SoWal Local Says Welcome To Walmart!

July 27, 2011 by Joyce Owen

Crowds gathered well before the doors of the Santa Rosa Beach Walmart opened June 15. The parking lot filled and cars were parked along West Hewitt Road. Vendors were there to hand out giveaways.

It was crazy, but exhilarating as the doors opened, says Harry Millsaps who works as a greeter there.

Harry is well known in South Walton as a Realtor, South Walton Fire District fire commissioner, Tourist Development Council Advisory board member and volunteer for many causes.

For each endeavor he has received numerous accolades, but his newest career move has brought him a different kind of recognition – more hugs and smiles than he can remember getting at any other job.

For 26 years Harry worked for Bellsouth in Atlanta, Georgia, at one point handling indirect sales to large corporations. During sales presentations to Sam’s Club and Walmart buyers, where a relaxed atmosphere prevailed, he realized, “those people were having fun.”

It became a standing joke at Bellsouth, that when an employee retired, he or she wanted to become a greeter at Walmart. But once Harry and his wife Mitzi retired from Bellsouth and moved to the beach, they really didn’t know what they were going to do.

Harry remembers their first night in South Walton sitting on the beach watching the sunset and wondering, “What’s next?”

That was 1992. Harry had traveled extensively for work and was burned out. His daughters were grown, and for the first time it was just he and Mitzi, looking at their future not knowing what it would be.

Although he had little thought of selling real estate, Harry soon had his first taste of the business when a buyer knocking on the door asked, ”Do you know how much they want for that house next door?”

It was a house he and Mitzi were building in Bayside.

“I didn’t know, but I made up a number,” he says.

The buyer agreed and Harry wrote up a contract on a cocktail napkin.

Soon another house was underway – and another buyer came knocking – Harry sold that house too. They rented for a while and then bought a home in Inlet Beach. Mitzi said Harry wasn’t allowed to sell that one and so far, he hasn’t.

At the urging of friends he got his real estate license and joined the sales team at Abbott Realty in Gulf Place. Later, he and Mitzi went to work for Coastal Properties of NW Florida.

Not only did he sell real estate, he volunteered with local organizations, served on countless boards and got involved in activities at Point Washington United Methodist Church.

Fast forward to 2011 as Harry and Mitzi head in a new direction.

Recently Mitzi left Coastal Properties for a ministry that organizes capital campaigns for United Methodist Churches, and Harry says, “I figured it was time to earn a little extra money.”

And though he celebrates his 70th birthday in July, he said he was tired of watching old John Wayne movies. He told Mitzi he was going to put in his application at Walmart.

With her full support, he applied, and after passing his first ever drug test, he was hired.

In the two days of orientation, he learned the Santa Rosa Beach store was a prototype for future stores the company is planning.

Much smaller than the usual Walmart Superstore, at only 77,000 square feet, it is configured to focus on the community where it is located. Built on a smaller piece of land, some of the usual Walmart departments – garden center, automotive department and optical shop – were eliminated.

As part of the route for store employees they have cheerleading type meetings and do stretching exercises to help prevent injuries. They are very concerned about safety, he says. He went out and bought comfortable shoes to prepare for the long hours he would stand on the concrete floor and was ready for opening day.

Well as ready as anyone could be for the surge of shoppers that arrived on that Wednesday morning.

When the public first learned a Walmart was opening in South Walton, there were concerns about the store. But Harry has noted people for and against it are shopping there.

He sees the store serving customers from the Bay County line to Sandestin and south from Freeport. Which leads to the comment he frequently hears that people are glad they don’t have to drive to Panama City Beach or Destin any more.

“So many locals have come in and praised ‘our’ new store,” he says, “I think they should call it the South Walton Walmart.”

His job as a greeter, the first interaction customers have, has been perfect for him.

“I love seeing everybody. I love interacting with people. I see people I would only see a few times a year.

“And I get a lot of hugs.

“Working here has exceeded all my expectations. This is the happiest group of people I have ever worked with.

“It’s the South Walton people,” he says. “They are just so welcoming. South Walton is a loving community and Walmart is going to fit right in. They have a mindset for community involvement.”

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