The big, red Meijer supercenter logo looms large for drivers approaching on a relocated Hainesville Road, perfectly aligned as a beacon to a new era in Round Lake Beach.
After nearly a year of construction, the Michigan-based company's first store in Lake County will open for customers at 7 a.m. Tuesday, to be followed at 10 a.m. by a ceremonial ribbon cutting. The building and accompanying gas station at Rollins Road just west of Route 83 have replaced most of a largely vacant, aging shopping center once anchored by Wal-Mart and Dominick's.
"It's hard to imagine what used to be there. It has changed so much," Mayor Rich Hill said. "People are excited about it."
Indeed, because the exterior was complete and signs were up before the interior was finished, there's plenty of interest in the opening of the 192,000-square-foot store. The gas station opened about a month ago.
"We've been getting phone calls from people for quite a while because the store looked like it was done," Village Administrator Dave Kilbane said.
A big project in its own right, the arrival of Meijer has been amplified by the completion of the Rollins Gateway project -- the most extensive and expensive single road project undertaken by Lake County.
As a result, a congested, disjointed shopping area has been untangled, and it is envisioned as a draw for new businesses to the heavily traveled corridors. Customers are expected to quickly acclimate.
"In a few months, they won't remember what it looked like before -- it's so dramatic," Kilbane said of the area.
Meijer will be the village's fourth grocery store, joining Wal-Mart, Jewel and Garden Fresh. Meijer operates 228 supercenters and grocery stores throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
The chain has been aggressively expanding in the Midwest, with three grand openings already in June. The Round Lake Beach store will open simultaneously with one in Flossmoor, as the two most recent additions.
Meijer literature touts its "affordable, high-quality merchandise," with more than 100,000 products, including 600 types of fresh produce delivered daily. It also features a traditional butcher shop environment, full-service pharmacy, garden center, apparel, housewares and other products.
While the grocery industry as a whole isn't growing, the discount segment -- it includes Woodman's and Meijer -- is growing noticeably as shoppers are more focused on price than ever before, according to Jon Hauptman, senior director of retail analyst Inmar/Willard Bishop.
"Meijer provides shoppers with strong value through low everyday prices, appealing weekly sales and additional digital coupon offers their mPerks mobile app," Hauptman said.
Nearly 600 jobs have been created at the Flossmoor and Round Lake Beach locations, according to the company.