TEGA CAY -- A tiny, red, overstuffed Elmo chair jostled along the conveyor belt into the new Tega Cay Wal-Mart's massive warehouse last week, among the first merchandise to arrive.
The week before, Wal-Mart employees had occupied the empty, 203,000-square-foot store to prepare for a March 7 opening. Since then, an army of workers commanded by store manager Mark Anderson have toiled like a well-oiled machine.
Last week, 54 trucks had arrived with fixtures, all installed within a half-dozen days. Then, the merchandise, a truck at a time at first, then in increasing numbers. Ten 53-foot tractor-trailers last week, with at least 16 more expected this week.
After that, items will ship not from huge, corporate warehouses across the country and around the globe, but from sister stores. Fresh produce will arrive last and nestle into retro-orchard-style wooden bins to glisten at their crisp best for the grand opening.
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"It's very organized," said Anderson, who was grocery merchandiser for more than 14 stores in Charleston before his Tega Cay assignment.
And complicated. Every box and item is coded and packed to roll down the line in order.
"If truck No. 1 is supposed to arrive at 2 p.m. and truck No. 2 gets here first, it has to wait so the merchandise reaches the right place in the store," Anderson explained.
No ordinary Wal-Mart
The once-controversial Tega Cay Wal-Mart is no common discount store. It cost $15 million to build, nearly twice that of a usual Wal-Mart, Anderson said, but about $10 million less than a Mount Pleasant store near Charleston.
"This store is a whole lot more beautiful than the Mount Pleasant store, and I've seen both," Anderson boasted. "This is a very special store and community."
Town leaders negotiated extensively so the discount store would not despoil the recreation community's natural beauty.
The town wanted a "Main Street" ambiance. The building's facade is natural brick and stucco painted the colors of Charleston's Rainbow Row, all shaped like small-town storefronts. Two fountains and a kiosk adorn the parking lot planted with saplings. Pergola-covered landscaping beds with natural stone foundations and seating welcome visitors at the main entrance. A Tega Cay flag will fly outside.
No ordinary concrete and linoleum flooring inside. The treated concrete floor resembles beige and brown marble. Woodgrain flooring designates special merchandise areas. Lighting is minus fluorescent drab.
Woven baskets will contain bread loaves in the produce section, international products arranged by specialty in nearby aisles. Tega Cay is one of 400 Wal-Mart stores selected for trial of the more cosmopolitan items, Anderson said.
"We are really catering to the community," he added. "The garden and patio area is designed for Tega Cay's outdoor lifestyle. We'll make sure we have coolers and chairs for the outdoor summer concerts."
In addition to Subway, a tire and lube center where customers can select tires right off the rack, Wal-Mart pharmacy and Wal-Mart vision center with optometrist, a Smart Style hair salon, Regal nail salon, Home Town Threads embroidery shop and Woodforest Bank reside in the space. Tega Cay Police will have a substation there.
Argument surrounding the Wal-Mart has subsided. Residents who battled the huge concrete building and asphalt parking lot they feared several years ago seem to have accepted modifications town leaders won from the store chain.
"As chairperson of the finance committee, it is a good business asset," said Hope MacBride, who was spokesperson for the US Against the Wal community group that fought the store in the beginning. "We'll see some of those tax dollars coming into the city."
Need for a commercial tax base was the reason the town sought the Wal-Mart. A number of town-style shops already have sprung up around it in Stonecrest, and more are to come on the other side of Stonecrest Boulevard.
MacBride still worries about truck traffic on Dam Road, the same route used by Gold Hill school buses. The town won an agreement that no tractor-trailers will ply the road between 7 and 9 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., Anderson said, and town leaders promise it will be patrolled.
"One of the last things I sought as part of the committee was that my fears would be proven wrong in 10 years," MacBride said last week. "There was a time when I wouldn't have, but I will shop there. That whole area is going to be a benefit to Tega Cay."
She expects she will be there for the grand opening at 7:30 a.m. March 7, a Friday. Doors will open at 8 a.m. after a ceremony.
Wal-Mart will open 20 other stores the same week, Anderson said. A number of company trouble-shooters on site now will depart to other new stores after the local opening. The Tega Cay store still will have about 350 employees.
Anderson hopes residents will notice the uniquely Tega Cay aspects.
When visitors tour, he beams as he shows them the break room. It's painted Tega Cay green.
"We are in the Tega Cay spirit here," he said.