Eli Sparkman, 9, of Cleveland was being taken by his mother to school Wednesday morning when he asked her to take a detour.
“He wanted to see a grand opening,” his mom Libby said.
Eli and his mom were just two of many who formed a long, opening line for the new Cleveland Publix Food & Pharmacy store on Paul Huff Parkway.
Construction of the new facility was a 10-month project and the preparations to get the store stocked and ready for the opening occurred over the last two weeks.
The snip of the giant scissors took place at 6:45 a.m., preceeded by remarks from local officials who welcomed the city’s newest boost to its economy.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, state Rep. Eric Watson, state Rep. Kevin Brooks and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire were on hand to help cut the ribbon, which was colored Publix green.
“This is a great investment for Bradley County and for Cleveland,” Gardenhire said.
Brooks joked he was not at the store only as a public official.
“I’m representing Mrs. Brooks, who is very happy and has already loaded the Publix app on my phone so I can find things in this beautiful store,” he said.
Rowland asked if everyone had gotten one of the snacks being handed out, getting laughs when he said they were from him, “but I bought them at Publix.”
Once the green ribbon fell, customers were greeted at the door by store manager Tom Riley who was passing out flowers to the ladies in line.
“A flower makes the day better,” Riley said as he and his staff began welcoming shoppers on their inaugural journey through the aisles.
Customers found a store that has more of a department store setting than most conventional grocery stores.
The new Publix also provides a full-service pharmacy which can also be accessed using a drive-through window.
Every one of the aisles and departments were manned with store employees guiding customers to the items they sought.
The store also treated shoppers on opening day to a variety of samples and snacks along their way.
Riley has been with the company for 26 years, starting as a bagger and serving as a manager for more than a decade.
He said customers to the new 54,700-square-foot store will see the difference, especially when it comes to customer service.
“We rest our hat on the execution of customer service,” Riley said. “We greet every customer. We take them to the items they are looking for, and not just point out which aisle to find them. That is what sets us apart from the others.”
He said he has been in other grocery stores where no one ever greeted him.
“That’s made me more confident about our business structure,” he said. “They sell the same groceries. They can’t compete with us on service.”
He noted 80 percent of the personnel at the store were hired from the local Cleveland area.
“That says a lot for the area, knowing we only want to hire the best,” Riley said. “They go through a four- to six-week training period, and while many of them are doing what they may have done in other stores, we want them to learn about the public interaction which is something they may not have had to do in the past.”
Riley said the friendly attitude that greeted customers on the first day will still be there when people make return visits in the future.
“That’s the expectation all of the time — to have that interaction with the customers,” Riley said. “I’m looking forward to this. It’s going to be a good store.”
Some of the first customers through the store believe Riley’s expectations have already been met.
“It’s very well-organized and the people who work here are very helpful and professional,” said Miranda Doroshuk, a student here from Canada.
The Cleveland store features a new design for Publix, and at least one regular customer of the chain already likes the difference.
“It’s amazing,” said Stephanie Ramsey of Georgetown. “I’ve shopped at the Ooltewah store and this is so much better. The flow and way things are organized make it so easy to shop.”
Ramsey was the first one through the doors and officials see that enthusiasm as being a positive, immediate impact on the local economy.
“It means 135 jobs created for people,” Rowland said. “It gives more opportunity for folks to shop. We have some great retail grocery stores in Cleveland, and I think this will help open the market for the adjoining counties, bringing more people coming to Cleveland to shop. It’s going to benefit everybody.”
The mayor also called the store “a good investment” saying the construction, money invested and the soon-to-open adjacent strip mall brings more shopping opportunities.
“Developments like this do attract others,” Rowland said. “It seems like one just follows the other and you wonder sometimes if we’re going to saturate the market. But somehow everybody maintains a good volume of business, and it just continues to grow and that’s what we like.”
The Cleveland Publix will maintain regular daily store hours of 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.