Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's leading retail chain, is making its official Baltimore-area debut today, though it already has been attacking its competitors with all the restraint of an Arkansas razorback.
While the Bentonville, Ark.-based discount chain is holding the "grand opening" of its Glen Burnie store today, the sprawling new Wal-Mart on Crain Highway has been packing in customers since it opened its doors July 25 for an unadvertised dry run.
The store's parking lot was jammed by 11:30 a.m. yesterday, while nearby competitors were enduring a typically slow Monday. "Word spread pretty fast," said Jeff Eversole, the new store's manager.
Wal-Mart chain is known as a fierce adversary, and a tour yesterday showed the store decorated with dozens of orange tags that compare Wal-Mart's prices with what it says its most formidable rivals charge.
"We're in the competitors every day," Mr. Eversole said. "We've seen them here every day also."
A. N. Petraglia, district manager for Kmart Corp., said his company is undaunted by Wal-Mart's entry. "It gets a little heated when Wal-Mart first comes in," Mr. Petraglia said. "They want to create a big impact when they first open up. Things settle down later on."
He indicated that customers at Kmart's Glen Burnie and Pasadena stores will see similar comparisons. "We'll just basically show the consumer that Wal-Mart's prices are not always cheaper than ours."
Edward Segal, a spokesman for Leedmark, said the giant Glen Burnie store was flattered that Wal-Mart would use it as an example.
Mr. Segal said it was unlikely that Leedmark would get in a public battle with Wal-Mart over whose prices are better.
"We'll still do what it takes to remain competitive," he said.
A spokesman at Giant Food's Landover headquarters declined to comment on the new competition, but the manager of the Giant store that shares a shopping center with Wal-Mart said he was delighted with the new store.
"It's drawing a lot of people into the shopping center, and our business has improved," said manager Bob Shadrick.
If Mr. Shadrick was happy with his new neighbor, loyal Wal-Mart customers were delirious at the prospect of having a store nearby.
"I think it's wonderful. I'm a Wal-Mart fiend," said Mae Lane, who drove from her Woodlawn home to shop at the Glen Burnie store.
Ms. Lane, who once drove from Cincinnati to North Carolina stopping at every Wal-Mart store on the way, said she didn't mind the trip to Glen Burnie because it's a lot shorter than her regular journeys to a Wal-Mart in York, Pa.
For some of the shoppers at Wal-Mart yesterday, it was their first look at a chain that has taken two-thirds of the country by storm and become the nation's No. 1 retailer.
Harry Reid, a marine security official on the Baltimore waterfront, said he and his wife came down from Baltimore's Morrell Park just to check out Wal-Mart because of all the good things he'd heard about it while listening to Paul Harvey on WPOC.
"I'll be coming down," he said. "This is a nice store. It's clean."