Thousands of shoppers flooded the first Wal-Mart in Anne Arundel County during its grand opening yesterday.
Some hunted bargains, piling clothing, plants and household goods precariously into their carts. Others, driving as much as an hour to get there, went out of curiousity.
Cars filled more than 700 parking spaces outside the warehouse-sized red, white and blue building in Glen Burnie and spilled over into the lot next door. Customers, greeted by a smiling Wal-Mart employee, kept the automatic entrance doors in constant motion.
It was elbow room only in much of the 114,513-square-foot store, located off Crain Highway in the East Park Shopping Center.
Kenneth and Edith Trovinger drove for nearly an hour, from Violetville in Baltimore County, to visit newest store in the nation's largest retail chain.
"We decided to come down and see what it looks like," Mr. Trovinger said. "But we always wind up buying something."
Mrs. Trovinger already had some oil filters and a step stool in her shopping cart and admitted, "I'm always a bargain hunter."
Her husband said he was impressed with the service during his search for a couple of watchbands.
"They're very polite," he said. "Other places they stand around. But a man came right over and asked what we wanted. If I get good service, I'll be back."
Virginia Willis of Baltimore and her neighbor, Cora Charmes, filled their carts with household and canned goods. Ms. Willis liked the prices she saw on children's clothing and vowed to return with her grandchildren.
In the back-to-school aisle, mothers and children crowded around notebooks, folders and felt-tipped pens. Some men waited for their wives on benches scattered throughout the store. Other shoppers lined up at a snack bar for hot dogs and hamburgers. Customers even lined up outside at vending machines to buy cans of Coke and Pepsi for 30 cents.
Manager Jeff Eversole said customers have poured in since the store unofficially opened July 25. By 1 p.m. yesterday, more than 10,000 customers had filed through the doors, Mr. Eversole said.
"This seems to be a great area for a store like Wal-Mart," he said, noting that nearby discounters such as Leedmark and The Price Club could only help. "The more competition we have, the better we do."
By stressing low overhead, customer service and rock-bottom prices, Wal-Mart has shot ahead of Sears, Roebuck & Co., Kmart Corp. and Ames Department Stores Inc. in sales and profits.
Though Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sets standard prices, it allows individual managers to match or beat competitors' prices, Mr. Eversole said.
The discount chain from Bentonville, Ark. started in under-served areas of the rural South and Midwest 30 years ago and has increasingly edged toward fiercely competitive metropolitan areas.
The chain pushed into Maryland last year, opening stores in Prince Frederick, Easton, Hagerstown and Waldorf. Stores under construction in Elkton and Bowie should open late this year, while another should open this fall in Westminster.
Wal-Mart officials are planning a second Anne Arundel store.