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Take up your wallet. Test the brakes. Marshal that shopping cart. Zero hour has arrived.

Attention, shoppers: Target officially opens for business at 8 a.m. today.

Since the store first entered the market here in July 1991, shoppers in south Pinellas County have had their appetites whetted for the retailer's merchandise on TV advertising and fliers stuffed in Sunday newspapers.

Until now, shopping at one of the seven area stores required an expedition to Largo, Clearwater, Palm Harbor or Hillsborough County.

No more.

"We have wanted to be in St. Petersburg for a long, long time," said Target district team leader Larry Cinadr.

Several thousand shoppers _ or guests as they are called in Target-speak _ are expected to visit the 127,000-square-foot discount store and garden center at 4450 Park St. for today's grand opening.

Here's what to expect:

Target will give away 1,000 Dream Team basketballs to the first 1,000 shoppers. A battalion of 450 shopping carts await customers.

The garden department has created a welcome sign out of purple coleus and mont blanc nierembergia. Balloons will be handed out to children.

Romance writer Rachel Lee will sign books from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Traffic won't get any better on the roads that feed this busy intersection.

The sales basically will be the same as those advertised at other Targets, said manager Glenn Hall.

The St. Petersburg store joins Wal-Mart to create something of a power shopping corner at Tyrone Boulevard (Bay Pines Boulevard) and Park Street.

Three theme restaurants share the west side of Park Street with Target: Don Pablo's, a Hop's restaurant and Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon. Outback Steakhouse is across Tyrone. A 24-hour Wal-Mart anchors the east side of Park Street in a complex it shares with the giant pet store Petsmart. Sports Authority is nearby at 3700 Tyrone Blvd.

"We are going to monitor it and, if things need to be tweaked to facilitate the flow of traffic, we will make sure that improvements are made," said Peter Turgeon, chief of traffic operations for Pinellas County. He said no special requests have been made for police help today.

Target had to make more accessible the entrance and exit lanes on Park Street and Bay Pines Boulevard (Tyrone Boulevard or Alt. U.S. 19), which is a state road. Lanes taper from and into traffic.

"We required the developer to put in what we feel are the appropriate improvements to handle the traffic that is going to be there," Turgeon said. "Things should work out fine with that design."

On Tuesday, store manager Hall said traffic seemed to be flowing smoothly. He was hoping fears of gridlock would turn out to be false.

"It seems to go pretty well," he said, "but we aren't open yet."

Of course, busy streets don't frighten retailers, Cinadr said. Target needed at least 10 acres to build a store in south Pinellas, and the northwestern Tyrone area was regarded as the ideal location.

"Obviously we are very happy with the location. There are many positive things going on in the Tyrone area," he said. "That fact that it's a busy corner obviously is one of the things that attracted us to that area."

Shoppers will find Target built to the latest prototype with conveyer belts and computer scanners like those used in grocery store checkout lanes and get-it-yourself food service at Skeedaddles. They also will find the merchandising philosophy that has turned the discount chain into a heavy contributor to the $23-billion in annual sales by the retail division of Minneapolis-based Dayton Hudson Corp.

Target distinguishes itself from its discount competitors Wal-Mart and Kmart by bringing department-store ambience to discount shopping. The stores feature wide aisles, attractive and uncluttered displays and airy interiors.

That attention to packaging attracts Barbara McKee, who was at the St. Petersburg store's soft opening Wednesday with her sons Conor, 10, and Taylor, 8.

McKee tossed notebooks, lunch packs, pencil cases, glue and other school supplies into their cart. Every so often, she consulted a lengthy list of supplies spelling out in detail what the children will need when they return Aug. 21 to St. Jude Cathedral School.

"I can't believe we are buying school supplies," Conor groaned.

Mrs. McKee assured her son that what they were actually doing was buying ahead as she wheeled her cart along the gleaming 10-foot-wide aisles that roughly make a figure eight through the store.

At some distance from the family was McKee's mother, Anne McCaffery. She had learned from a pair of bewildered employees the answer to the main question of the day: No, there won't be any soap opera stars at the opening. That left her satisfied to pick out a 79-cent ivy plant and browse.

"I'm casing the place," she said as she headed toward the garden department.

Although the store can be expected to be well-stocked with the latest merchandise for its grand opening, the toy department already has bad news.

"Yoda's gone, Yoda's gone," employee Gary Zeruth said Wednesday afternoon.

The Star Wars action figures had been bought up.

Princess Leia and the Stormtrooper were sold out, too. Only one of Boba Fett's Slave I ships remained.

When Kathy Knox arrived for work Wednesday morning, she noticed about 15 people waiting outside the store for the 8 a.m. opening. The toy department sales force had been warned that collectors would visit the store early to buy up merchandise in short supply at other retailers.

"They were in the aisles and in the Stars Wars stuff by 8:01 a.m.," Knox said. Store hours will be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.