It Came, It Conquered, Now It’s Packing Up and Leaving. That’s how Bloomberg reporter Shannon Pettypiece (twitter.com@spettypi) reported on Wal-Mart’s announced plan to shut down 154 stores in one month. She focused on one small town – the Town ’n Country grocery in Oriental, North Carolina. A local fixture for 44 years, it closed its doors after a Wal-Mart store opened for business. Now, three months later — and less than two years after Wal-Mart arrived — the retail giant is pulling up stakes, leaving the community with no grocery store and no pharmacy.
Though mom-and-pop stores have steadily disappeared across the American landscape over the past three decades as the mega chain methodically expanded, there was at least always a Wal-Mart left behind to replace them. Now the Wal-Marts are disappearing, too.
As far back as January 2015, Wal-Mart Stores announced it would be closing all 102 of its smaller Express stores, many in isolated towns, to focus on its supercenters and mid-sized Neighbourhood Markets. That’s a big problem for small towns, often with proportionately large elderly populations where the next-nearest grocery and pharmacy is often anything from a 20 to 50-minute round-trip drive.
Wal-Mart has been under increasing pressure lately as sales in the U.S. have failed to keep up with rising labour costs. It’s also been spending more on its Web operations. In October 2015, the company announced that profit this year would be down as much as 12 percent. The outlook contributed to a share decline of 29 percent during the past 12 months.