New Walmart in Berlin draws super-sized crowd
by Brian Shane
Delmarva Now [MD]
April 12, 2012
The sun wasn’t even up, and Walmart employee Mark Kruelle stood outside the new Supercenter, waiting for its grand opening at 7 a.m.
“I’m totally psyched,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been talking about a Supercenter ever since I came here seven years ago. The size of this store, the variety of the merchandise — it’s a one-stop shopping place.”
Later, at a stage set up between a mayonnaise display and stacks of Coca-Cola 12-packs, general manager Scott Ficca smiled as he told the assembled crowd of shoppers and employees: “It’s finally here.”
The new Walmart will have wider aisles and a brighter interior, along with lower shelving for easy access, company officials said. It comes with energy-efficient technology and environmentally friendly features, such as skylights and recycled concrete flooring.
What makes the new building different than its predecessor is that it will be open 24 hours a day, has a full produce department, and has a drive-through pharmacy.
The facility, which took about a year to build, is approximately 185,000 square feet — nearly double the size of the old store. Management has added about 80 new employees, bringing the total number of store associates to about 300, Ficca said. It’s Walmart’s 18th Supercenter in Maryland.
In the moments before the opening ceremonies began, more and more customers gathered at the entrance.
Lisa Biasucci of Berlin came to check out the rumored super-low prices on produce. She said she’s an avid Walmart shopper.
“We’ve never had a supermarket inside the Walmart,” she said with a smile. “I see all the aisles there. I’m going to go up each one individually.”
Neil Gabell of Berlin stood waiting at the entrance, shopping cart at the ready, even before the ribbon had been cut. The GlenRiddle resident said he came partly out of curiosity to see a pristine Supercenter on its first day.
The other reason?
“They say there’s going to be a lot of cheap meats, so I’m here shopping for my wife,” he said with a shrug. “By the looks of the place in here, they’ve got it down to a science. It’s amazing how they changed from one building to another.”
Worcester County Commissioners President Bud Church recalled how the county and Walmart butted heads over building aesthetics, and the retailer eventually gave in to requests for a less institutional-looking facility.
“It doesn’t look like a Walmart from the outside,” he said. “It’s a great addition to the north end of the county,” he said.
More retail stores are coming at the Walmart site: An application for a 15,755-square-foot building known as Ocean Landings Shopping Center is making its way through the county’s permitting process.
“The rest of the development in this center hinged on this store,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams. “This is sort of, like, a signal: The bell’s rung, and now I think you’ll see a lot more businesses here. They know Wal-mart’s got the expertise to know when to pull the trigger. I can see it in a lot of other ways, how the tide is starting to rise again, economically.”
There are 28 Walmart employees who have been with the store since it first opened in 1999. Ficca recognized them during the grand opening ceremony, and they led dozens of other staffers who gathered at the entrance in a “Wal-mart cheer.”
“Gimme a W!” they shouted. “Gimme an A! Gimme an L!”
“Whose Walmart is it?” the rally continued. “Our Walmart!” employees cheered in unison.
At least 200 people packed the main entrance for the celebration, where Walmart employee Tabitha Cartwright sang the national anthem and Walmart employee Cathy Shockley offered a benediction before the ribbon cutting.
“God, look what we got in Berlin, Maryland! We got a super Walmart!” Shockley said.
Demolition of the old building is expected to begin April 16. Ficca said it should take about a month. A shuttle bus will ferry shoppers 24 hours a day from the old parking lot to the new store entrance while a closer parking lot is constructed.
As soon as the ribbon was cut on the new store, crews would start disassembling the old store, Ficca said. Indeed, workers on a cherry picker got to work right away taking down the neon sign above the building’s entrance.
Even still, customers were shopping at the old store until the last possible minute.
“I was at the old store yesterday. We had about two carts of merchandise left, and about 10 people shopping those two carts,” said Bob Davis, regional operations manager.
Walmart first engaged in talks with Worcester County to build the Supercenter dating to 2005, according to Ed Tudor, head of the county’s Development Review and Permitting Department.