As scores of employees and dozens of vendors circulated Tuesday throughout the 152,000-square-foot second incarnation of Walmart along Crater Lake Highway, John McBride was ready to pinch himself.
"It's kind of surreal," said the store manager, scanning pristine aisles of merchandise waiting to be carted off by thousands of shoppers today.
The North Medford Walmart supercenter will host a grand-opening celebration at 7:30 a.m. today, including grants presentations to Access Food Bank, Boy Scout Troop 3005, the Lone Pine Elementary School PTO, the Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon and the Medford Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a reality check; it's the day before we open, and I've still got to write my welcome speech."
A year in the making, North Medford's Walmart — bigger and likely better in every way — reopens at 8 a.m. as a supercenter.
Jackson County's first Walmart shut down for a $6.1 million renovation last August in conjunction with the opening of the South Medford Walmart supercenter at Miles Field.
McBride anticipated more than 7,000 shoppers would flock through the doors in the first 24 hours.
"The biggest unknown is just anticipating the amount of business, making sure we can sustain the initial surge and number of sales, keeping our store together and keep things in stock for the customer," said McBride.
That has meant picking up extra containers of this and bags of that from surrounding Walmart supercenters in Eagle Point, Grants Pass and the south end of town.
"This store has always had a good reputation, and we want to continue that," he said.
When the 19-year-old Walmart went into hibernation 13 months ago, most of the employees migrated across town, some journeyed to Eagle Point and a few retired. When it came time to staff this store, McBride's hiring crew kept busy.
"We were told to hire 380 people, which we did, and that's where we are setting," he said. "We hired at least 200 new people and we had 120 transfers, not just from South Medford, but other stores too. I didn't know who I would have when I got back. I didn't get all the people back that I thought I would, and I didn't lose a lot of the ones that I thought I might, but I think I've got a fantastic team. I'm super excited. I just want to get open and start rocking."
The store re-emerges just after the start of school, but well in advance of the earliest Christmas holiday shopping forays. In between, Halloween has morphed into a major retail period in its own right.
"We've always planned to start with Halloween," McBride said. "We knew (people) would be back in school. We have some back-to-school merchandise, but we don't have the whole set."
It's a time of year near and dear to many local customers. General deer hunting season begins Sept. 28, and McBride assured his store wouldn't disappoint when it came to a precious commodity — bullets.
"We've got a ton of ammunition," he said. "Like a couple hundred thousand dollars worth, and it's very scarce now. We hope to see a lot of people coming in on that alone."
Among the biggest challenges, McBride admitted, is the grocery section, complete with produce and organic sections, occupying what was a grassy field next to the old Walmart.
"I'm learning food," he said. "I've never worked in a supercenter before, so I'm just learning the food side of the business."
Increased competition from his own company is a new reality as well. Before August 2012, McBride's store had Medford to itself. Now there are superstore alternatives in every direction from Grants Pass to Klamath Falls.
"I think South Medford will be more of our direct competitor, because of the demographics of the valley," he said. "Eagle Point is more out toward Shady Cove. There is always healthy competition, but we all want to do well at the same time and service our customers."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.