ANTIOCH -- Christmas came early this week for local arts and crafts enthusiasts.

Hobby Lobby, described by one shopper as a "candy store for crafters," opened its doors Tuesday.

The Oklahoma-based chain has moved into the near-79,000-square-foot at the Slatten Ranch shopping plaza off Lone Tree Way. The building, formerly a Mervyn's, sat empty for five years.

When doors opened Tuesday, customers were greeted to aisles upon aisles of holiday decorations, scrapbooking items, plastic flowers, party supplies, knickknacks, photo frames, home decor and fabrics.

Erin Eckert of Oakley and her stepdaughter, Jackie, were among the shoppers Tuesday afternoon wandering through the aisles checking out the variety.

"This place can be kind of dangerous. There's so much I want to get. I have to be careful," said Erin Eckert, describing it as a "(craft store) on steroids."

The Antioch location is the 17th Hobby Lobby in California, but the first in the East Bay. Other nearby locations include Morgan Hill and Stockton.

"We feel that the market is underserved and that we can bring a unique shopping experience to the area," company spokesman Vincent Parker said. Hobby Lobby carries more than 70,000 products in 13 departments, he said.

The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is closed on Sundays -- a sign on the door says "to allow employees time for families and worship."

Tuesday's opening came days ahead of schedule.

"We really pushed and pushed and got it all open," said Jeff Chaput, the store's general manager.

Chaput described the steady stream of customers filing into the southeast Antioch store as "pretty substantial" considering the soft opening, which he attributes to "word-of-mouth."

There had been "pent-up demand" as people inquired about the store since the signs and marquee went up, he said.

"We're definitely happy with the turnout. We think we're going to do well," he said.

Kari Dean of Antioch, a former store manager at the Mervyn's, said she was "tickled pink" to see the building in use again, especially a place that had crafts such as beads and fabrics at reasonable prices.

"It may get me into even more hobbies," she said.

Hobby Lobby now has 77 employees at the Antioch location, with that number depending on the sales volume, Chaput said.

An official grand opening is planned for 9 a.m. Monday.

Antioch has lost several large retailers in recent years, but Slatten Ranch appears to be rebounding.

Brian Nunnally, Antioch's economic development analyst, said Hobby Lobby's opening, along with the relocation of Sports Authority in the same center, means residents "will have more options to spend their money locally," and shoppers will come from other communities.

Local real estate brokers added that the new tenant will provide stability in that part of the shopping center.

Sports Authority plans to move from its location in Brentwood and open in the old Sports Chalet parcel on Oct. 19.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.