The Early Chamber of Commerce celebrated a pair of victories Monday, officially welcoming a new member and recognizing the accomplishments of another during two ribbon cuttings at Heartland Mall.

Following its soft opening Friday, the Hobby Lobby at Heartland Mall held its grand opening Monday, drawing state representative Mike Lang as well as numerous officials from the city of Early and Early chamber.

“Getting Hobby Lobby to the community is a real blessing,” Early Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shannan Burch said. “Of course, it brings people together when you have people shopping. Bringing a retail market like this to Early is going to be the first step in our economic growth.”

The grand opening of Hobby Lobby brings to an end a process that Early City Administrator Tony Aaron said started years ago as the municipality courted the arts and crafts retailer. A vacancy at the Heartland Mall, following the closure of the J.C. Penny, seems to have spurred those discussions further. In March, contractors with Hobby Lobby began completely renovating the property and, in June, store managers began hiring an estimated 50 employees.

“This is the start of something big for our mall,” Burch said. “Hobby Lobby says a lot. Any retail outlet coming in, they are going to want to put their stores near there … It’s nice that it’s on the end. They came in and did a facelift to the mall. It looks new, updated.

“It means a lot to the chamber because it’s something we can build upon. We can use it as a tool as well. Look what we have. Look at our growth. We have this and a Burger King coming in and the Chick-Fil-A has new life.”

Hobby Lobby was not the only matter for celebration Monday. Chick-Fil-A held a re-grand opening to celebrate its new drive-thru, which uses a wireless tablet system to take orders, which decreases wait time and reversed the direction of the drive-thru to improve traffic flow at Heartland Mall. In it’s first day in operation, Heartland Mall Chick-Fil-A Operator Luke Henson said the new drive-thru broke a store record for sales and it continues breaking records as employees learn the new system.

“We’ve broken the record a couple of times since then,” Henson said. “Last week, we broke it three times. As far as performance, it has been outstanding. People have been so gracious with us when it comes to change and we’re so thankful for the community for that. It’s been going really well.”

With both projects seemingly working in tandem, Henson said he looks forward to seeing both businesses succeed and, in turn, benefit their communities.

“We want to capitalize on the momentum of Hobby Lobby,” Henson said. “We want people to know Early is a great place to shop. It’s a great place to eat. We want to break down that invisible barrier between Brownwood and Early and get as many people from throughout Brown County dining with us. We’re happy to re-launch this drive-thru not only for our performance, but also our community.”