Ollie's Bargain Outlet celebrated its grand opening Wednesday in Kalmia Plaza with a special guest: Popular NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick.


“We try very hard to have a celebrity at each of our openings,” said Jeremiah Hetrick, who is a district manager for Ollie's. “It makes for a fun environment and keeps it interesting. It also makes it different from grand openings that other stores may have done.”


Among the well-known individuals who have spiced up Ollie's debuts in other locations are Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member Isaiah Thomas, National Baseball Hall of Fame member Rollie Fingers and another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Kasey Kahne.


“We've done a lot of store openings with the Ollie's folks, and they always do a great job,” said Harvick, who finished second in the Aug. 3 GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.


For the Aiken Ollie's opening, there were 250 tickets available that allowed people to meet Harvick, get his autograph and pose for photographs with him. Distribution of the passes began at 7:30 a.m., and all were gone before Harvick arrived about 2½ hours later.


“Almost everything we do for Ollie's is well supported, and it says a lot about race fans and their loyalty to see a turnout like this on a Wednesday morning,” Harvick said.


Eric Gilliam, of Graniteville, showed up at 6:45 a.m. with his 10-year-old son, Jakob Lyle, to make sure they could acquire two tickets. Gilliam's daughter, Mina Lyle, joined them later.


“I'm a big NASCAR fan,” Gilliam said. “Every driver I can meet, it's a thrill. I've met Rusty Wallace, I've met Dale Earnhardt Jr., and I met Dale Earnhardt Sr. before he passed away.”


Randy Gagnon, 17, of Burnettown, brought a splitter that had once been on the front end of one of Harvick's race cars for the driver to sign. Gagnon purchased the used automobile part during a recent visit to the headquarters of Harvick's NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing, in Kannapolis, North Carolina.


“I'm going to hang it on the wall,” Gagnon said after Harvick autographed the splitter.


Rick Johnson, of Asheville, North Carolina, arrived at Ollie's carrying the trunk lid off a vehicle that had been used in a Richard Petty Driving Experience program.


“I want a lot of drivers to sign it,” said Johnson, who previously had gotten driver Danica Patrick to autograph the large piece of metal.


Ollie's is one of America's largest retailers of closeouts and salvage merchandise. The company has more than 160 stores. In addition to South Carolina, they are located in Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.


Aiken's Ollie's occupies a 25,098-square-foot building that once housed a Belk department store. It has 59 employees.


The address for the local Ollie's is 1688 Richland Avenue W.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013.