Danielle Merrill had been unemployed for a couple years when she heard Sam's Club was opening in Elgin. After 15 years working in child care, she figured it was time for a change of pace and decided to apply.
Merrill is one of almost 200 employees hired for Wednesday's grand opening of the region's newest Sam's Club, which has already committed $45,000 to local organizations and will be the largest sponsor of Elgin's International Festival on Saturday. And like 99 percent of her colleagues, Merrill lives in Elgin.
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Store manager Shoaib Iqbal is passionate about hiring local talent and training those people to grow within the company.
"It's the right thing to do for the community," Iqbal said.
He has also encouraged the store's managerial staff to join the boards of local nonprofits -- choosing Centro de Informacion and the Boys and Girls Club of Elgin for himself.
Besides donations in honor of the grand opening, which include $20,000 to the YWCA of Elgin, Sam's Club has an ongoing giving program where store employees choose which four nonprofits should receive $5,000 each year. These choices are made after the associates volunteer a combined 250 hours of their time to the agencies.
Sam's Club management is clear their community involvement is not limited to this week.
"This is a long-term investment with the city of Elgin," said Mark Scott, public relations manager for Sam's Club.
The grand opening will include health screenings near the club's pharmacy, which is open to the public without a membership fee, free samples of some of the food for sale and autographs by former Chicago Bears Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael.
Many employees started working weeks ago, preparing for the opening, and people have been signing up for memberships for just as long. Donnalee Pylypiw, of Elgin, registered Tuesday, already looking forward to getting good deals on grocery staples.
"We were members many years ago but Geneva was too far to go so we let it lapse," Pylypiw said.
She and her husband planned to renew their membership right when they heard the closer store was opening.
Elgin's is the 29th Sam's Club in Illinois. Besides food and the pharmacy, the 140,000-square-foot store will sell electronics, clothing, cookware and small appliances. There is a tire center, photo center and gas station. Many local vendors will have displays up through Saturday with samples of their products, like Terri Lynn Inc. snack mixes.
Mark Graziano, vice president of sales and marketing and part-owner of the fourth-generation Elgin business, said the snack mix sales are more often for school fundraisers than retail but Sam's Club might be a new market. If sales go well in the next six months, Terri Lynn products could spread to other Sam's Club locations.
"We've got a great relationship already," Graziano said.
Opening festivities started at 5 p.m. Tuesday with the grand opening set for Wednesday.