Randy Leach wanted one of the 300 $25 gift cards being given away at the Sportsman's Warehouse grand opening Saturday morning. And he wasn't about to let 300 other people -- let alone one other person -- stand in his way.
Leach, 58, arrived at the Soldotna store at midnight, armed with a parka, folding chair, and W.E.B. Griffin's 700-plus page novel "Blood and Honor" to help him through the night. He was the first person in line.
"I figured there would be a lot of people there, and there were a limited amount of the gift cards that they were giving away," Leach explained matter-of-factly.
Those gift cards were gone about five minutes after the 9 a.m. opening, Leach estimated, as store-goers started to show up in droves around 7 a.m.
"When the employees pulled up, there were no parking spaces," said Janette Pickens, a staff member who was working one of the registers. "The line was wrapped around the parking lot."
Mayor Peter Micciche attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and gave a short speech before the crowd inundated the premises. Local food vendors, including Echo Lake Meats, provided free samples, while the store gave away thousands of dollars in gift cards and merchandise.
"It's been a fantastic day," Pickens said. "Lots of wonderful customers ... and they're spending lots of money."
The store, which opened its doors on March 15, encompasses 35,000 square feet of retail space and 10,000 additional square feet for storage. Store manager Steven McVeigh said 66 people are now employed by the chain's Soldotna branch, and that the vast majority of those hires are local.
"I would like to think that Sportsman's Warehouse, particularly on the Kenai Peninsula, is going to have that small-town feel," McVeigh said. "We've staffed the store with 98 percent local people. That's a huge economic boost to the community."
McVeigh also said business has been better than expected so far, and that he expects to hire more employees as summer draws closer.
While McVeigh says community reception to the store has been largely positive, he is aware of those locally-minded residents who didn't want a major box store moving into their town. But he only has one thing to say to them.
"I guess my response would be, tell that to the 66 people who were unemployed before we came to town. Progress is going to happen whether you want it or not."
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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