NASCAR fans flocked to the new Ollie’s Bargain Outlet store in Aiken early Wednesday to meet veteran driver Kevin Harvick, but stayed for the shopping.
For the store’s grand opening in Kalmia Plaza, the 14-year Sprint Cup driver met fans and signed his autograph on shirts, hats, posters, model race cars, pieces of real race cars – and even a Budweiser beer can.
Harvick, a regular at Ollie’s grand openings, drew a crowd of more than 250 who arrived by 7:30 a.m. to pick up tickets granting them access to meet him.
“I know that they had to have a count at the beginning to just make sure we didn’t go over capacity by the fire marshal,” said Micha Millwood, the store’s customer service supervisor.
Aiken residents Evelyn Morris and Chris Parnell went to the new store at 6:45 a.m. to grab a ticket. The couple, who live about five minutes away, returned about three hours later to secure their position in line. By then, the aisles were already packed and Morris had her eye on a product she wanted to buy.
“I saw a ceramic pot for one of my plants,” she said. “We’re excited to have a new discount store and another choice of where to shop.”
Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, founded in 1982, is a retailer that carries closeout items, excess name-brand inventory and salvage merchandise. The Harrisburg, Pa.-based retailer expects to expand its footprint to 180 stores by the end of 2014 and is adding Georgia stores in Macon and Atlanta within the next two months.
The Aiken store is at 1688 Richland Ave. W in the former Belk space that sat vacant for years. The 25,000-square-foot store employs about 50 associates and is split into a variety of departments, including grocery, housewares, apparel, furniture, flooring, electronics, toys and books.
Part of how the corporate office selects new store sites is by viewing the ZIP codes from customer purchases at one of its 167 stores nationwide, Millwood said.
“They see the need based on ZIP code capture,” she said.
Shopper Nancy Blackwell traveled from Grovetown to check out the store, and Valarie Brooks drove from Augusta.
Brooks said she had visited an Ollie’s in the Northeast and was excited when she heard a store was coming to Aiken.
“It’s worth the trip,” said Brooks, who had stuffed her cart with bed sheets, coffee cups, cleaning supplies and other merchandise.
Neighbors Cindy Benoit and Pat Sargent, of Aiken, said they were attracted to the grand opening for the deals and not for NASCAR.
“We like to see where there’s a bargain,” Benoit said. “If there’s a sale, we’re all over it. We’re trying to see how good the prices are going to be so we can compare them.
“And, they’re making use of a building that was vacant, so that’s good.”