Editor’s note: We often hear the upside of “big box” in rural America, providing needed sales tax revenue. But there’s a downside too, when the stores abruptly close, as this article discusses.
Being a “small cog in a global footprint,” can lead to real disruption in a rural community — in this case when Walmart recently decided to close stores in predominately rural America. This morning Walmart’s quarterly earnings disappointed again. Local shopping mall proponents such as “Bradley Jackson” ought to listen up to this cautionary tale!
“When Walmart announced in mid-January that it would shutter 269 stores around the world, the phone started ringing at Norm’s Grocery,” according to the News-Leader in Staunton, Va.
“Management at the store in Seligman, Missouri (population 850), had stopped reordering most goods a few weeks earlier and shelves had begun to empty. After a year of competing with the new Walmart that opened on Highway 37 — the only other place in town stocking a reasonable range of groceries — Norm’s customer base had eroded.
“Word got out to the locals: At the end of the month, after 42 years in business, Norm’s would close for good.
“Then Walmart executives in nearby Bentonville made the decision that nobody in Seligman quite understands.
“All day that phone just kept ringing with people … ‘Don’t close, don’t close,'” Norm’s Grocery manager Garren Hixson said. ‘So we made our decision to stay open.’
“The 154 U.S. stores affected by Walmart’s announcement were spread across the country, with closures from Oakland, California, to Falls River, Massachusetts. But by including all 102 locations classified as Walmart Express — a fairly new, small-store concept — the company’s latest move predominantly affects rural America. Pitched by Walmart as the perfect size for both urban and rural communities, all but a handful of Express stores were in municipalities with fewer than 5,000 people.
“Visits to the four small towns affected in Missouri — Seligman, Clever, Anderson and Noel — as well as interviews with mayors across the country reveal rural America’s mixed reactions to a surprising about-face by the world’s largest retailer.
“While communities were shocked to see their practically new Walmarts leave, some residents had been torn when the stores arrived in the first place. The Express stores were a sales tax windfall for local governments, but their departures are mitigated by their short tenure; most hadn’t been open long enough for communities to become reliant on the extra cash.
“Some towns cheered the impact of competition on local pricing, but others ultimately found themselves without a grocery store at all.
“Rural residents understand Walmart made a business decision, that their towns were a small cog in a global footprint. But that doesn’t mean people don’t feel a little hurt.
“I think what Walmart’s done to this little town is disgusting, myself,” said Bill Hayes, sitting in a booth at Seligman’s Super Stop convenience store. “Come here, get people excited about something, and close it up.”
The complete article is here.