Wednesday was a big day at the Crossroads shopping Center in Gulfport. With umbrellas and credit cards in hand, more than one hundred shoppers waited in the rain to be the first inside.
Within the hour, an estimated 500 people poured through the doors of the new Belk department store. By 5 p.m. company officials say 4,000 to 5,000 people had visited. .
Bill Tracy didn't mind coming along as Mrs. Tracy's official clothes carrier.
"I was up early this morning encouraging her to get ready and go," said Tracy.
Some customers compared the shopping experience to a party where they were the special guests.
"The sales people are so gracious and kind and friendly, and I think I'm going to spend some money today," said Wattine Hannah.
Some customers who don't spend much money or time at Crossroads say that's about to change now that Belk has moved into the neighborhood.
Frances Williamson usually shops elsewhere, but she's giving Crossroads a second look.
"You can come here and get the same quality things that you can get at Edgewater, so why would you drive 30 minutes when you can only drive 15 minutes."
Customers say Belk is a good fit for the shopping center. The manager of the new store agrees.
"As good as Crossroads is as good as we are so we want to make sure the center is as good as possible," Store manager Christopher Campbell said.
"Now with Belk here, you can come and enjoy and shop for all your variety of clothes, but you can do other options here," said customer Mark Scott. "You can go and have your eyes checked, You can got to Barnes and Nobles and get books. There are places to eat over here with Cracker Barrel and such, so I think people will stop here and spend more time here in the shopping center than they have in the past."
Company officials say there are 215 Belk stores, mostly in the southeast. Gulfport and Corinth are the only stores in Mississippi.