Home Depot opens doors

Juneau residents line up for 6 a.m. grand opening

Posted: Friday, June 29, 2007

Elenoa Lehauli and her daughter Carolina waited 45 minutes for an orange-vested employee to swing wide the double glass doors to Home Depot, welcoming shoppers for the first time Thursday.

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"I just want to get in and see what is happening here," Elenoa said after waiting outside in drizzling rain with about 20 others. At the 6 a.m. opening, she and Carolina were among the first inside.

Carolina was still bleary-eyed from waking up.

"I'm so sleepy, but I'll be her companion today," she said, looking at her anxious mother.

The pair said they were the first to arrive - and the first in line - for opening day of the 102,000-square-foot building, which also features a garden center.

Contrary to rumor, the Juneau store is not the retail chain's smallest, said spokeswoman Kathryn Gallagher. That honor belongs to the Alamo, Calif., store at 34,000 square feet.

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Another early riser, Juneau resident Mary Jefferson, said her cat made sure she woke up in time. Jefferson was looking for garden supplies and was excited by the opening.

"To be the first at the doors, it's sort of like the day after Christmas," she said.

Tom Johnson was wearing an orange construction vest on his way to work at Northland, which handles freight for the new retail chain. He also picked up his wife, Lorena, who works the graveyard shift at Home Depot.

"I think it is good (Home Depot is here)," he said. "It puts everybody else in town in check. It brings the real prices to Juneau."

Once inside, people took store maps and spread out throughout the store.

Most exclaimed over the number of choices.

"We are sick and tired of not having enough in stock," said Bo Pierce, who was in the lighting section discussing remodeling plans with his wife, Jana.

Employee Daryl Vitzthum helped oversee the operation, a job he'd done before, most recently, in Kenai in 2003.

"I don't know how the Juneau market will be. We will have a lot of Bush orders," he said.

The opening has been a touchy subject for smaller competing businesses concerned about future revenue.

Gene Rabung, manager of Spenard Builders Supply in Kenai, said that despite initial fear over Home Depot's arrival in the Southcentral city, business has remained strong. It fact, business has tripled since 2000.

"When they came, it was a big impact at first," he said. "Our sales dropped because it was the new game in town."

Rabung said the company anticipated a 15 to 20 percent drop in business, but lost only about 5 percent. And patience proved prudent for the store, which has been in Kenai since the 1980s.

"Everybody is scared about them, and the first three months will be lean, but everybody comes back," he said. Customers are loyal and return.

Rabung made changes and adapted to the presence of the competitor by focusing on bettering what the company did best: providing good customer service.

"Home Depot is not good on special orders. If they don't have (a product), they have a hard time getting it for you," he said. He compared the business to a grocery chain.

"You come in, check in and check out," he said.

Two small businesses ended up closing in the Kenai area after the retail chain's debut. One was a lumber yard whose owners were ready to retire anyway. The other was a nursery located close to the store.

Rabung said there is value in having competition, however.

"I think there is room for everyone," he said. "You just have to be sharp and make some changes."

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com or 523-2276.



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