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Wal-Mart opens in Jefferson County

October 29, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Lois Peck arrived early Wednesday to be the first in line at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Charles Town.

She was in the parking lot shortly before 7 a.m. By the time the speeches from Wal-Mart officials and local politicians started at 8 a.m., more than 500 people were in the parking lot.

"I heard they were going to have the grand opening. I thought it was just about time we got a store in town. I'm tired of ... having to go to Martinsburg to shop," said Peck, 55, of Ranson, W.Va.

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Jefferson County residents said they have had to travel to Martinsburg, W.Va., Frederick, Md., or Winchester, Va., to buy many things they could not get in Jefferson County.

"Professionally, the more we can do to enhance our quality of life, the better. The job factor is really important," said Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

"Personally, I'm thrilled. I don't have to drive to Martinsburg to shop now," Peters said.

The 144,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter employs about 350 people, about 80 percent full time and 20 percent part time. Jobs start at $6 an hour.

Manager Clint Miller said Wal-Mart was attracted by the fast-growing population and the scarcity of department store competition in the area.

"I know Jefferson County has been waiting for this for a long time," Miller said.

Miller said he does not believe Wal-Mart will hurt local businesses - a complaint aired about Wal-Mart stores in other communities - because most of the stores in Charles Town are antique shops, plus there is an old-style pharmacy, Miller said.

Roger Ramey, sales representative at Ramey's Furniture and Appliance, said he does not think Wal-Mart will hurt his business, but he doesn't know how other downtown businesses will do.

"That's happened in other communities," he said of businesses being hurt by Wal-Mart's presence. "We'll just have to wait and see," Ramey said.

"It was something that was needed. You couldn't buy a belt or a tie or anything like that in town," Ramey said.

Gina Morgan, owner of Fins, Feathers 'N Friends pet store in Charles Town, said while Wal-Mart has a pet department, she sells more specialized pet products and food, "things not normally carried in department stores."

Since she has a basement filled with rare and tropical fish for sale, she checked out Wal-Mart's pet department and looked at their fish.

"But I don't want to get in to a price war with them," Morgan said.

"Actually, I'm glad to see the Wal-Mart come in because there's no department store in town," Morgan said.

She and her employees work until her store closes at 7 p.m., so that makes it difficult to go shopping when the nearest stores are in Martinsburg or Winchester, she said.

"I'm really not that upset they're coming in. Only time will tell if people will still support the downtown," Morgan said.

The Wal-Mart Supercenter includes 50,000 square feet of grocery store items and will compete against supermarkets like Martin's, which is housed in a nearby shopping center, Miller said.

"That competition is good for everybody," Morgan said.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart officials bought out the nearby Barnhart's supermarket, which had a lease with the shopping center to be the only grocery store.

Wal-Mart officials started looking at Charles Town about two years ago for a site and construction started earlier this year.

The building was finished on Sept. 22 and Wal-Mart employees have spent the past five weeks stocking the inside, setting up shelves and hundreds of thousands of items, Miller said.

"All that was in here was the tile on the floor," Miller said.

The store will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of Christmas day, when it will be closed, he said.

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