A new £60 million Sainsbury's superstore was officially opened in Wolverhampton city centre today.
Hundreds of people queued up to be among the first to get a glimpse inside the new store, which has been more than 10 years in the making.
A total of 340 new jobs have been created at Sainsbury's St Mark, in Raglan Street, with 192 workers moving from its now-closed store in St George's Parade.
The 72,000 sq ft store boasts 700 parking spaces, an in-store cafe, recycling centre and gym.
It also has a petrol station which opened last week.
The official opening was carried out by Madison Rose Hawley, aged 10.
The Merridale Primary School pupil won a competition to design a bag for life for the new store.
The idea of a new Sainsbury's in the city centre was first mooted more than a decade ago.
But a fierce row broke out with rivals Tesco over who should get to build at the Raglan Street site.
The case even ended up before the highest court in the country before judges ruled in favour of Sainsbury's.
The new store is the second biggest in the Midlands, bosses said today.
Matthew Jones, who lives in nearby Graiseley Street, has watched the new building develop over the past few months.
The 25-year-old, who began queuing to get in at 7am, said: "I've watched this thing get constructed so I wanted to come early and see what it is like.
"I'm surprised that the car park is underneath the store, and that's the first time I've seen that.
"I think it goes above and beyond what I expected. I spent about 20 minutes having a wander around the store, and there is just absolutely everything here, TVs, tablets and that sort of things, as well as just food and drink."
Diana and Frank Lloyd, who appeared in the Express & Star this week with a receipt from the old store when it opened 26 years ago, were impressed.
Mrs Lloyd said: "I think people are going to be spoilt for choice. It's huge. I only popped in to the old store on the first day because I did my shopping on Tuesdays, but I have always been a Sainsbury's customer."
The supermarket was just a pipe dream 10 years ago when Madison Rose Hawley, who performed today's official store opening after winning a competition, was born.
Paul Percox, store manager, said the new Sainsbury's -which replaces the old one in St George's Parade - was the second biggest in the Midlands.
"I am exceptionally proud to be opening this store, it is the proudest day of my career," he said.
When the idea of a new Sainsbury's was first mooted for Wolverhampton, Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Wolverhampton was still a town and Colin Lee was manager of a Wolves team still reeling from the recent retirement of Steve Bull.
Rumours began circulating back in early 2000 that Sainsbury’s were interested in moving from their store in St George’s Parade and building a brand new superstore over the other side of the ring road.
Those rumours were confirmed in October of that year when the retail chain said it was in talks with the city council to take over the 20-acre site.
Plans were officially submitted in early 2001 and included proposals for new houses – specifically sheltered housing for 58 one and two bedroom flats, along with a private residential scheme for 170 homes.
The new housing never materialised and, in what looks like an optimistic prediction now, Sainsbury’s said that as long as planning permission was granted the store would be built within 12 months.
It was in May 2001 that the plans for a new supermarket in the city centre started to become a little more complicated when fierce rival Tesco said it would submit a planning bid for the Royal Hospital site.
Council chiefs said there was only room for one new supermarket in the city.
In November 2002 Sainsbury’s got the go-ahead to build on Raglan Street after a Government planning inquiry ruled in its favour.
All seemed to be going to plan until Sainsbury’s dramatically ditched its Raglan Street masterplan in 2004.
A year later Tesco did the same with its Royal Hospital supermarket and duly staked a claim for Raglan Street.
But ‘supermarket wars’ ensued, when Sainsbury’s resurrected its application in 2006.
By this time Tesco were the Raglan Street frontrunners with a leaked document suggesting officers had sided with them.
And on January 30, 2008, councillors sided with Tesco, promoting fury and anger from their Sainsbury’s counterparts.
At this point Tesco had plans for that site and at the old Royal Hospital, but owned just one tenth of Raglan Street.
Sainsbury’s stubbornly dug its heels in, refusing to sell the rest of the land to its rival, despite Tesco offering more than £20m for its 86 per cent share.
In February 2009 it seemed the battle was over when, with council backing, the High Court ruled in Tesco’s favour and the chain celebrated victory.
But there was another twist as Sainsbury’s launched an appeal.
And in the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, Sainsbury's saw the decision overturned with judges ruling city councillors acted 'unlawfully' when opting for Tesco.
In 2012 the squabbling continued when Tesco still owned its 10 per cent and momentarily stopped workers starting for Sainsbury's with a cheeky 'keep out' sign.
But with Tesco told it could develop the Royal Hospital site with a 97,000sq ft £60m store - a project due to restart next year after recent hitches - it soon backed down.
Wolverhampton MP Pat McFadden said the saga had clearly dragged on for far too long.
“I think everyone is relieved to see the new store opening," he said.
“Hopefully it will be followed next year by Tesco at the Royal Hospital site.
“Looking back Wolverhampton and its citizens have not been well served by the supermarket wars.
“Important sites were lying fallow and useless for far too long.
“It’s good that it’s come to end but these supermarkets should have been built years ago.”
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