Ten years ago today, the doors to the Sampson County Lowe’s swung open for the first time to the public, a welcome and exciting time for customers who had eagerly anticipated its arrival in Clinton.
That Oct. 17th day in 2003 was a special one for many people, most particularly the store’s employees who said they put love, sweat and tears into ensuring that first day would be the very best opening Sampson residents had ever seen.
Their work actually started five weeks prior to the opening when newly hired staff walked into a virtually empty building and were told it would be their job to transform it into the ever popular national chain. Armed with jack hammers, screw drivers, ladders and nails, they worked tirelessly in those first days and weeks to turn the vacant facility into a vibrant home improvement store.
Several weeks ago, a group of those now long-time employees gathered at Clinton’s Pizza Inn to celebrate their 10-year anniversary with Lowe’s and to rake through the memories of a decade of service to the community in jobs, all said, they loved and appreciated.
“I love working for Lowe’s,” attested 85-year-old James Watson, who works with the store’s facility services and holds the title of the store’s oldest employee.
Leaning back in his chair, Watson straightens the Lowe’s cap atop his head, pushes his glasses back to the bridge of his nose and grins around the table at his colleagues. “There’s simply no other place I’d rather be. I’ve worked a few jobs in my life, but I’m telling you there’s no better place than Lowe’s.”
His co-workers smile and nod their heads in agreement, their attention focused on their friend as one asked, “Mr. James, do you think you’ll be working here 10 more years.”
Watson flashes that smile and shakes his head. “I doubt that, but I’m going to work as long as I can, that’s for sure.”
It seemed to be a sentiment shared by those gathered for the celebration, a testament to the loyalty they have to the store and its customers.
There are still 17 members of that original staff working at the Clinton facility today, and many of them joined together to eat pizza, enjoy a little anniversary cake and each other’s company, all courtesy of store manager Rick Allen.
But it was the reminiscing that seemed to capture everyone’s attention as each shared their memories of those first few grueling weeks and the 10 years since.
“There wasn’t a single rack in that building when I walked in the door,” recalled Jaymes McLamb, a sales associate.
“Nope, not a one,” chimed in Donna Hill, the assistant store manager. “It was just an empty warehouse.”
It was the people who had been hired, they said, who would put the store together, shelf by shelf, nail by nail.
Kim Williams, department manager, said she’d never used any power equipment before, but all that changed on her first day at the store when someone put a jack hammer in her hand. “There were a lot of us that had never handled equipment like that before, but we came away knowing how, that’s for sure. We worked hard, but we had fun doing it,” Williams asserted, getting nods of agreement from other co-workers recalling their own experiences as they righted shelves and began to stock them.
The work, they said, was hard, oftentimes grueling, but to a person they all agreed it was worth every single minute they spent, every drop of sweat poured out.
“We built this store from the ground up, basically. It took a lot of work, but we also poured a lot of love into it, a lot of sacrifice. And we all take great pride in it because we felt like it was ours … we worked to earn that right,” McLamb said.
“That store belongs to us,” interjected Cindy Boykin, Pro Services sales specialist. “We felt that way when we were putting it together, and I think I can speak for everyone here, we still do.”
Putting the store together, the staff members said, gave them great ownership in the building.
“It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed,” said Evangeline Whitted, department manager, appliances. “We’ve formed bonds here, and when you walk down the aisles, well, it’s like I said, you feel great pride and ownership. You can feel the sense of accomplishment.”
That pride spilled over, they said, into the days just prior to the opening, when Lowe’s management allowed employees to bring their family and friends into the store prior to the public event.
“I was just full of pride,” said Watson.
“Me, too,” chimed in Debbie Lee, a cashier at the store. “It was exciting to be able to show them what we had done, all the hard work that had gone into making this place a showroom. I think we all took great pride in our accomplishment and great pride in being able to show it off to those we care about.”
Jerry Jones, department manager/tools and hardware, said it was simply amazing to see what people had done, together.
“There’s been a lot of good memories made at that store, a whole lot of them,” Jones said.
Boykin called the business very family-oriented and employee friendly. “They treat you right here,” she said, to more nods of agreement around the table.
“I remember when my mom got sick,” recalled Whitted. “Folks from Lowe’s called and sent cards. They gave me time off that I needed. They made me feel good at a time when it was hard too.”
“I tell you,” Watson interjected, “it’s the best place I’ve ever worked, and these are the best people I’ve ever worked for.”