MAUMELLE If you haven’t met Willie Perkins, you’ve likely heard him if you have visited the Walmart Supercenter in Maumelle.
From 3-11 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday, Willie stands roughly 50 feet from the sliding doors at the store, welcoming customers in his signature style.
“One and 2-year-olds in their parent’s carts will come in with their fists ready for a bump,” said store Assistant Manager John Ward. “It’s like [seeing Willie] is part of growing up here in Maumelle.”
Mandatory fist bumps — he works to get every customer on the way in or the way out — are just part of Willie’s routine. The 75-year-old has been working his shift since the store opened five years ago, and he’s been trying to do things a little differently.
“Whatever you get into, you’ve gotta try to be the best you can at it,” Willie said. “When I came here as a greeter, I found something more than just saying ‘Welcome to Walmart.’”
Willie began asking shoppers how they were feeling that day, talking to the kids. If someone went to the bakery to pick up a birthday cake, he’ll ask who it’s for, maybe get shoppers involved in singing Happy Birthday. On Arkansas game days, he’s been known to call the Hogs loudly enough for half the store to hear.
Willie switches up his routine depending on the day, but two things stay the same: A fist bump and a “Bam!” A bowling cheer gave him the idea for his standard greeting.
“When we hit those strikes, we yell it: Bam!,” Willie said. “So I brought it on over here to the Walmart.”
His presence is such a fixture in Maumelle that a Facebook fan page dedicated to him has more than 5,300 fans. Ward even sees people shift their path to make sure they enter or exit through Willie’s door. Though the store has a few other employees who work as greeters, Willie is the only full-time greeter at the store.
Through the nearly 500 customers he greets every shift, Willie rarely tires. Though if he could stand on a rotating platform to be able to give more people fist pounds during the rush, he would. He credits his positive attitude and outgoing nature to his faith and his work as a preacher. Willie and his wife, Bertha (his high school sweetheart), are members of the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock, and he preaches at churches around the state when asked.
“You’d be surprised at the people who will come through the door [at Walmart] and tell you that their mother’s sick and they want you to pray for them,” Willie said. “And I do.”
Living just a few minutes away from work in a house he built himself, Willie has lived in the Maumelle area his whole life. Eight kids — “Grown and gone” — mostly live nearby.
“Last time I checked, we have about 19 grandkids,” Willie said.
About 10 years ago, Willie decided to retire from his longtime job as an asphalt contractor, a job he took up after a stint in the Marine Corps prior to the Vietnam War. He thought the job at Walmart would bring in enough to make him and his wife a little more comfortable, and he doesn’t see retiring again any time soon.
Willie likes to read —two or three hours at most —or work in his garden before hopping in his silver ‘01 Volkswagen Beetle, complete with the Razorback decal in the back window, to head to work.
“I’ve never known him to have a bad day or come in without a smile on his face,” Ward said. “He’s a huge part of our store.”
Willie’s main goal is to make sure people leave the store in a good mood. Sure, there are people who walk right by him without saying anything, people who look worn down from their day. But if they’re frowning on the way in to Walmart, Willie wants them smiling on their way out.
“It’s not just that I make their day, but they make my day too,” Willie said. “I meet some of the nicest people in the world that come through that door.”
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.