Hundreds of eager shoppers gathered Thursday morning to be among the first to shop at Cary’s new Hmart, a New Jersey-based Asian grocery store.
With shopping carts at the ready, the crowd pushed toward the entrance about 10:30 a.m., when the ribbon was cut and the doors were opened. Several Hmart employees linked arms and formed a human wall to funnel the mass of would-be shoppers into a more orderly line.
Cary and Morrisville are home to high concentrations of Asian residents, which is why Hmart officials decided to open its first North Carolina store here. In 2010, the Census identified about 13 percent of Cary’s population and 27 percent of Morrisville’s as being of Asian descent.
Hmart is in west Cary at the corner of High House Road and Davis Drive. The store has built considerable buzz in the months leading up to its Cary opening, which is the chain’s 56th store nationwide.
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“We’ve always been getting messages, phone calls, asking when we’re going to open up,” said Brian Kwon, Hmart’s chief procurement officer. “If you go online, there are forums where everyone is asking, ‘When is Hmart opening up in Cary?’ ”
Inside the store, a large and varied array of fruits and vegetables greets shoppers. To the right, a selection of deli counter-style restaurants offers a variety of fresh South and Southeast Asian dishes. Dry goods and frozen foods are to the left.
“Our real strengths are our fresh products,” Kwon said. “If you just go look at our meat or seafood sections, our sections are much longer. At a traditional American supermarket this size, it’s not as fresh, turnover’s not as good. That’s what we feel is different about us.”
About 150 people will work at the store, Kwon said. Many of the opening-day employees were transferred temporarily from other stores while the Cary location continues to hire and train its own workers. Kwon said salaries will vary depending on the employee’s responsibilities, but characterized Hmart’s wages as generally “middle of the pack” for grocery stores.
Morrisville Town Councilman Satish Garimella, an Indian immigrant, said the store’s atmosphere reminds him of Indian markets. Smaller Asian markets are scattered around Cary and Morrisville, but none operate on the same scale as Hmart or bring together so many different cuisines, he said.
The 46,000-square-foot building used to house a Lowes Foods but has been vacant for about four years, said Cary Town Councilman Ken George, who, along with Councilwoman Lori Bush and Mayor pro tem Ed Yerha, attended the grand opening.
“Cary is looking at a lot of redevelopment issues,” said Howard Johnson, president of the Cary Chamber of Commerce. “And this is a wonderful example of redevelopment of a shopping center that needed assistance. It’s just going to be a great draw.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan