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Published: Thursday, 3/20/2003

Big crowds turn out for opening of metro Toledo's first Wal-Mart

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Shoppers crowd the aisles at the Navarre Ave., Wal-Mart yesterday. Shoppers crowd the aisles at the Navarre Ave., Wal-Mart yesterday.
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Anyone who thought the Toledo area would heed calls from area protesters to give Wal-Mart the cold shoulder was mistaken.

The only cold the nation's top retailer felt yesterday at the grand opening of its $12.5 million suburban Toledo store - the first in metro Toledo - was the near-freezing temperatures that chilled hundreds of undeterred shoppers who jammed the store's ample parking lot waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m.

By 9:30 a.m., the lot was filled, and dozens of cars circled it hoping to snare a space from a departing customers.

Traffic was backed up nearly a quarter of a mile waiting to turn in to the parking lot.

``It's a little busier than most [Wal-Mart openings],'' said John Bonice, most recently manager of a Monroe, Mich., Wal-Mart and now in charge of the new 152,000-square-foot store at 3721 Navarre Ave., Oregon.

Most of the store's 300 workers were on duty yesterday, he said, suggesting that “the Toledo area has been waiting for us to come here.”

Toledo resident Laurie Honaker certainly was. Departing the packed store with a cart full of items just an hour after it opened, she was wearing a wide smile.

``It's big. Bigger than I thought. I like it!'' she said.

``The prices are one of the reasons I like Wal-Mart. But basically, they have a whole lot better merchandise than other stores. Like pet food. They're cheaper in the pet food I buy and I buy a whole lot of it because I have a lot of pets.''

Dominic and Betty Demilio, of Oregon, emerged with a load of plants and other items.

However, the store had much of what she wanted, such as sewing supplies and staple foods, so it might have won her over, she said.

Margaret Bickford, of Jerusalem Township, was there when the doors opened and liked the prices and variety, but said that won't keep her from shopping elsewhere.

``They're all stores, you know,” she said.

“If you know what you want, they all have the bargains. You just have to keep track.''

Nearly 200 protesters, mostly union members, lined up on Navarre between 8 and 9 a.m. to protest the arrival of Wal-Mart, which they contend hurts the local economy by not providing most of its employees with benefits and by taking an anti-union stance.

None of the company's more than 2,800 stores is unionized.

By 9:30 a.m., only three protesters remained.

Mr. Bonice, the store manager, said the protest came as no surprise and the company anticipates such actions at its openings.

The company has said it pays its workers competitive wages and is not anti-union.



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