KEARNEY — Hewitt Moyer, 8, woke up his mother, Orlena, at 5:50 this morning as if it were Christmas. He couldn't wait to get to Hy-Vee, the $16.6 million supermarket that opened at 5212 Third Ave. just before 6 a.m.
Orlena sent him back to bed, but at 6:11 a.m., they got up and arrived at the new store at 6:30 a.m. They headed to its Market Grille restaurant for a breakfast of cheesy scrambled eggs, French toast, sausage and fruit before Hewitt headed off to second grade at Meadowlark Elementary School.
“They have a sushi bar. They have a restaurant. They have everything,” Hewitt said. His mother was excited, too, and not just about Hy-Vee's 900 produce items, its 300 types of cheeses, its pharmacy, its ready-made foods and more. Now, she won't have to drive to Grand Island twice a month to shop at the Hy-Vee there, she said.
Only Mother Nature was pouting as the 90,712-square-foot supermarket opened at 5:57 a.m. About 50 smiling employees applauded at the door as about 40 people hurried in.
Rich and Annette Froid of Kearney were among them. They have shopped at Hy-Vee in Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha.
“Every time I was at those stores, I'd fill out a signature card and write, 'Come to Kearney,'” Rich said. His wife added, “No longer do we have to drive to Grand Island or Lincoln. Now, Hy-Vee is just five blocks away.”
Dale Peterson of Kearney was there at 6, too. He's a roofer sidelined by the wet weather. Marisa Joudrey of Kearney, who'd just gotten off her night shift at West Pharmaceutical, came because “I wanted to check out the store. I'm so excited.”
Keri Rohn of Kearney and her son Alex, 12, whom Keri home-schools, were there by 7 a.m. “This is one of my favorite stores,” Alex said. No longer will Keri have to drive to Grand Island's Hy-Vee several times a month. “They have the best organic products,” she said.
Hy-Vee employees smiled and smiled as they welcomed shoppers. Tyler Soderberg, the assistant manager of general merchandise, will graduate in two weeks from Midland University in Fremont, but he arrived at Hy-Vee at 5:30 a.m. He will work till 8 tonight, then drive back to Fremont for classes Wednesday.
“This is a good turnout,” he said as he offered brochures and more to shoppers.
Smiling in the floral department was Patty Wilson, who with her husband, Bob, owned Bob's SuperStore, which closed at 620 E. 25th St. 19 months ago.
“I'm just tickled,” she said. “But it's been a little emotional today. This has been a long time coming.”
Her husband now is Hy-Vee's manager of store operations.
Nick Lieth, 20, a server at the Market Grille, was grinning, too. He left a job at The Buckle to start here because “I've been a big fan of Hy-Vee. I'm a health nut. I saw this store was coming here, and I said, 'Sign me up.'”
Brianne Hicks, the floral manager, just moved to Kearney from Lincoln, where she worked at a Hy-Vee store. “Business has been steady,” she said. “I love meeting new people and getting to start something new.”
Up front, Hy-Vee registered dietitian Kaiti George greeted customers. The first dietitian in a supermarket in Kearney, she will help customers choose healthy food, provide individual nutrition counseling and lead cooking classes.
Marilee Kabes of Kearney, one of the supermarket's 470 part-time employees, happily staffed the cash register in the food court Tuesday morning.
“I've shopped at Hy-Vee in Norfolk for 30 years, and when we heard Hy-Vee was coming here, my family joked about me getting a part-time job with them. Well, here I am.”
Store Director Tony Taylor was pleased, too. He said the store, which has 140 full-time employees, opened without a hitch.
At 9 a.m., Gov. Dave Heineman and Mayor Stan Clouse officially opened the Hy-Vee at grand opening ceremonies.
Out front, the $4.3 million gas station, convenience store and Caribou Coffee shop were busy, too. A group of retired men sat around a table inside the coffee shop. A car wash will open in the spring.
For the first two weeks, Hy-Vee employees will park at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds at Avenue N and 39th Street and be shuttled to the store to keep the parking lot open for customers.
Back inside the store, Teara Archwamety, a retired professor of counseling and school psychology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, was browsing happily.
“I like Hy-Vee. I've visited it other states. They have a lot of items other grocery stores don't have,” he said, pointing to a small wedge of espresso villavitano cheese.
Hy-Vee's payroll will be $7.8 million and its annual revenue is expected to be $67 million.