By Joel Hall
After more than two years of negotiations and construction, Wal-Mart opened it's new supercenter on Anvil Block Road in Ellenwood, in a grand-opening ceremony, early Wednesday morning.
The retail and grocery giant is expected to generate more than 300 new jobs, and provide goods and services to the northeast portion of the county -- an area that has long lacked much commercial activity.
County officials, developers, and Wal-Mart executives greeted employees and anxious shoppers amid guest performances from the Morrow High School ROTC and Marching Band. District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton, who worked with Wal-Mart and the developers to ensure the supercenter's unique facade, said Wal-Mart will bring business and commerce to the Ellenwood, Rex, and Conley areas.
"I'm excited and I'm really glad that it's opening because it's going to serve a very under-served portion of the county," said Singleton. "We've developed a lot of residential, but not commercial." She expects the store to draw business from nearby residents in Henry and DeKalb counties and act as a beacon for other prospective businesses.
"We've been working really hard to get away from the old strip mall concept," said Singleton. "If you look at this store, it doesn't resemble the box-type Wal-Mart. Other businesses that develop in that area ... will have to follow the same pattern."
The 184,109 square-foot Wal-Mart will serve as the anchor of the Villages of Ellenwood, a mixed-used residential and commercial subdivision.
The commercial portion of the center is expected to host a variety of stores, including Dots Fashions, Hibbett Sporting Goods, Cato, Dollar Tree, Wendy's, and Chick-fil-A. The residential portion is expected to include a park -- for which Clayton County has already purchased the land -- as well pedestrian trails, which connect the development to the surrounding neighborhood.
Developer Hugh Morton said the project was fraught with many challenges, including bringing sewer lines to an area that traditionally had none. In an agreement with DeKalb County, the developers drilled through a mile-and-a-half of bedrock to connect to the county's sewer system.
"It's been a long time coming," said Morton. "I've learned that retail does not come as quickly as residential, but if you keep pushing on it, it happens.
"We were wanting this whole development to be one of higher quality," Morton continued. "Wal-Mart did a wonderful job of responding to our challenge."
Jacqueline Lang, a four-year Ellenwood resident, was one of the first shoppers on Wednesday morning. She said the store was sorely needed in the area.
"I'm glad it's over here because we need something like this over here," said Lang. "I have to go all the way over to Stockbridge to shop. This is right in my neighborhood ... I don't have to fight the traffic anymore."
Store Manager Michael Beeler said the response from the community has been encouraging.
"If you get the right people, the building will be able to run the way it needs to be run," said Beeler. However, "the response we are getting from the community is great and that will translate to retail sales."