EC shoppers line up for Aldi's opening

013119 Aldi Grand Opening
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Customers shop at the new Aldi grocery store following its grand opening on Conlon Way in Elizabeth City Thursday morning. The store's opening gives city shoppers another grocery option besides Food Lion and Walmart.

013119 Aldi Grand Opening
013119 Aldi Grand Opening

By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Eddie Spencer was in line by 5:30 a.m. Thursday for the grand opening of the Aldi grocery store off Halstead Boulevard Extended.

But he was not the earliest arrival.

“There was some lady here at 3:30,” Spencer said, explaining that was what she told him when he arrived.

Spencer already was familiar with Aldi from having shopped at stores in Greenville, Raleigh and Chesapeake, Virginia.

“They have good products,” Spencer said. “And I enjoy shopping there. The prices are good. And I’m glad to see competition.”

There was a reason Spencer and a host of other shoppers got in line so early for Aldi’s grand opening Thursday: the first 100 customers in line received “Golden Ticket” coupons the company said were valued between $10 and $100.

Levi Brothers of Hertford was in the parking lot by 7:10 a.m. and was number 97 in line. Brothers, bundled up warmly to keep the morning cold at bay, said he had never shopped at an Aldi store before.

“I wanted to see what they’ve got,” he said.

There in fact were 350 people or more lined up in the Aldi parking lot off Conlon Way by the time company officials cut a ribbon at the store around 7:55 a.m.

Many were like Spencer Bette Butler of Elizabeth City: shoppers with previous experience at an Aldi store. Butler has children who live in New York and they shop at an Aldi store, she said.

“So we have been in that store up there,” Butler said. “We are excited.”

Butler also said having another grocery store in town might bring a bit more competition to the area. Before Aldi opened, Elizabeth City was home to two grocery options: Food Lion, which operates four local stores, and the Walmart Supercenter.

Butler’s twin sister, Bonnie Jensen, who lives in Perquimans County, noted that her niece in New York also shops at an Aldi store there.

“She likes it,” Jensen said. “She shops there quite a bit.”

Jensen said she was looking forward to seeing what the store has and is glad to see “some place else to shop” in Elizabeth City.

The Elizabeth City store, which took about six months to build, is 22,000 square feet, including a sales floor of 13,000 square feet.

The store, which is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., employs 14 people currently.

“We staff according to sales levels,” said Gordon Stewart, a regional director of operations. So the store could add employees if the sales volume warrants it, he said.

Although Aldi offered coupons to the first 100 shoppers in line, the store wasn’t offering any opening-day bargains. That’s by design, Stewart suggested.

“These are our everyday low prices,” he said. “We don’t have any grand-opening specials in terms of pricing.”

First-day shoppers at Aldi on Thursday also had a chance to register for a drawing to receive a year’s worth of produce.

While Thursday was the grand opening, the store held a “soft opening” Wednesday. Cards were mailed to area residents earlier this week announcing that the store would be open Wednesday.

Shopping at Aldi includes a number of features that may take some getting used to for some shoppers. A 25-cent deposit is required for shopping carts and you return your own cart in order to get the deposit back. You bag your own groceries. And large plastic bags are sold for 10 cents each — though shopper Bre’Onna Powell of Perquimans County said smaller paper bags were free.

Powell said the cart return and bagging her own groceries were not difficult for her, but she thought it could be a challenge for some shoppers. Older people who parked some distance from the entrance might have some difficulty returning their carts, she said.

And Powell said a few shoppers seemed to find it challenging to bag their own groceries.

“I helped one lady in there bag her stuff,” she said, noting that particular shopper was an older woman who seemed to be struggling with the task.

But Powell said she was delighted with the store’s prices, which she called “amazing.”

Aldi operates 15 stores in the greater Hampton Roads area of Virginia, 10 in the Richmond, Va., area, and Elizabeth City is the company’s 11th store in eastern North Carolina. A separate regional office operates Aldi stores in the western part of North Carolina.

Other locations in eastern North Carolina that already have Aldi stores include Wilmington, Jacksonville and Kinston.