FORT OGLETHORPE -- Eighteen hours before the store's grand opening this morning, Costco crews were breaking out the champagne ... and hurrying to put it on the shelves.
The much-anticipated warehouse club in Fort Oglethorpe -- which opens its doors to members at 8 a.m. -- had to wait for its state alcohol licenses to be approved late Monday night before trucks could deliver pallets and pallets of wine and beer.
And it was still arriving the middle of Tuesday afternoon.
"It's slowly rolling out," said store General Manager Bob Palermo, watching as crews loaded the waiting displays. "It's all the detail work now."
Palermo, who opened a Costco in Hunstville, Ala., 10 years ago, said most everything was ready to go for the opening, pending one final inspection by officials, who flew in from the company's headquarters in Washington state.
"If they have changes, some of us won't go home (overnight)," he said with a laugh.
Roger Campbell, senior vice president for Costco's Southeast Region, came into town earlier Tuesday and said the store looks ready.
"We'll be prepared at 8 a.m. [this] morning to do business and hopefully do a lot," he said.
Campbell said he was "very happy" with the number of memberships the club had sold and had a "good feel" about the store's success. He declined to release the specifics.
A month ago, Palermo said the store would employ about 150 workers but could hire more from the 11,000 applicants if advance memberships were higher than expected. The work force for the opening has swollen to about 180, according to management.
Among those standing in line for membership Tuesday afternoon was Ron Henderson from Ooltewah. He said he's been a Sam's Club member since 2003, but wanted to come check out his club's chief competitor.
"I thought I might come down and see if I like it better than Sam's," said Henderson, who opened a business account at Costco on Tuesday.
The effect of a Costco in the area has not gone unnoticed by Sam's officials, he said. Earlier this week, he received a free renewal and membership upgrade from Sam's in the mail.
"They hadn't sent me one before, and I'd been there seven years," he said.
Claude Wood drove 80 miles from his home near Pikeville, Tenn., to see the store.
"We have to come down to do some shopping every once in a while so we thought we'd try Costco," he said, mentioning low prices particularly on gas as his motivation. "If I can save 3 cents or 5 cents, it adds up."
Contact Andy Johns at email@example.com or call 423-757-6324.
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