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SWEET HOME — Fear not, Sweet Home residents, officials at the town’s new Bi-Mart say they’ll restock the .22 shells as necessary all week long.

Even with the one-per-customer restriction, plastic buckets of the bullets fairly flew out of the store Thursday as hundreds of area residents jammed the aisles of the 1980 Main St. building in celebration of its grand opening.

Mike Rice and J.C. James, both of Sweet Home, set up camp chairs outside the store at 7:30 that morning to be sure they got their quota. Both said it’s nearly impossible to find the ammunition elsewhere, because people purchase it so fast.

“Grand opening, we figured we’d have .22 shells,” Rice explained. “And I’m retired and don’t have to work, so I might as well be sitting here.”

The Eugene-based, employee-owned retailer has close to 80 stores in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and will mark its 60th year in business next year. Each 30,000-square-foot building features a variety of products, from groceries to automotive to garden tools.

At least 60 people will be employed at the Sweet Home branch to start, and then pare back to about 40, said Manager Beth Mozzetti, a former Lebanon resident who said she jumped at the chance to move back to the mid-valley from Veneta to work at the new store. About three-quarters of the employees will be full time.

Regular hours will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. The retailer is offering hats or T-shirts to its first customers each morning through the weekend.

Bi-Mart has long been looking to open in Sweet Home, said Don Leber, director of marketing, because of its built-in customer base. With stores available in Albany and Lebanon, many Sweet Home residents already have purchased the one-time, lifetime $5 membership cards that make it possible to shop there.

Fern Reed, who arrived at 6 a.m. Thursday to be second in line, is one of those. “I’m coming every day,” she said. “It’s too far to go to Lebanon, especially if you don’t drive.”  

More than 100 people were lined up Thursday by 8:30, when Bi-Mart officials began their opening remarks. By 9, when Mozzetti and Mayor Jim Gourley joined forces to do the official ribbon-cutting, the line had doubled in size.

“Mommy, I think there’s a little too many people in here,” observed Krista Reed, 6, as she waited in a crush of customers with her mother, Jeanette, for her father to purchase ammunition and powder.

Said her mother: “Not as crazy as Black Friday.”

First through the door for the official opening was Earl Jones Jr., who said made a brief stop by the McDonald’s next door at 5 a.m., then was in line by 5:30 to be sure of his place. Unlike most of the other customers, however, he said his first priority was the electronics department.

If it weren’t for the shell scarcity, J.C. James said he’d just drop by the new outlet during a regular business day. As it was, however, he eyed Jones and the two dozen or so others in line ahead of him and mused, “Maybe I’ll offer them some money to get me some .22 shells.”

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