Even the heavy fog that settled over Howell Township on Wednesday morning was not enough to dampen the spirits of the associates and residents that came out to the Walmart for a momentous occasion.
After more than a year of planning and construction the store held a grand re-opening as it became a supercenter that now features a full grocery store for its customers. Manager Pete Hartwell said he was glad to see all the work come to fruition as he looked at his store. "It has been an awesome experience, just the transition of the building," he said. "It was just an awesome experience to see the final project done."
Not only did the expanded store bring new merchandise to the customers it also brought more than 100 new jobs into the local economy, which Hartwell said was another point of pride for him.
With so much to offer Hartwell said he knows his customers will enjoy having a one-stop shop to go to. "They're so excited," he said. "The customers come talk to me every day. They're just excited to get the variety of items that we're going to be carrying."
Dana Bartolino who serves as the market manager for the area said Howell is now the third supercenter in the area joining neighboring Freehold and Neptune. She said each time one opens it brings a new sense of pride to the store and the towns they serve. "The big thing is how exciting it is to be able to add jobs to the community," she said. "It really adds what we can bring and offer to the community," she said.
Mayor Robert Walsh, who was part of the ribbon cutting ceremony, said he was glad to see how far the store has come since it opened more than a decade ago. "Walmart is a staple of the community," he said. "They do so much to support the different organizations of Howell Township. They're a tremendous asset to the community. They make Howell such a good place to live."
He also said the fact that they were able to add so many jobs in one shot was a testament to not only the strength of the store but of the roots they have established here in town. "It's a shot of confidence that we believe in the community," Walsh said. "It says something about Howell Township and I believe also that it's a good community to invest in and raise a family."
Walsh said he remembered when there were questions during the planning and construction of the store about what it would bring to the community. He said he believes those questions have been answered over the years. "Here we are 14, 15 years later with the company putting in millions upon millions of dollars into Howell Township and creating jobs," he said. "It has been a tremendous part of the quality of life here in Howell Township."
Part of that commitment to the community was also shown on Wednesday as Hartwell presented checks for donations to the Southard Fire Department, the Howell First Aid Squad and the Howell Food Pantry.
Councilman Robert Nicastro was also on hand for the ceremony on Wednesday. Nicastro served on the planning board when the application first came from Walmart and said he was pleased with the final product. "It was a very amenable applicant and they did everything we asked them to do," he said. "It's a great day for Howell."
With the added jobs and the energy efficient technologies used in the expansion Nicastro said projects like these are what the planning board and the administration are looking for going forward. "I commend the planning board for their vision and we commend Walmart for being part of the community and bringing this to Howell Township."