It was an eclectic crowd at Saturday night’s VIP party at the new Lake Highlands Wal-Mart. Store employees and their families mingled with city councilman Jerry Allen, Exchange Club president Stan Scates, Lake Highlands PTA president Donna Kent, and other neighborhood leaders in the produce section. Attendees participated in the traditional employee pep rally to begin the evening, with lots of clapping and cheering by all. After a veteran colorguard presented the flag, talented employees sang the national anthem, and local ministers offered prayer "to give thanks for all that this store means to the community." Donations were presented to Network Ministries, LH YMCA, Wild for Cats Academic Booster Club, LHHS PTA Courtyard Fund, Exchange Club, Boles Children’s Home, Wranglers Dance Team, and other community organizations.

After the festivities, I wandered the aisles and collected my impressions. The store has all we would expect inside: pharmacy, vision center, photo processing, bank, bakery, deli, etc. There’s also a video arcade to keep children busy and an almost-full-sized McDonald’s. It felt upscale to me (for a Wal-Mart), like there was "more" and "better" of everything. I found a kiosk offering laptop computers not far from the 40 pound bags of dog food. I coveted the newest Blackberrys on display near the boys’ camo thermal underwear. And I played with the digital blenders after finding my Thanksgiving favorite Field’s Pecan Pies in the frozen dessert section (and don’t miss Starbucks Java Chip Ice Cream on that aisle, too.) There’s a massive wall of flat screen plasma TVs and a "try before you buy" display of all the latest video game systems, including Wii and Guitar Hero. Multiple video screens on endcaps ran product commericals and demonstrations in the food section, where all signage was green, and non-food, where all signage was blue to help with orientation.

The store has 217,000 square feet under roof and 575 proud employees. Merchandise valued at $6.5 million can be found inside, including loads of Christmas items already displayed. Workers at the store take pride in their location at the site of the original training camp for the Dallas Cowboys, and you can expect lots of Cowboy promotional events to kick off the opening. Shoppers get their first chance to make purchases beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12.