Nearly three decades after it originally opened, Walmart is back in Panama City. Workers continue to put the finishing touches on the building, as many anticipate the impact the store will have on the area.
When Walmart shut down and left for the larger Lynn Haven location in 2009, many were disappointed. Now, its return signals a fresh start for some and deja-vu for others.
For longtime Walmart employee Sarah Drake, it's back to the beginning.
"I came here [Panama City] in 1999, I transferred from Marianna to here," Drake said. "It was bigger than the store I worked in Marianna."
As for her co-worker Cindy Bryant, it's about new beginnings.
"This is my first time working with the company," Bryant said. "I come from the background of having jobs that are unstable, so I needed something to rely on."
These women are filling 2 of the 200 plus jobs Walmart says they will provide to the area in it's return to Panama City. Drake worked at the old Panama City Walmart, then transferred to the new Lynn Haven location, and now she's back in Panama City. She says leaving the original location years ago was tough.
"There was a lot of mixed feelings and emotions," Drake said. "People hated to see it close, especially the regular customers that was around here."
Now the store is hoping to make up for it, and then some, by creating a store that is tailored to Bay County.
"There's a huge hunting and fishing community here so we try and make our sporting goods reflect that," Store Manager Tim Cobb said. "There's a growing Hispanic community in Panama City so we try to be able to accommodate them."
Cobb, who also worked at the original Panama City Walmart, says the reaction from customers and nearby businesses has been strong.
"They're very excited to have the increased customer traffic now that we're going to bring back. I think it will revitalize this part of 23rd street."
As workers continue to stack the empty shelves, January can't come fast enough. Whether they're looking for a fresh start...
"I chose to start my life again, and I work with a company now that I can grow and fulfil the needs of a lot of people," Bryant said.
...or hoping to greet familiar faces in familiar places.
"I'm just waiting for our customers to come in...to see them and show them around this beautiful building," Drake said.
Cobb says that calls and letters from residents played a big role in bringing them back. The store is set for a grand opening on January 23rd.