Harps opened a store in Cedarville, the company’s 83rd, on Wednesday with a ribbon cutting and open house for customers.

Harps opened the new store in Cedarville at 10 a.m. in the former Walmart Express. The store is offering groceries, fresh produce and its signature fresh cut meats, as well as gas at the pumping station.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held beforehand at 9:30 p.m. with short speeches by Kim Eskew, Harps president and COO, and Cedarville Mayor Mark Isenhower.

Eskew spoke about the store’s history, its role in small towns and status as an employee-owned business.

“We’re glad to be here, we like small towns. We think small towns are the ‘sweet spot’ for our company,” Eskew said.

Elaborating on that, Eskew noted the beginnings of the store as a small chain in Springdale.

“We started off and have a lot of stores in small towns already,” Eskew said. “It’s a niche that we feel like our biggest competitor is not interested in. We believe we can be successful.”

Grocery stores in small communities are more than just a place to buy food, Eskew said. They also are often a place where people make social connections, he said.

Harps is 100 percent employee owned, which means employees are allocated free shares of company stock. In 2001, Harps did a leveraged buy-out with the Employee Stock Ownership Plan by purchasing outstanding stock from family and management, according to the company’s website.

Since becoming employee-owned, the stock price increased from $28 per share in 2001 to $297 per share at the end of fiscal 2015, Eskew said.

“The good thing for employees is that when we do well, the employees do well,” Eskew said.

Isenhower said Cedarville was honored to welcome Harps, whose opening is a continuation of recent improvements the city has experienced with newly paved roads and the opening of multiple shops.

“Harps is a tremendous company … with explosive growth, and we think that’s a great fit for Cedarville,” Isenhower said.

Area residents support businesses that take a risk by locating in the rural town, Isenhower said.

Cedarville residents Kay and Les Neal attended the ribbon cutting and were excited for the opening of the new store, they said.

“When Walmart went out we were devastated, so we’re glad to have Harps and fresh groceries in Cedarville,” Kay Neal said.

Having a grocery store in the rural area makes shopping more convenient for everyone, but especially the older residents, Kay Neal said.

“A lot of elderly can’t travel that far; we have a lot of elderly people,” Kay Neal said. “Plus, it gives us more pride in our community to have businesses here.”

Steve Self, general manager for the Harps in Cedarville, said 22 people were employed to operate the store. About 80 percent came from the area, he said.

One of those new employees is Brian Colvin, who lives in Cedarville with his wife Samantha and their children Abbi, 2, and Wyatt, 6 months.

“I’m excited (for the store opening) on two fronts,” Brian Colvin said. “I have a job that’s is 45 seconds away, and a grocery store within walking distance.”

“Being able to get emergency diapers is my thing,” Samantha Colvin added.

Harps purchased the store in June along with former Walmart Express stores in Gravette, Gentry, Prairie Grove, Mansfield and Charleston, Ark., and Anderson, Seligman and Noel, Mo.

In January, Walmart closed 102 of its smallest Express formats saying it no longer fit the retail giant’s expansion plans. Each store is around 10,000 square feet and employed about 60. The January closure was part of a broader move by Walmart to close under-performing operations.

With more than 3,900 employees, Harps is considered to be the largest employee owned companies headquartered in Arkansas and the 30th largest employee owned company in the United States.

Harps currently operates stores in northern and central Arkansas, southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma.