Residents, officials express frustrations to Wal-Mart representatives

IMG_8005Hundreds of residents from Stonecrest and surrounding areas, as well as Sam’s Club employees and elected officials were not satisfied with Wal-Mart’s answers about the abrupt closing of the Sam’s Club near the Mall at Stonecrest.

Representatives from Wal-Mart and Sam’s Clubs met with the public Jan. 16 at a packed Stonecrest Library to explain why the store closed without notifying employees or club members. The store was one of 63 across the nation that closed unexpectedly on Jan. 11. The Stonecrest location was the only store in Georgia to close.

Glen Wilkins, director of public affairs and government relations for Wal-Mart, said there were several factors—including the performance of the store—that Wal-Mart leaders considered when they decided to close the store.

“It goes back to looking at the performance of the club in comparison to other clubs,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins’ answers were met with skepticism from the public, many saying they believe the store was closed because it was located in a predominantly Black community. Several employees said the store was performing well.

One employee, known as Ms. Helen, was a greeter at Sam’s and was one month shy of her 20th anniversary with the company. She said Sam’s was wrong for not telling employees in advance about the closing.

“We had the right­—in being human beings, in being good associates for y’all—to at lease have somebody tell us [about the closing],” she said. “You should’ve had enough respect to tell us.”

Wilkins said employees will be paid for 60 days from the day of notice at their regular scheduled pay. For the first two weeks they will be paid double.

“If they are eligible for a severance, the will receive a severance package,” Wilkins said. “They’re also receiving their annual bonus in addition to the one-time bonus all Wal-Mart associates are receiving.”

James Defriece, owner of Defriece Distributing, delivered products to the store the morning of the closing but was not made aware of the closing before delivering the products.

“They let me come in, work the store, pull my credits and leave, and then I got a phone call three hours later [about the store closing,” Defriece said. “It’s a slap in the face because it’s bread. We have to order it. There are seven days worth of products that came. So, I distributed more than $4,000 to them a week. On a normal daily basis, I have $2,500 worth a product inside the store and I have another $4,000 coming within a seven-day period. I had to eat all of that product.”

IMG_8006DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson, who spoke with Wilkins the day of the store closing,said if Wal-Mart wanted the public to know why the store closed they would have had answers available the night of the public meeting.

“I think it is a bunch of white-washing,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she asked about the locations of the other stores that closed because she wanted to know if they were in minority communities.

“[Wilkins] is not the one who made the final decision, but if Wal-Mart wanted you all to know those answers [Wilkins] would’ve had them tonight. You all are asking valid questions and the only way they’ll listen is [through] their pocket books,” Johnson said.

Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said what Wal-Mart did is not the proper way to do business.

“This is not how you treat people,” he said. “They shouldn’t wake up one morning and find out they don’t have a job. Look at your corporate culture; look inside of yourselves.”

Lary, as well as others in the audience, said Wal-Mart should provide statistics showing the performance levels of the Stonecrest Sam’s and other Sam’s locations.

“You should show how this came about and where we stand because there is not a time I’ve been in Sam’s and it’s not overrun.”

State Representative Vernon Jones, who hosted the meeting, said he, along with other state and local leaders will meet to discuss retail and economic development in the city.

“We want to pull all of our resources together and do all that we can to bring back what needs to be in this community and keep it in this community,” Jones said. “We’re not giving up tonight.”

Wal-Mart owns the property and is planning to sell or lease the building to another retailer, according to Wilkins. He said Wal-Mart will continue to maintain the property while it is vacant.

“We are going to re-tent [the building] as quickly as possible, Wilkins said. “We have a real estate team that is actively marketing it as we speak.”

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