By Natalie Younts

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS The Wal-Mart Supercenter in Harker Heights opened its doors Wednesday to hundreds of eager shoppers, an event heralded by city officials.

The businesss revenue will help move the city away from its dependency on property taxes and provide a retail store close to home, said City Councilman Bobby Hoxworth.

The store, managed by Patrick Starns, is important because it provides 450 jobs, said Harker Heights Mayor Mary Gauer.

Many of the employees live outside of Harker Heights, she said. But as people work here, they will also make purchases here.

Richard Kitterman, executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving Central Texas, also attended the grand opening at 7:30 a.m.

What a wonderful day for the citizens of Harker Heights and for Wal-Mart, he said.

Harker Heights Police Lt. Houston Johnson, patrol commander, spent most of Wednesday at the Wal-Mart observing traffic and other activity.

Traffic seemed to flow in and out of the parking lot smoothly, he said.

One accident occurred, in which a vehicle backed out of a parking space and hit another vehicle around 9:45 a.m., he said.

Im sure as time goes on and more and more people realize the store is open, traffic problems will come up, he said.

Johnson said issues will be dealt with as they arise.

The Wal-Mart parking lot can be entered from the north side by the Central Texas Expressway access road. Entrance and exit ramps to and from the highway opened Tuesday, one day before the Wal-Mart opening.

Wal-Mart is accessible from the west by Modoc Street and from the east by Heights Drive. It is also accessible by turning west on Commercial Drive from Farm-to-Market 2410, near Extraco Bank.

Starns was born and raised in Copperas Cove. When he was 18 years old, he left town to find work. After years of working for Wal-Marts in Las Vegas, Germany and other locations, he was happy to come home.

I love it, he said. Its great to be back on the old stomping ground.

At the grand opening ceremony, Bill Kozlik, president of the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce, presented Starns with the stores first dollar bill in a frame.

Almost $22,000 was given away at the ceremony, including $2,000 to a Fort Hood memorial for 1st Cavalry Division fallen soldiers.

Kozlik and Gauer helped lead the store employees in the Wal-Mart cheer.

After the cheer, Starns told the crowd: Everybody reach deep into your pockets and lets get this party started!

At 7:57 a.m., the band started playing, the doors opened, and the throng of shoppers began flooding in.

Larry Mitchell, Harker Heights resident, purchased a small Spider-Man bicycle Wednesday for his grandson, Damon. Mitchell said he will probably shop at the store two to three times per week.

Nancy Tipton shopped at Wal-Mart with her children, Sarah, 14, Zach, 12, and Emily, 9. The Tiptons arrived before 7:30 a.m. to watch the grand opening ceremony, but were disappointed to find that the event took place inside and was by invitation only.

Nevertheless, they waited around for the store to open and ended up buying bug spray, soda, spaghetti, strawberries, a yard fogger and football cards.

Tipton said she looked forward to shopping regularly at the new store, which she anticipated will be less crowded than other area Wal-Marts.

Killeen residents Carmen Rivera and son Carlon, 4, pushed a shopping cart containing cereal, tea and jelly. Rivera said she was comparing the prices to those at the Killeen Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Darren Lehmann, entertainer, painted a red mustache on Carlons face, and, upon his request, his mother received a black mustache.

Lehmann also painted hearts, cat whiskers, lightning bolts and SpongeBob SquarePants on childrens faces.

Reagan Roberts of Harker Heights got her hair cut at Smart Style Family Hair Salon in the storefront at 9 a.m., making her the salons first customer.

Smart Style salons are located exclusively in Wal-Mart stores and are a division of Regis Corporation.

Roberts came to the store intending to get a haircut and a shower liner, and ended up buying a pair of shoes, too.

Killeen resident Jane Connor purchased hot dogs and paint.

When she found out that Wal-Mart Portrait Studios, operated by PCA Internati-onal, was offering free portraits for the grand opening day, she also bought a shirt for her son, Ethan, 4.

Ethan changed into his new shirt in the restroom and gave a big smile for his pictures. In his favorite pose, he was lying on his stomach with a soccer ball between his feet.

Activities of the day included Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders signing autographs, bass fishing demonstrations, free sausage wraps and ice cream, and plenty of free prize drawings.

The 212,177-square-foot store will stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contact Natalie Younts at

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