“Good morning, Princeton!”
Those were the words Walmart Assistant Manager Andrea Brownlee yelled out to the hundreds of store associates, community dignitaries, and curious new shoppers at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 1.
“It’s a great pleasure to welcome you to our store. OUR STORE!” Brownlee said.
Minutes later, Store Manager Tim Gould, Princeton Mayor Paul Whitcomb and Chamber President Scott Berry cut the ribbon on Walmart’s new 120,000-square foot supercenter and the future of retail shopping in the Princeton region.
Berry noted how the anticipation for opening day had spanned over half a decade.
“Whether Walmart was coming to Princeton and when it is to open has been a topic that has spurred many conversations at K-Bob,” Berry said.
“We have all speculated and wondered whether this grand opening was ever going to materialize,” Berry said.“We have adjusted our trips to verify construction was properly proceeding forward towards completion.
“Finally, today is the day that we have been waiting for and looking forward to,” he said.
Whitcomb noted how excited he was to be part of the ribbon-cutting of Walmart’s newest store “700 miles north of where Sam Walton opened his first store.”
The new Walmart will help make Princeton one of the new retail hubs of Central Minnesota, Whitcomb said.
Brandon Sharp, the market manager for the store, said he was humbled by the community partnership that the management team and associates had already forged with Princeton.
“I’ve worked in a lot of towns in the past and I want you to know this team is amazing,” Sharp said.
“You’re enthusiastic, excellent and crazy!” he said.
Sharp noted how eight weeks ago the Princeton Walmart store was nothing but an empty shell.
“The work you put in is amazing,” Sharp said as he looked out over a sea of blue-vested associates.
“I know you’re excited to show it off and you should be. You have the best looking store in the company today,” he said.
Assistant Manager Darlene Janes then stepped to the makeshift podium made of Pepsi 12-packs and proclaimed, “Whoever was involved in picking the store manager is a blessing.”
She was talking about store manager Tim Gould.
“We have laughed with Tim and we have cried with Tim. We have all heard the stern voice of Tim,” Janes said.
Gould was credited as being a teacher whom the associates are honored to have as a store manager.
Gould then stepped to the podium to the clapping hands and the stomping feet of the Walmart associates. Gould then led them in a rousing cheer.
“It’s hard to hold back tears as we open this store,” Gould said.
He talked about the long days away from his family and how knowing how getting a hug helped him through the long days. But there were many nights he came home so late that his wife and young son were sleeping when they got their hugs.
He thanked the 206 Walmart associates of whom many had similar stories.
Before cutting the ribbon on the new store, Walmart presented $8,000 in donations to area organizations. The Milaca Area Pantry, Mille Lacs County 4-H and Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge were donation recipients.
So was the Princeton Area Chamber of Commerce, Princeton Fire & Rescue, Princeton Police Department, a fund to add a canine officer to the Princeton Police Department, Princeton Special Olympics, and Passing the Bread.
Gould presented a special $1,500 gift to the Princeton Food Shelf – a gift made possible through donations raised by the associates themselves through weekly fundraisers such as potluck lunches.
Mayor Whitcomb closed the ceremonial event by heading to the cash register and making the store’s first purchase – a bottle of water. Whitcomb took a dollar bill out of his wallet and signed it to commemorate the historic event before giving it to the cashier.