Seligman Walmart set for closure at end of month

Friday, January 15, 2016
Norm's Grocery Employee Kim Hixson helps customer Bruce Lamer find an item at Norm's Grocery Store. The store, which carries groceries and a variety of hardware items, was heading toward closure, but the Jan. 28 closing of the Walmart Neighborhood Market may change plans. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Nichols: City's budget fine without Walmart revenues

One year and one month after the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Seligman opened, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company has announced the store will close down.

The Seligman store, which started as a Walmart Express but shortly before opening was signed as a Neighborhood Market, is one of 23 Neighborhood Markets to be shuttered on Jan. 28.

Norm's Grocery Store Employee Garren Hixson checks out customers while Kim Hixson bags up the groceries, then offers to carry them outside. The store is known for carrying groceries for every customer, and for carrying a wide variety of hard-to-find items in addition to groceries and basic staples. Julia Kilmer/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

According to Walmart, 154 U.S. stores will close, including all of the company's 102 Walmart Express stores, the smallest store format in pilot since 2011. Other closings include 12 Supercenters, seven stores in Puerto Rico, six discount centers, and four Sam's Clubs.

Delia Garcia, spokeswoman for Walmart, said even though the Seligman store was named a Neighborhood Market, it was still an Express for all intents and purposes.

"The Seligman store was about 12,000 square feet, and a traditional Neighborhood Market is between 34,000 and 40,000 square feet," she said. "The closing didn't have anything to do with the performance of the store, but that particular format. We thought with the Express format pilot, customers would put a priority on being closer to the stores. But, through our studies, customers say they are better-served by larger Neighborhood Market stores.

"Obviously it's difficult to close stores, but it's necessary to maintain the business. Our priority is to take care of the employees and customers."

Garcia said the Seligman Neighborhood Market employed 30 people. Although the store is closing on Jan. 28, employees will still be working until about Feb. 10 to fully shut down operations.

After that, Walmart will look to place employees at other area stores, including the Supercenter in Cassville or multiple Neighborhood Markets in Arkansas, including Pea Ridge, Rogers and Bentonville.

Garcia said those not placed at other stores will receive 60 days pay at the same rate and hours they were working previously. After that period, those with Walmart for at least one year and still not transferred to another store will be eligible for a severance package.

"We have a good track record of absorbing associates in nearby stores," Garcia said. "These employees will also be given priority consideration for any open positions at area stores."

Brian Nichols, Seligman city clerk, said the city did not know about the closure plan until Friday morning.

"We were shocked [on Friday]," he said. "We started hearing a few rumors and Walmart announced the list at 11 a.m. and confirmed we were on it. A person called from Walmart and said it wasn't done on a store-by-store basis."

Nichols said he is not sure yet what will become of the building.

"Hopefully, someone will move into it," she said. "But, we can only hope."

Garcia said Walmart owns the building and will explore selling or leasing it in the future.

"We hope to re-tenant it as soon as possible," she said. "We have a very aggressive real estate marketing program that will look at the disposition of the building and work with the community to do something with it as quickly as possible."

An area of local concern with the impending closure is sales tax revenues, which have spiked in the time the store has been in business. However, Nichols said the city budgeted for 2016 similar to past years, so the loss of the store should not have a large immediate effect.

"Nobody likes to see revenue go down, and it may make us tighten our belts a little more and reevaluate some future plans," he said. "But, the 2016 budget is no different than previous years as far as expenses, so if we take that Walmart revenue out, we'll still be fine."

Nichols said the city has temporarily put on hold a plan to purchase a new police cruiser.

"We put that on hold, but going through the budget, it's still within our means and would not put us in a bind," he said.

Norm's Grocery Store, the long-standing grocery store located at 1700 S. Main St. in Seligman, was said to be in the process of closing its doors. Employees say the reason is competition from the Walmart Neighborhood Center is the reason.

In addition to basic staples like bread, milk and eggs, the store is known for carrying a large variety of items often hard to find anywhere else, even at Walmart.

"He has a little bit of everything," said customer Bruce Lamer of Seligman, who stopped in for milk, cereal and a specific hardware item he was looking for on Thursday. "You don't have to go to the hardware store. You can go to the grocery store and make one stop. "He's friendly and they carry out your groceries for you. I don't even like to be in Walmart. It's changed so much from when they first started."

Lamer said he knew Sam Walton, the founder of the multimillion dollar retail chain. Lamer worked at the return center (now the store's general offices) years ago in Bentonville, Ark., remodeling it.

"Sam was a good guy," he said. "He wouldn't like some of the things they're doing. It's a monopoly. It seems like the people aren't as friendly there, whereas you come in [Norm's], and it's, 'Hi, how are you. Good to see you.' It's more homey."

Lamer said some residents have to drive to Garfield, Ark., or Washburn for things like hardware items that often times Norm's store has.

According to employee Kim Hixson, sales have dropped significantly since the the Walmart Neighborhood Market opened its doors, and she was told the store would be closing, but at this point, it's still open for business.

"He said two months ago he would stop ordering things, but he still has been off and on," said Hixson said. "This is something he's done for so long, it's like his baby."

Hixson said she enjoys and appreciates that the store has a family atmosphere for employees, too, and her son can hang out there after school.

Hixson's husband, Garren, has worked at the store for a couple of years, helping in various capacities, including checking, meat-cutting and carrying out groceries.

"It's a shame, but not much he can do," Hixson said about closing. "But Walmart comes in, builds a business and throws us out."

In October 2015, Walmart said an active review of the portfolio was underway to ensure assets were aligned with strategy. Today's action follows a thorough review of Walmart's nearly 11,600 worldwide stores that took into account a number of factors, including financial performance as well as strategic alignment with long-term plans. In total, approximately 16,000 associates will be impacted by the decision, with about 10,000 of them in the U.S. The impacted stores represent less than 1 percent of both global square footage and revenue.

"Actively managing our portfolio of assets is essential to maintaining a healthy business," said Doug McMillon, president and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. "Closing stores is never an easy decision, but it is necessary to keep the company strong and positioned for the future. It's important to remember that we'll open well more than 300 stores around the world next year. So we are committed to growing, but we are being disciplined about it."

Walmart said it will continue to invest in its future, with plans to open stores worldwide in the coming fiscal year. Domestically, Walmart intends to open 50 to 60 Supercenters and 85 to 95 Neighborhood Markets in Fiscal 2017, which begins Feb. 1. In the same period, Sam's Club plans to open in seven to 10 new locations. Internationally, Walmart intends to open between 200 and 240 stores during the coming year.

Garcia said she could not speculate on the possibility of a new store in Seligman.

Norman Weaver, owner of Norm's Grocery, could not be reached as of presstime.

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