Ah yes, capitalism.
Way back in 2011 the suits at Walmart decided to try out a new concept which was named, Walmart Express. The idea was to move into small, many times really small, rural communities with stores ranging in size from 12,000 to 15,000 square feet. The outlets would be a combination grocery store, convenience store, gas station, and, in a lot of instances, they'd include a pharmacy.
By May of 2012 things were looking so bright, thanks to a few test sites, the corporation announced the start of a full blown, national roll out which would eventually bring the number of, "Express," stores to over 200. They would be located in places like Oriental, NC, which is where one landed in 2014.
Good news for Oriental, population 900, right? Well maybe not if you own and operate a 44 year old local institution known as "Town and Country Groceries." Bloomberg reports that former Town and Country manager, Renee Ireland Smith said the family owned business saw an immediate 30% drop in sales when the Walmart opened. Town and Country tried to compete, but according to her, every time the store dropped its prices, Walmart dropped theirs even further.
Of course you can do that when you're a multi-billion dollar corporation who views rural communities the same way a giant vampire bat does sleeping cows. The Town and Country folks hung on until last October, when they finally gave up the ghost and closed the doors after nearly a half century of operation.
Hey, these things happen. After all that's the way things work in free enterprise isn't it? Compete, or die, baby. It's, The American Way.
Yeah, but the problem is that sometimes marketing plans, not to mention the big picture, don't quite work out the way all those University of Arkansas MBA's thought they would.
On the 15th of January, a little less than three months after Ms. Smith shuttered her business, Walmart announced it will be closing all 200 plus, "Express," locations,. The usual suspects for the sudden move have been cited, up to and including, the higher wages the company is being forced to pay employees. In truth the whole chain has taken a turn for the worse.
Bloomberg says Walmart announced 2015 profits were down 12% from the previous year. And, while the corporation pours more and more cash into its internet operations, as it desperately tries to grab a major chunk of the online retail market, the value of an individual share in the company has dropped 29%. In other words, enough to make the Walton family and their investors say to hell with everyone in small hamlets scattered from North Carolina to Oklahoma, we have to protect our condos in Aspen.
Meanwhile, back in Oriental, hard on the banks of the Neuse River--a short distance from Pamlico Sound--those 900 citizens are fucked once again. The town's people are left without any grocery store, or pharmacy and the nearest ones are a 50 minute out and back drive. That's a pretty big deal considering the latest demographic of the burg tells us, the median age there is 57.2 years and 35.8% of the citizens are over the age of 65.
Closer to home, in Okemah, OK, the birth place of Woody Guthrie, the Walmart Express--which was recently forced to add an additional check out lane because of its high volume of business--will shut in three days. 30 full and part time employees will be out of work. If all of them live in town the closing will push Okemah's unemployment rate to over 6%.
The Walmart wankers say they're meeting with local governments and community leaders in order to ease the transition. Yes, they'll talk and talk and talk. What they won't do after saying, "buh-bye," is lift a finger to help fill the gaping holes they've left behind in places like Oriental and Okemah.
When interviewed by Bloomberg, Ms. Smith summed up the rural American Walmart experience this way. "They ruined our lives. They came in here with their experiment and ruined us."
Yes they did and trust me--after a couple of weeks of rough press and a handful of overtly insincere PR Department Mea culpas to the natives--Walmart won't ever look back.
That's how they roll in Bentonville. It's how they've always rolled. Old Sam would be proud.
sic vita est