“80 JOBS = 80 FAMILIES.”
“PEOPLE OVER PROFIT.”
“SWVA matters! Corporate Greed does NOT!”
These slogans were on just a few of the signs a small group of community members held at a rally Tuesday outside the Walmart in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
On Monday, local residents learned that Walmart plans to close its store at the Powell Valley Square shopping center July 12.
At stake in the Wise County town of about 5,200 people are around 80 jobs. Walmart has said it hopes the majority of the associates will transfer to other Walmart locations in Jonesville and Norton, which are about 25 and 13 miles away, respectively. However, some community members are sharing their fears about the potential negative impacts and rallying behind the store employees.
“This is an incredibly disappointing moment for our community from a local government perspective but also from a resident’s perspective,” said Tyler Hughes, a member of the Big Stone Gap Town Council. “Most of us in the town have a family member or a friend or someone we’ve known for quite a while working here.”
Hughes attended Tuesday’s rally outside the store. In an interview with the Bristol Herald Courier, he expressed concerns about how the closing might affect the store’s current employees, as well as how people with limited access to transportation will be able to shop for basic goods at the more distant locations.
“After a careful and thoughtful review process, we have made the difficult decision to not renew the lease for our Walmart store in Big Stone Gap,” Phillip Keene, Walmart’s corporate communications director, said in a statement.
Walmart has said that it could not reach an agreement with the landlord on terms for a lease renewal for the property.
Landmark Properties Group, the Allison Park, Pennsylvania-based company that manages the property, said in a statement Tuesday that it was “surprised by the sudden decision, as we had not reached a point in negotiations to discuss dollar terms.”
“We have been, and still are, ready to negotiate to any reasonable terms. The Walmart team has indicated that their decision to close is final, despite our efforts to reopen negotiations,” Landmark Properties Group said.
The company claimed in its statement that Walmart “insisted on ‘a substantial reduction in the base rent figure.’” But upon “consideration and competitive market research,” Landmark Properties Group said it “discovered that Walmart was already paying low rent for retail space in the area.”
Landmark Properties Group said Walmart did not provide a figure for a reduced rent. Specific numbers were not shared in the group’s statement.
Keene, the Walmart spokesman, did not return an email Tuesday afternoon seeking comment on the Landmark Property Group’s claims.
The Big Stone Gap location’s closing follows what appears to be a series of Walmart closings in recent months. In May, Business Insider reported at least 16 Walmart stores have closed or were closing in the U.S. and Canada. These closings included stores in other parts of Virginia, including Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach. Closings in Morristown and Knoxville, Tennessee, were also cited in Business Insider.
“We would like to see this not happen, we would like to keep this store in our town,” Hughes said.