Opening day crowd helps ring in Bealls store

Large-scale department store back on Heights for first time in 13 years

The first thing to know about Thursday’s grand opening of Bealls store in Hood River is that nearly 100 people waited in 40-degree weather, some slipping into the foyer for warmth, to be the first in the doors of Hood River’s newest store at 9 a.m.

“Welcome to Bealls,” employee Jessica Appenzeller and a phalanx of co-workers said to folks in that first rush, handing out elegant Bealls tote bags to the first 100 people. It took about two minutes to hand out all the bags.

The second thing to know about Bealls is the way the store name is pronounced: “bells.”

“In the community of Bealls it’s ‘bells,’ just like ringing your bells,” Manager Tammy Shepard said.

The occasion was a festive one as the bright lights and decor drew a crowd. (A “soft” opening on Wednesday, went well, Shepard said. “We had a great crowd for soft opening. We were busy all day with people just coming on in.”)

Thursday was about the ceremonial debut of a fresh new tenant, with the Hood River Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors on hand for the traditional ribbon-cutting.

Shepard cut the ribbon as a large group of employees, and customers, including Marlene Lahti and Janet Miller of Hood River, locked arms. Avery Pickard, chamber membership coordinator, helped hold the 3-foot ceremonial scissors as the crew chanted “Tammy-Tammy-Tammy!” Shepard’s mother, Laura Lebow, presented her with a bouquet or roses.

“This has taken a lot of hard work and this community is amazing,” said Shepard, who was the first assistant manager for Maurices, on West Cascade, arriving in Hood River four years ago.

As the crowd streamed in, District Manager Dustin Larremore, of Boise, greeted the crowd using his Houston, Texas, charm.

“I just want to hug everyone when they come in,” he said, embracing several customers.

“It took economy, drive, determination and the willingness this town needed,” to open Bealls, said Larremore. “It will be a great opportunity for families, for shoes, for children, for men’s and a huge opportunity for us as a company to move west,” referring to Stage Stores, based in Houston.

“We don’t normally do West; we’ve been primarily central (U.S.),” he said. The store hired 45 temporary employees to prepare for opening; Shepard said 15-18 employees were hired to work the holiday season.

The space at Hood River Shopping Center sat vacant for nearly a year. Some customers on Thursday recalled that in the 1990s The Hub department store occupied the space, located next to Rosauers. The most recent tenants were Life Furniture (2010-12 and 2005-8) and Encore Video (2009-11). The space had long vacancy periods dating back to 2000, when the former Stage store closed.

“That was a different company back then; it was a totally different game,” Larremore said. “As retailers we have evolved. Back then we were like the old department stores like Macy’s and now we’ve evolved into our own little niche market, with good quality name brands in small communities, and most stores don’t do that. We’re stepping the game up and going to small markets and large markets.”

As customers arrived Thursday, Shepard was making last-minute adjustments in staff assignments. She said the large influx was expected.

“The people who came out to work it and put the store together are amazing. They went above and beyond, stayed late nights,” Shepard said. “Our employees were amazing. So many people came into this not knowing what to expect. A lot of them did not know coming in that retail is hard work. One of the best comments I get is people will never shop the same again as far as folding and shopping.”

“We will be able to service everyone, women, men and children, and I think this community has been waiting and excited about having us here,” Sheppard said.

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