South Carolina town eagerly awaits opening of GFL

August 18th, 2010

Ashton, SC -- Residents of this small town near Charleston are all abuzz about the arrival of GFL, a discount, warehouse-style department store that's popping up near big cities all over America.

"I can't wait. I told my husband Greg that I didn't think I could leave our GFL behind in Pleasanton, where we used to live. And now it's coming here. I'm so pumped," says Lizzie Coughlin, who still keeps her expired GFL ID card in her wallet.

According to Deckard Construction spokesperson Marcus Lantini, the 800,000 square foot building is expected to be completed in late September and open for business October 4th. Judging by the line of cars parked outside the sprawling construction site, locals are wishing it were a lot sooner.

"This is just so cool. It's like I can already taste the little rotisserie chickens in my mouth. My forklift is polished and ready to roll," said Gary Schuss, who has visited the site every day since the store was announced two years ago.

Though the store won't open its doors for more than a month, members of the public are allowed onto the parking lot to apply for membership--which costs $855 for the basic membership that lasts for seven months--or to apply for employment, which managers estimate 700 to 800 people have already done.

 "Gonna' have to send a lot of people away disappointed. It's 'cause our people make top dollar, get full benefits, maternity leave, paternity leave, fraternity leave, you name it. We treat our people right, which also includes getting all afternoons, nights, mornings, weekends, and holidays off. We make the banks look like a Honduran sweat shop," boasted regional manager Harry McHenry.

Memberships also are popular with the locals, even with the steep price. McHenry estimates that 97% of Charleston-area households with incomes between $70,000 and $200,000 have applied. According to the store's website, membership comes with a card, which contains biometric data to prevent forgery and is required to be allowed onto the premises and to make purchases once. The card is the only accepted form of payment at the check-out areas, where it acts sort of like a debit card.

"Think of it as a checking account. You deposit cash into the account, then it's available to make purchases at one of our stores. If you have more than $10,000 in your account, it generates interest at 0.25%." explained McHenry. To further accommodate, GFL has set up a direct deposit option for members who purchase the "Boardroom" membership, which costs $1200 for a 10-month membership.

If it seems strange for a consumer goods store to operate much like a bank, that's because GFL's stated mission, according to its website, is to "provide deep discounts selected across a wide spectrum of goods and services."

"It's all about putting the members first. We're totally dedicated to serving their needs, whether that's seven gallons of imitation vanilla for $65.99 or 350 moles removed at our in-store dermatologist for $2999.50," said Patricia Gunnick, GFL's VP of Marketing.

To provide such eye-popping bargains, GFL cuts out many of the features of other grocery and department stores, including overhead lighting, air conditioning, and shopping carts.

"We open the cargo doors in the Spring, Summer, and Fall, which lights things up pretty good around the exterior of the store, as well as keeping everything ventilated and cool," said McHenry.

"We inform our members that they are responsible for conveying their goods from the racks to the check-out areas, which usually means they need to bring in their forklifts. We have them for rent if they don't yet own one. As an added convenience, every store has 30 loading bays where they can back their trucks and trailers up to and load everything up. We've made it amazingly easy."

The variety, scale, convenience, and value of GFL have Ashtonians raving:

"America so great. I love GFL. Best prices. Only shop here," declared Ashton resident Tran Duc Dung.

"Back when we were buying milk by the carton at Wally's, our neighborhood grocer, we were paying like $3.50 a gallon. When it's available at GFL, I'll get three barrels of Yak's milk for $290.25. Take that, Wally's!" laughed Gary Schuss.

Lizzie Coughlin summed it up nicely this way, "When I am able to fill up our Escalade with 500 pounds of organic puppy chow and enough Chinese-made fake antiques to cover every surface in our 5000 square foot home--all purchased at firesale prices from GFL--then and only will I feel really good about this community, my household, and myself."

Not everyone, however, is a fan of GFL. Three years ago, when it was first announced that a new GFL would be built, the local Wal Mart organized grass roots protests against the new construction.

“We feel that GFL will cause irreparable harm to the local community,” explained Dave Barberi, in charge of the Ashton Wal Mart PR. “There are environmental concerns, traffic concerns, not to mention GFL practices predatory pricing policies. We’re afraid that big business GFL will come in, dominate all the market, thus and destroy Wal Mart and other local Ma ‘n Pa shops.”

Further controversy arose when it was discovered that a section of land that would be used as parking for GFL was directly over both Native American burial grounds and several American Civil War battle sites. After protests by Native American activists and Civil War interest groups, it was decided that graves would be moved and sections of the battlefield would be highlighted with signs on the parking lot to honor the dead.

“We felt that the best way honor those that died for our country would be to erect small memorial posters attached to the lightposts describing the history of what had occurred here more than 150 years ago. We also felt that it was important to move both the headstones AND the graves to show reverence to the deceased. Plus, that covers us in case any ghosts decide to haunt us a la poltergeist,” laughed McHenry.

So whether you are for or against GFL, one thing is certain, the grand opening next month is sure to be one of the biggest events to ever hit Ashton.