After months of anticipation the new Hobby Lobby store at the Heartland Mall quietly opened its doors Friday.

Despite giving little notice, word quickly spread as hundreds converged to the arts and crafts store for opening day.

“My daughter texted me and said she heard from a couple of people,” Kay Parker said. “I thought, OK, I’m just going to get in my pickup and go see. I got in there and texted her back and said ‘Yes it is and I have died and gone to heaven.’”

The store recently wrapped renovating a 55,000 square-foot retail space, which was occupied by J.C. Penny until May of 2017, then fell into disrepair. While completely restoring the retail space, store managers filled its ranks, hiring an estimated 50 employees for the new location. A few weeks ago newly hired store employees began prepping the store for Friday’s opening, which Parker said saves a lengthy drive to Abilene.

“Walmart carries it, but they do not quite have what Hobby Lobby has,” Parker said. “It’s great. It was awesome. There are not other words. They were very nice, very helpful. Several times they would ask ‘Can I help you with something.’ I would say ‘No, I’m just browsing.’ It was very nice.”

Early City Manager Tony Aaron said the Heartland Mall Hobby Lobby opening was years in the making. According to a press release by Hobby Lobby, the company opened its 800 th store and the Early location is one of 60 stores planned to go online in 2018, hiring 2,500 employees nationwide.

“We started that initial conversation with Hobby Lobby a long time ago and it seemed like it took a while to happen,” Aaron said. “Just finally getting to that point where you see the store there and celebrate that success, and see the impact it’s going to have on the local economy is really satisfying. It’s encouraging for us to move to that next project and look for that next success.”

Monday the store will host a grand opening, which will include a 9 a.m. ribbon cutting. The grand opening will coincide with a re-grand opening by the Heartland Mall Chick-Fil-A, which recently opened it’s new drive-thru that Aaron believes will dramatically improve the mall’s traffic flow.

“Monday we will have the grand opening for Hobby Lobby with a ribbon cutting, then after that we’re going to have a re-grand opening of the Chick-Fil-A with the new drive-thru,” Aaron said. “Both of those projects had to happen together because of the nature of that drive-thru and having people lined up in front of Hobby Lobby. With the way they redesigned that and turned it the other direction is really helping with the flow of traffic.”

With Chick-Fil-A recently experiencing record sales after opening its new drive-thru Monday and Hobby Lobby coming online Friday, Aaron believes the future is bright for the Heartland Mall.

“We’re really optimistic about the future of the mall,” Aaron said. “Whether that continues to be a traditional type mall or turns into a power center or shopping center with front facing stores, I’m optimistic with what can happen with it now with the tenants is has in there and some of the tenants it has had in there for a long time.”