Walmart store closures shock rural America — a cautionary tale


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.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

6 thoughts on “Walmart store closures shock rural America — a cautionary tale”

  1. As with the dollar stores, the express model is based on driving out all the little stores that were left as well. Walmart has bought all the grocery chains in Mexico (Cifra) and Central America. All of the biggest are now controlled by Walmart. I’m sure they have a minimum wage scale set up- LOL
    Hopefully these express stores will be taken back and reopened so that locally owned and operated business will return.
    As for the larger Walmart stores that are closing, they have been threatened with unionization efforts, and the Walton’s are so rich they can afford to just shut down rather than having to treat workers with respect. Shut down a 250,000 sq ft store over having to pay minumun wages and have decent working condition that include a firm work hours that dont change every day because of the poorest management practices in our country.

  2. In the early 90’s Wal-Mart moved into my mother’s home town in Arkansas. It was located on the outskirt of down town on the main highway through town. It put the two local, family owned and operated for generations grocery stores out of business and the little shops and boutiques and restaurants in down town soon followed. For generations down town was the traditional meeting place for the locals and the teens to hang out because there was a park in the town center. It was the ideal of small town America ever to be imagined but it was real. Wal-Mart destroyed it.
    I remember at the time my relatives were excited about Wal-Mart and honestly, never even considered the consequences which was a surprise to me. Wal-mart became the new location for meeting up with the neighbors on Saturday mornings at the Starbucks inside. It truly is a one stop shop and social in town. A major employer. One cousin had a heart attack and died in the parking lot. An aunt fell and broke her hip in the store. Wal-Mart in this town is truly the town center but the average income of residents in that town has dropped and privately owned business has declined. The youth aren’t faring well prompting one cousin who is a high school teacher to tell his students to get out of town if they want to make something of themselves.

  3. Chip and Windy, your comments are why I refuse to shop Wal-Mart. I know of a family with 4 kids who are struggling to make ends meet as the father had his hours cut. Wal-Mart would rather the gov’t come in and supplement the family’s living expense with gov’t assistance then turn around and cry should they pay their fair share of taxes because of their actions.

    1. I won’t shop Wal-Mart either. My first exposure to a Wal-Mart was back in 1987 in Greenville, SC when I visited newly discovered cousins in our family tree. I was impressed with how big the store was. Wal-Mart was making an appearance in CA then but when I saw what happened in Mom’s home town, I swore I’d never shop there.

  4. Walmart devastated main st shops in a small town where I lived in CO. When Super Walmart came in even more so. Then came Home Depot and hallowed out even more. I have not been back in over a decade but have heard some depressing stories from locals on facebook about the place.

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