamber of Commerce President Rob Youngblood.
Runde held the ribbon while Stone cut it, the Fort Mill High School jazz band played and the shopping began.
Veteran Wal-Mart shopper Chrystal Varnadore of Fort Mill said prices seemed comparable to the Rock Hill Wal-Mart, where she has been shopping.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "No more driving to Rock Hill. If they get a Taco Bell in here, we'll be all set. It's very classy. It's the classiest Wal-Mart I've ever been in."
Tega Cay officials made sure of that. The proposal of a Wal-Mart that would solidify the commercial tax base in the residential recreation community met with much opposition from the outset. Some residents did not want a big, gray box drawing traffic.
"We were quite demanding, and there were times we thought Wal-Mart would back out," Runde recalled Friday.
What they got was a Wal-Mart with a facade that looks like a streetscape, complete with canopies, landscaped pergola-covered seating, kiosks, a fountain and a Tega Cay flag flying alongside the state and federal flags.
Wal-Mart trucks must take Interstate 77, S.C. 160 and Dam Road and not use them during school bus hours or face stiff financial penalties. When Stone and the city finish Hubert Graham Parkway to Gold Hill Road, school buses will take that route, Runde said.
The facility that emerged from negotiations was so aesthetically pleasing that Wal-Mart officials at the last minute asked to change its sign color from the usual blue to a more pleasing salmon brown.
"We, of course, were delighted," Runde said.
The city estimates that the store itself will furnish Tega Cay with about $300,000 annually in property taxes.
"That doesn't include business licenses and hospitality taxes," the mayor added. "One of the biggest attractions of Wal-Mart is that it brings other businesses. All these stores on the road were attracted here because of Wal-Mart."
The owners of The Station restaurant and bar on Rock Hill's Oakland Avenue have signed a lease and plan to open a second similar restaurant on the S.C. 160 property neighboring the Wal-Mart in about two months, according to Scott Hallihan, who is negotiating the leases for Stonecrest Village Partners.
Other businesses expected to move into the complex along S.C.160 within the next two months are The Party Checklist, a pizza restaurant and a hibachi Japanese-concept restaurant, he added.
Another restaurant has signed a lease and will open soon on Stonecrest Boulevard, where LA East -- a West Coast boutique -- Beautiful Nails and Sport Clips hair salon plan to locate.
Two cell phone companies and a family casual restaurant also are in the process of signing in the Stonecrest Boulevard complex, Hallihan said.
First National Bank of the South plans to open at the corner of S.C. 160 and Stonecrest Boulevard, he added.
In addition, the city recently approved rezoning on the other side of Stonecrest Boulevard for an additional 184,000 square feet of retail space, nearly as much as the 203,000-square-foot Wal-Mart is itself. Stone plans to announce what will be there in the next month or so, he said Friday.
Stone remembers that a salvage yard was on the site when he and his brothers bought out the family estate there in the late 1980s.
"Some people said, 'What are you doing? That's way up on 160,'" Stone said Friday. "I could see the map."
Shoppers early Friday were primarily Tega Cay and Fort Mill residents who said they were happy to have a Wal-Mart store close to home.
One man riding a handicapped cart said he had been spending $25 each way to take a taxi to the Rock Hill Wal-Mart once a month.
"We're really excited about it being so close," said Charlotte resident Stacey Fallow, shopping with her sons, ages 11 months and 3 years. "Compared to other stores, it's a great price for the value."
• For more pictures from Wal-Mart's opening, visit heraldonline.com/galleries