BELLINGHAM - The newest grocery store in town appears to be leaving a good first impression on customers.
WinCo Foods opened its doors at 8 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, to a group of about 50 people. It was a low-key opening with no celebration: The doors were flung open and company employees got right down to business at the 90,000-square-foot store at 300 E. Bellis Fair Parkway.
By mid-morning, the store was getting a steady stream of customers, with many checking out the selection and looking at prices.
"It's wonderful," said Barb Galley of Bellingham, who was visiting a WinCo store for the first time. "It has nice prices and the aisles are really spacious. You can get three carts in the aisle."
The task of converting the former Joe's Sporting Goods building and getting it stocked with groceries went smoothly, said Becky McDonald, store manager. The contractor was Engineered Structures Inc. of Idaho.
"We've had a lot of people welcoming us to Bellingham," said McDonald, adding that it was especially great to see a group from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Whatcom County drop by with welcoming notes.
For those who haven't been in a WinCo store, in some ways it has a Costco-warehouse feel, but one that focuses on groceries. It has a large bulk foods department, with more than 900 items, along with a large refrigerated and produce section, and bakery and meat departments. Overstocked products are stacked on high shelves.
The company's goal is to offer the lowest prices, and they cut costs in a variety of ways, including not accepting credit cards and having customers bag their own groceries.
On opening morning, plenty of employees were on hand offering to help people find items. The store employs 171 people, with 161 newly hired from the area.
"I was asked a hundred times if I was finding what I was looking for," Barbara Maher of Bellingham joked.
It was her first time in WinCo; she said her son has raved about WinCo and would travel to the Marysville store to shop, so she wanted to see what it was like.
"I enjoyed it," she said.
The opening also impressed Paul Atchison of Blaine. He was in the grocery business for almost 30 years. He said what stood out for him was the selection, value and cleanliness.
"It's going to be an excellent draw for Canadians," Atchison said. "I bet it'll be really busy this weekend."
With the relatively low-key opening, McDonald said she's not sure what to expect, although WinCo stores tend to be busier on weekends.
"I'm open to whatever is coming," McDonald said, adding that she's glad to get to this point of opening the store. "I've had a lot of help from people who put in a lot of hours, so we're ready."
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