Parts of the parking lot are still under construction, but after nearly 14 months of waiting customers were invited to browse the aisles of Walmart's new grocery section Wednesday.

The Del Norte High School choir and band greeted shoppers with Christmas carols and jazz hits as they walked through the new store entrance on Wednesday. Boy Scouts from Troop No. 77 presented the colors. Product mascots Franz Super Slice and Bimbo Bread Bear offered free samples and photo opportunities for parents with young kids. And a handful of Walmart employees gave the Walmart cheer.

"This is a great blessing for Crescent City," said Father Adam Kotas from St. Joseph Catholic Church, who led the opening prayer. "Thank God for the opening of this new store. If I weren't a priest, I would love to be a Walmart greeter."

Before guest speaker Michael Sullivan, Del Norte County Board of Supervisors chairman, took to the podium, store manager Nick Gonnella thanked his employees, the community and the construction team that built the expanded section.

The construction team worked in nearly all kinds of weather, Gonnella said, while his customers and employees dealt with a year of narrow aisles and shifting merchandise. In addition to the gratitude he felt, Gonnella said it was also a relief finally to be able to open. Gonnella added that Walmart and Steve Hemmingsen of Hemmingsen Construction will help re-build St. Joseph's park.

"Hemmingsen Construction donated $2,000 in labor to help repave the basketball part of that park," Gonnella said. "We're going to go clean up the facility and work with Hambro to donate wood chips for the playground park. We're excited. That park needs love and attention."

During the store's grand opening, Gonnella presented donations to several local service organizations, including $1,000 to Rural Human Services, $500 to the Del Norte County Family Resource Center and $1,500 to St. Joseph Catholic Church.

He said that the expansion adds nearly 100,000 square feet to the supercenter, which includes a full grocery store with deli and bakery as well as produce, meat and dairy departments. The newly remodeled store also includes a full-service hair salon, a Subway and a new Java Hut Express.

To prepare for the store's expansion, Walmart hired between 60 and 80 employees. The store is still looking for another 30andndash;40 more employees at least, Gonnella said.

Walmart began preparing for the expansion in January 2011, when it extended its store hours to 24 hours a day. The Crescent City store opened in 1992.

Sullivan said he was thrilled about the new jobs.

"One of the most important factors with the increasing size of Walmart is the jobs," he said. "It's what gives people dignity and pride in what they do. Thank you,Walmart, for the increased jobs in the community."

Crescent City resident Juan Romero ventured into Walmart's produce section with his wife, Emily, and their five kids for the first time. Romero, who shops at Walmart roughly twice a week, said he's excited about the changes to the supercenter.

"Even though we live in a small community we like to take advantage of lower prices," he said, adding that it often requires a lot of driving and a lot of gas. "It's great that it's expanded and it's all one-stop shopping. You can park once, do all your shopping and then go home."

Robin and Frank Galea, who were watching their son present the colors with their daughter Lauren, said the expanded store is a nice addition, but they hope it doesn't negatively impact local businesses.

"We hope it's for the greater good of the community," Robin Galea said, adding that she and her family shop at Walmart about once a week.

At the new Java Hut Express, owners Marianne Shannon and Adrienne Anthony were busy slicing two cakes that depicted pre-construction aerial photos of the Walmart store. Although Walmart's new aisles were stocked full of goods, the new Java Hut, which features the same menu as their counterparts in Smith River and at the Del Norte County fairgrounds, wasn't quite finished. Shannon said Wednesday that she expected the coffeehouse's counters to arrive that afternoon.

"Saturday is our grand opening," she said. "We'll have drawings for free drinks, bags of coffee and our mugs."

Java Hut Express will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Shannon said, although the coffee house may be open later during the holiday season.

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