WARRENTON — Kim Lichner was one of the first to arrive Wednesday morning at Walmart for the grand opening.
She had driven past the new store the night before to see if anyone was waiting in line, but it was empty. So she showed up again at 4 a.m. to make sure she was one of the first customers through the doors.
Lichner, of Astoria, wasn’t the only one excited. The national retailer opened to a line of dozens of customers at 8 a.m.
“This is probably the largest opening of a store we’ve ever had in the community,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said. “It shows the community wants it.”
Before customers could start to shop, the store held a ceremony that included music from the Warrenton High School marching band, a ribbon-cutting and speeches from Balensifer and state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose.
Walmart General Manager Kimberly Smith said the store had hired 250 employees, 98 percent of which are from the local community. She gave away $23,000 to community groups, including the Astoria Parks, Recreation and Community Foundation, Clatsop County’s Healthy Kids program and the local police and fire station.
“It takes a village to open a Walmart, to raise a Walmart,” Smith said. “Welcome to the Walmart family.”
Construction began last September after years of planning. Smith and Chris Emmons, the Walmart support manager, said people have been approaching them for months to ask when the new store would open.
“I can hardly shop for myself at other stores,” Smith said. “‘When are you open, when are you open?’ It’s been all about inviting everybody and obviously the word got out. There was a lot more people here than I anticipated.”
For Emmons, the opening is a chance to move back home. The Oregon native started working for Walmart 22 years ago in Newport. He moved for Walmart job opportunities eight times — from Oregon to Idaho, Montana and South Dakota.
The Warrenton store means Emmons can move back to the coast from North Dakota and settle down for good.
“Other cities aren’t as friendly (as Warrenton),” Emmons said. “I love the coast. I’m looking forward to the craziness of the tourist season. I’m glad to be back.”
Ann Thomson, a Seaside resident and one of the store’s first customers, sees Walmart as a positive change.
“I think it’s good competition for the area,” she said.