When German grocery chain Lidl - pronounced Le-dle - announced it would be expanding it's operation to North America, opening a corporate headquarters in Virginia and distribution centers in three states, shoppers were anxious and curious to know where the chain would build and when they could experience the new chain.
Havelock was chosen as a location and construction of the Havelock Lidl has progressed steadily off U.S. 70 near Galaxy of Sports. While an opening date has not been announced for Havelock, last week the company opened nine new stores including one in Kinston, giving Havelock a preview of what's to come.
While the Kinston location is not the first actual store to open in the country — that honor goes to a store in Virginia, according to American business magazine Forbes - but it was the first for many other honors for the company.
"This store was the first Lidl store in the United States to get a certificate of occupancy. This store was also the first prototype store to be finished before all the others," Mike Kennedy, real estate senior manager for Lidl, said. "There was so much to learn and do very fast. It was also the first store to train staff - there were a lot of firsts here."
Kennedy told The Free Press newspaper that Kinston was selected for a Lidl location after market research showed the city had the demographic the store wanted to attract and a location along a highly-traveled road.
The store is also opening branches in Greenville, Wilson, Sanford, Rocky Mount and Havelock this year. By 2018, the company plans to have 100 stores open across the country and employ roughly 5,000 people. In Kinston, the store opened with a staff of about 80 employees.
Situated on the side of U.S. 70, across from competitors Aldi and Wal-Mart, the store opened to a crowd of more than 200 people, some arriving as early as 3 a.m. to be the first in line to shop. By the time the store opened five hours later, the line to get inside had stretched out of the grocery store parking lot and worked its way towards the Galaxy of Sports located next door.
By noon, the store claimed to have seen more than 1,000 customers.
"I wanted to see the deals, see what kind of prices they had," said April Edwards, of Grifton. Edwards was among the first arrivals to the store Thursday morning. While at the opening, she met one of her former school teachers, Virginia Cox-Daugherty, and the pair explored the store together.
"It's a new experience. It's very different. I was excited when they said that we were going to get one of these here," Cox-Daugherty said.
"It's a lot of comparison to Aldi. It's a lot bigger, and it's nicer," Edwards said.
While Kennedy prefers to liken Lidl itself to a mix between grocery chains Trader Joe's and Harris-Teeter, Edwards' comparison isn't without merit.
Like Aldi, Lidl maintains it's own private brand of labels, allowing it to provide products to customers at a discount compared to other chains.
Like most modern grocers, the new Kinston location has special sections for baked goods and produce as well as a "country of the month" section, where the store brings in products that are popular in one of its now 28-country reach and promotes those items for a month.
The Kinston location continued its opening celebration throughout the weekend.