Walmart Closures Leaving Small Towns 'Broken,' Residents Say

Many communities will have no nearby grocery store or pharmacy.

ByABC News
January 28, 2016, 3:51 PM

— -- In the tiny coastal town of Oriental, North Carolina, some residents say they are feeling cheated by Walmart.

Renee Ireland-Smith said her family's grocery store was forced to close in October after 45 years because it could not compete with Walmart's low prices. Two weeks ago, she said she'd learned that Walmart was also now closing.

"This town was fine before," Ireland-Smith said. "Now it's broken."

Her anger seems to be shared across the U.S.

On Jan. 15, Walmart announced that it was closing 269 of its stores globally, including 154 sites in the U.S. for business reasons. The decisions were made after an analysis of the stores' financial performance and their alignment with the company's long-term goals, Walmart said in a news release at the time.

Shares of Walmart have fallen nearly 30 percent in the past 12 months. The U.S. closings -- which include all Walmart Express locations -- are happening by the end of January or beginning of February. Walmart -- which employs about 2.2 million people worldwide -- said about 10,000 of its U.S. associates would be affected by the closings.

More than 100 of those stores are located in the nation's smallest communities. Many of those communities will now have no nearby grocery stores or pharmacies.

"All these people that live in these small towns, they're going to have to travel way out of the way to go shopping," said Luella McQuesten, a resident in eastern Arkansas where three Walmart stores are closing.

In Fairfield, Alabama, city leaders are now wondering how they will pay the bills. Walmart provided 35 percent of the tax base.

"Walmart puts a strong hold on the city when they come into that neighborhood," said Darnell Gardner, Fairfield's City Council President said. "And they tend to drive that little boy out of business all the time. It's going to definitely affect the revenue that comes into this city, tremendously, so I really hate that they are doing this to us."

Brian Nick, senior director of corporate communications at Walmart, told ABC News today that in 2011, the mega retailer had tested a pilot program of small Express stores with about 15 to 20 workers. He said that Walmart had evaluated the program and decided to discontinue it. Of the 154 store closings, 102 of them are Express stores. Express stores were located in Arkansas and Oriental. He said the company is definitely in "growth mode" and focusing on its neighborhood stores and Supercenters.

"We never want to walk away from the opportunity to serve customers, especially in under-serviced areas. We share in the communities' disappointment about this difficult decision," Nick said.

In Oriental, Nick said that Walmart was "facilitating" future taxes for the upcoming year to help the town in its needs. He said that Walmart was also helping other communities by assisting in conversations with potential buyers of closed store locations and increasing the charitable budgets of nearby stores. In Fairfield's case, Nick said a Walmart Supercenter was located within five miles of the town.

"We're always looking for (an) additional way to serve customers," he said.

A few of the small businesses that felt they'd been pushed out by the mega retailer said, however, that they now planned to explore their legal options.

Walmart said in a press release that "even with today's actions, Walmart will continue to invest in its future with plans to open more than 300 stores worldwide over the coming year." Half of those stores, however, are planned for overseas.