EXCITED SHOPPERS CONTINUE TO throng to Ballard's new Fred Meyer store, and the company provided plenty to be excited about recently with extended Grand Opening Celebration festivities. Store director Mike Mills warmly reached out to the entire community, proving that even a giant corporation can show concern and compassion for its local neighbors: "It's great to be part of an area with such strong ties to lumber, fishing, and industry. We'll work hard to be a good neighbor. Come in and say hello!" And it seems Ballardites are doing just that, responding with a warm and hearty "Velkommen!" and packing the place like a can of My-T-Fine sardines.

Charging through the spacious, well-lit, and attractively laid-out aisles, shoppers moved briskly from bargain to bargain with an old-fashioned Ballard combination of gritty determination and well-mannered politeness. Fred Meyer's decision to absolutely load its Grand Opening Celebration with stimulating (and even challenging) artistic performances seemed to successfully quell what otherwise could have been an unruly mob of bargain seekers, a development that has marred recent store openings in Oregon. A "Laser Light Show Spectacular" filled the Ballard skies every evening, from the Wednesday, November 10 store opening through the following Saturday, with bold green beams blasting skyward like Fourth of July fireworks. Citizens streamed to the modern facility from all over the tri-county region, obviously excited to be a part of the celebration. In fact, according to Seattle Times reporter Dori Stubbs, management unlocked the doors 15 minutes early on opening day as, even at 6:45 a.m., torqued-up shoppers were gathering outside.

The first 100 customers through the door received 20 "Hot Coupons," good for discounted merchandise, while Free Food Events kept hungry shoppers smiling. Wednesday's opening featured the cutting of a giant, 350 pound cake! Other events included Free Popcorn Thursday, Free Pizza Snack Friday, Free Continental Breakfast Saturday, and Free Panty-Liner Sunday. Rock-and-rollers were tapping their toes during the surprise Friday appearance of local rocker Scott McCaughey, who played an energetic set of upbeat numbers from a temporary stage set up next to the automotive supplies department.

Master of Ceremonies Bruce Pavitt, partner in local record label Sub Pop, explained his decision to invest in the new super-store: "The people at Fred Meyer came to me with a pretty good package, but I thought they were totally joking when they inquired about my getting involved. I've never particularly enjoyed shopping at any of the Fred Meyers I've been to, but they were really persistent, and finally convinced me that this would be unlike any other Freddie's around. It's so true; they've got everything here, and they're also working with me and Sub Pop now on an exclusive distribution deal, plus I'm going to be doing a couple of funny TV ads, so it's gonna be fun!"

In the oddest booking of the celebration, renowned local soundscapist Trimpin also performed on Friday, setting up a hilarious musical contraption directly in front of the meat department. Running small piano wires into large chubs of Jimmy Dean pork sausage, Trimpin created a low, roaring hum, turning the heads of shoppers 100 yards away. Powered by an old synthesizer, the piano wires' shrieking vibration grew in intensity until, approximately every 30 seconds, a suspended pork chub exploded, leaving shocked passersby covered with bits of pork and running for cover. Store security quickly halted the performance.

With a clever nod to Ballard's Scandinavian heritage, Fred Meyer booked the Norganics, Nordleik, and the Ed Allenbach trio to provide heavily sweatered locals with familiar tunes on Saturday. Everything was going smoothly until a large group of elderly Swedish shoppers briefly tangled with the Norganics, reportedly taunting them with insults about Norway's royal couple. After punches were thrown, discreetly armed undercover detectives made quick arrests and hustled the troublemakers out of the store. The show was permanently halted after a commotion in the meat department. Word had gotten out of an Automatic Price Reduction (a Fred Meyer tradition) about to take place in lumber, and as entire families sprinted past the packaged meats section, at least 15 people hit the deck after slipping on a patch of wet floor, moistened by leaking juices from giant "Family-Pak" ground beef packages.

Fortunately, no serious injuries were reported, though had there been any, Fred Meyer's fully-equipped, 12-bed hospital could easily have handled the flesh wounds and broken limbs. "We've got everything here," says Fred Meyer Registered Nurse Stella Stimpler. "We have stretchers, groin-wraps, IV drips, and just about anything you could want. We're the first department store in the country with an on-premises infirmary, and we hope to double the number of beds once things calm down. Our ultimate goal is to run an extended-care senior center out of here. Ballard is aging, and we're convinced that housing aging shoppers on-site will help business and help the seniors, creating a win-win situation."

Fred Meyer's sprightly jingle asks, "What's on your list today?" and assures us "You'll find it at Fred Meyer!" And they're right. From attractive and sensuous grapefruit displays to overhead video screens filled with hot, young models strutting their stuff in Elements FM (Freddie's hip clothing shop) attire, from mammoth air-freshener centers to suspended- from-the-ceiling boat trailers, Fred Meyer has taken the area by storm. Perhaps the cake section best illustrates Fred Meyer's post-modernistic flair: Taking advantage of advanced cake technology, Fred Meyer customers can now have photographs made into edible cake-top images. But while this certainly indicates marketing savvy, it takes more than a frostological breakthrough to fit into a sometimes provincial-seeming neighborhood.

Articulate goodwill ambassadors like Pavitt and Stimpler have eased Fred Meyer's entry into Ballard, and with the store's senior housing program and concern for local culture, it's clear that it takes its commitment to Ballard seriously. Longtime Fremont activist Lorna Grellion describes her warm feelings toward her new neighbor: "At first I was really opposed to the store. It really worried all of us here that it would bring more traffic and really alter the fabric of the entire community. But you know what? After being here for all five days of the celebration, and after seeing the smiles on the faces of all these people, I now see how big retail outlets like this really can be an important part of the fabric of our community, and I see now that this is one corporation that cares. Plus, how can you not be excited about savings like these? Plain and simple, I'm glad they're here!"