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Walmart Closes Express Store in Oriental
The Timeline: Two Weeks and... Gone
January 31, 2016
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Tuesday January 26

In What’s Happening, tomorrow night at the Old Theater there’s a public meeting about having places to buy food in Oriental. A group of area residents called The Oriental Food Initiative set up the meeting a month ago — way before Walmart said it was closing its store on the edge of town.

That’s the 2nd grocery shut down in the short time since the OFI formed last fall – the indy Town-n-Country bowed to Walmart competition in October – and OFI’s focus has been on getting quality food – local produce, meat and dairy – for sale. It looked at several options but wanting food to eat now, OFI encouraged the Provision Company, a marine supply store, to add basic groceries – and local and organic at that — to sell.
Pat and the crew at the store are starting small but filling a need.

Tomorrow night, OFI will share what they’ve learned along the way which may help with the now-widespread concern about getting a full service grocery back to Oriental.

Wednesday January 27

12:01p Greetings, America. Oriental’s taking one for the team – providing you with something other than The Donald in tonight’s evening newscasts. If only we didn’t have to have gone thru what we did to land on your TV screens…

Honest, not just one, but two networksNBC and ABC – are in town today doing interviews about Oriental’s WalMart saga. They’re to be on this evening’s newscasts. The Walmart Express juuuust outside the town limits closes its doors tomorrow. That – and the WalMart induced closing of Town-n-Country last October – leaves town with no full service grocery.

Tonight’s the public meeting organized by the Oriental Food Initiative. OFI started up in the fall, to come up with ways residents could buy quality produce, meats and dairy after Town-n-Country closed. Tonight’s meeting – scheduled well before the Walmart closing was announced – is a chance for OFI to share what it’s learned and how it applies to finding a full-service grocer for Oriental.

12:42p Back in 2013 Walmart agreed to pay annual fees to the Town Of Oriental – fees approximately equivalent to what property taxes would have been if they were in the town. Walmart got to hook up to town water and get town police coverage, without actually agreeing to be annexed into town.

They haven’t paid them. Yet. Tomorrow the Walmart on the edge of town officially closes. town hall signToday Town Hall reports they have received assurances from Walmart that money is coming. It took lawyers (on both sides) to get it done. From Town Hall:

Please see attached letter from WalMart, noting the breakdown below of the total to be forwarded. We appreciate the efforts of Ms. Brooke Meuller, Ms. Amanda Mann, and Ms. Jennifer Clark from WalMart, and our attorney, Scott Davis, in closing this agreement and releasing the funds promised to the Town in 2013.

Ms. Miller,
Please find attached a signed letter agreement wherein Walmart agrees to make the following donation to the Town, based on property tax years as indicated:

2014: $208.85
2015: $2,963.49
2016: $3,259.84
Total Donation: $6,432.18

The check will be sent to your attention via Federal Express and you should receive funds by early next week.

Thank you,

Jennifer Clark
Associate General Counsel
Legal- Real Estate & Construction

The check’s in the mail.

3:41p Video crews for both NBC and ABC’s nightly news shows are in town this afternoon getting shots of Oriental in all our gray winter day charm and conducting interviews with some players in the Walmart Express story.

Faces you may see on your TV – Renee Smith, manager of the now-closed Town-n-Country grocery, and Town Commissioner Barb Venturi. (In 2013 the Commissioner dismissed a petition signed by 120+ residents opposed to Walmart. That account is here.)

Followup on another story from earlier today. Walmart says it’s sending the town $6,432.18 – the equivalent of what Walmart would’ve paid in property taxes from 2014 thru 2016 if it had been annexed. The letter from WalMart’s home office in Bentonville, is here.

8:17p Every seat was filled tonight at Oriental’s Old Theater – plus more – some 170 people came for the Oriental Food Initiative meeting. Ideas were shared, a positive spirit was in the room. Story coming Thursday.

Tonight Oriental made the national news… on NBC evening news:

Thursday January 28

Two of the network news ‘casts last night. Today, Today. (Yes, we are that small a town that we talk about it when we hit the national news.) All this because what happened here in Oriental with Walmart served as an example of what’s happened in many of the other small towns where Walmart is closing down stores.

In Oriental Walmart came and now less than 2 years later, with an indy grocery in its wake. Walmart Store #7207 shuts down tonight, a darkness on the edge of town.

Ok, so, that’s all been said. What’s next, what can we do? That was the overriding spirit at the public info meeting at the Old Theater last night, organized by the Oriental Food Initiative. It was standing room only and there were many standout moments.

Prime among them was when Billy Flockhart, manager and local owner of the Piggly Wiggly in Grantsboro said he’d open a Pig in Oriental in the Walmart building and could sell whatever foods the public wanted. The prospect of that practically radiated thru the room. But, Flockhart said, Walmart says it wants to sell its Express stores in blocks of 30.

Jim Edwards suggested contacting Walmart was at least a first step to get them to peel off this one store. That would let Walmart live up to its words 2 weeks ago when it said it would help communities it was abandoning get a grocery.

Town Manager Diane Miller rose to speak toward evening’s end and in a spirited delivery said that despite the depiction of a town with no grocery that Oriental would get it solved. Evidence of that she said, was the turnout in the theater.

It was noted that the town does in fact have places to get food in the meanwhile – fresh local produce, dairy, meats at the Provision Company, shelf goods at Dollar General, wines at Nautical Wheelers, deli at the Silos. There’s also the Mini-Mart whose owner Frank Zeidan said he wanted to buy the Walmart building as well.

Also addressed were the grocery-shopping needs of those in Oriental and the area without transportation. Town Commissioner Allen Price has been arranging volunteers to give rides to the Grantsboro stores such as Food Lion and Piggly Wiggly and pharnacies. More signed up last night. If you’d like to volunteer, call Allen or Leigh Price at 249-1361.

Saturday January 30

So, here we are at the end of January already. These last two weeks just sped by, what with the Walmart Saga. The store did close Thursday night.

If there’s any one takeaway from these past two years, it’s this: for local businesses to be here and stay local – especially the little guys, the indy owned places – we have to support them and shop there. We have to Go Local.

Sunday January 31

Still more national coverage about Walmart’s curtailed short dance with Oriental. On your radio yesterday morning, you could hear Oriental Mayor Sally Belangia talking with NPR’s Scott Simon. If you missed it – perhaps you were busy seeking that smoked tofu* – you can hear and or read it, here.

This morning’s News and Observer meanwhile reports on the differing experiences of the several small towns in NC where Walmart Express stores opened (and now closed).

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Posted Sunday January 31, 2016 by Melinda Penkava

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